When Riley Stokes did his homework last year, it was easy -- too easy.
"It took two seconds," the third-grader said.
That's not the case this year.
Stokes is enrolled in the Advanced Engineering, Math and Science Academy at Pritchardville Elementary School. The program, which uses projects to teach gifted students about technology and engineering, is in its first year at the school and its fourth at Beaufort Elementary.
Teachers at both schools say the coursework has proved challenging to more than 220 students enrolled in the programs.
Applications for the two magnet programs for the 2012-13 school year are being accepted through March 2, and school officials say they hope they will attract more students, especially minorities and girls.
Most of the 229 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders enrolled in AMES are boys -- 56 percent at Beaufort Elementary and 63 percent at Pritchardville Elementary.
Pritchardville Elementary principal Charles Johnson said he hoped talk among students would encourage more girls to apply to the program next year.
Beaufort Elementary AMES lead teacher Dana Christensen said word-of-mouth attracted more girls to that school's program, which was "boy-heavy" in the beginning.
"We've had this group of girls that have been very outspoken," Christensen said. "They talk to their friends and other kids; they've been our best promotion."
Gwen Allen, the engineering and technology teacher at Beaufort Elementary AMES, said the girls in the program are excelling. Several took top honors at the school's science and engineering fair last week.
Several fourth-grade girls raved about the program after demonstrating their inventions at the fair.
"I was kind of bored before," Janna Shissias said. "Now I feel occupied."
Johnson also said Pritchardville Elementary and the Beaufort County school district are brainstorming ways to attract more minority students to the program.
Of the 120 AMES students at the school, 91 are white.
The school's overall racial makeup is 50 percent white, and many of the southern Beaufort County schools that would lose students to Pritchardville's AMES program are predominantly white, too. Okatie Elementary is 63 percent white, and Bluffton Elementary is 52 percent white, according to the school district.
At Beaufort Elementary, 60 percent of the AMES students are white. That is a higher percentage than the school as a whole, which is about 34 percent white, according to district figures.
Christensen said applications are reviewed without regard to gender or race.
"Our priority is that the child meets the qualifications for the program," Christensen said. "That's our main focus, no matter what their gender or ethnic background."
The goal, she said, is to make sure the students have found the right fit. Most of the time, that's the case, Johnson and Christensen said.
Christensen said a parent told her that transferring to AMES ended the daily household struggle of getting her son out of bed and to school every morning. Now, he can't wait to go.
"That's what every parent wants," Christensen said.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.