Reviewed by Kate
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: small class sizes in 4th and 5th grades; an early start time; a Spanish immersion program and an English-only strand; an emphasis on arts ("One of the best in the city," the tour guide said); a lovely location in the heart of Noe Valley; parent involvement (nearly every class I visited had a parent helping); working technology (computer lab staffed with teacher; networked computers in all classrooms); diversity.
Web site: www.alvaradoschool.net
School tours: Tuesdays at 8:15 a.m., reservations recommended
Location: 625 Douglas St., Noe Valley
Start time: 7:50 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 80 students, four classes of 20 children
Total student body: 480 students
Playground: Shiny, new play structure; expansive blacktop area; little greenery but lots of colorful murals
Before- and after-school program: Growth & Learning Opportunities (GLO); impacted (this year, a few parents who wanted their children to attend the program were unable to get it in)
Language: Spanish only for 50 percent of students in the immersion program; other 50 percent are in an English-only strand
Highlights: Ceramics (clay studio with kiln), music, dance, theater, separate science classroom with teacher, computer lab, PG&E solar school, Sand Tray (free play therapy for children who might be struggling emotionally with something such as a sick sibling, loss of parent or friend; only school with this program)
It's popular! Two guides herded some 50 parents through the school (apparently all the tours are packed). My girlfriend who accompanied me lives in the neighborhood and knew half the people. Definitely a Noe Valley crowd. If you live in Noe Valley, and you want your child to attend a school with a strong neighborhood feel, then Alvarado is probably it.
This school offers a little bit of everything: arts, science, technology, language immersion. While some schools seem to focus on just the arts or technology or language, Alvarado is doing it all. A separate science classroom has its own teacher. The school's wired with networked computers in all classrooms and a separate computer lab with a teacher.
The arts program (funded by the PTA) was originally founded by Ruth Asawa, whose children attended the school. Asawa recently had a show at the de Young Museum, and she and her children painted many of the murals circling the Alvarado playground. She started the school's artist-in-residence program so there's always a talented body teaching the children clay, painting, and sculpture in the school's studio.
Half the students are in a Spanish immersion program; the other half are in an English strand. Spanish classes aren't offered to the English strand—but there is an after-school Spanish program. "A parent wanted her child to take Spanish and so she organized a class. That's the way our parents are here," our guide said.
Huge plus: the fourth and fifth grade classes are smaller than most schools in the district. There are only 28 kids in the classes while other schools have about 33. How do they manage this? They pay for an extra teacher. In fourth and fifth grade, there are two fourth grades, two fifth grades, and a fourth/fifth combo—each with 28 students.
While our guide said that the PTA membership is actually quite low, the school raises $160,000 a year. This is how they're able to pay for a lot of the extras.
The building is big and old and beautiful. A PE class hopped around on lovingly worn hardwood floors; intricate molding circled the cafeteria ceiling; children practiced for a play on a stage like the one at my childhood school. The hallways are wide and the ceilings must be at least 18 feet high. Big picture windows in the classrooms look out at the neighborhood's Victorians.
The building houses a large student body—480 students. But because the rooms are spacious, airy, and light, it doesn't feel crowded.
The principal was unavailable to address the tour but the guides gave us some background info on Robert Broecker, who's new to the job. He's worked in education for some 25 years—at both public and private schools. He has immersion experience at a French school in Minnesota. He was most previously the computer teacher at Alvarado and when the children found out that he was going to become principal, they were elated. For more on Broecker, go to www.alvaradoschool.net/principal.html.
Alvarado has a reputation for principals who come and go—apparently the past few years were rocky. But the parent guides assured our group that Mr. Broecker is here to stay.
Will Alvarado make it on my list of seven? I live in the area—we could practically walk to school. It'll be on my list. I'll definitely apply to the Spanish program—as I'm still stuck on immersion. But I think I would prefer a school where the entire student body is learning a second language—where everyone is in it together. At Alvarado, the Spanish program seems separate from the rest of the school.
Please post your thoughts on the school. Have you gone on a tour? Does your child attend Alvarado? Any insight into the school's immersion program?