Reviewed by Kate
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: an emphasis on reading and literacy; a small, intimate environment; a neighborhood, community feel; a bright, dedicated principal; the opportunity for parents to request a specific kindergarten teacher; fabulous kindergarten teachers; free after-school care
Web site: www.peabodyschool.com
School tours: Tuesdays and Fridays at 9 a.m., no appointment necessary
Location: 251 6th Ave., at Clement; Richmond District
Start time: 8:40 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 40 students, two classes of 20 children
Total student body: 225 students
Playground: playground structure recently painted in a rainbow of colors
After-school program: Free after-school program funded by the Richmond District Neighborhood Center; 2:40–6 p.m.; art classes in poetry, music, visual art and performing arts, tutoring and homework assistance, structured recreational activities, nutritional snacks; no before-school care; 83 students in program; if you sign up before school starts, you'll get in; also after-school enrichment classes based on interest
Language: after-school Cantonese
Highlights: Sports 4 Kids funds full-time coach for P.E. and coordinated games at recess; music, art, and P.E.; resource specialist to help kids who fall behind; lots of family gatherings on weekends such as a Skate Day when everyone comes out to roller-skate on the playground (Gavin Newsom attended last year)
In a big urban city, it's amazing that a tiny school like George Peabody exists. Tucked away on a neighborhood street in the inner Richmond, the school has only 225 students. I'm assuming it's one of the smallest in the district. There are two classes in kindergarten, two in first, two in second, two in third, and then one in fourth and one in fifth.
Because the school is so small everything about it feels intimate. I waited for the tour to begin in the office. Kids and parents came in and out and the secretary greeted them by name. It felt like a small town where everyone knows everyone.
The principal, Willem Vroegh, led the tour. Vroegh (pron. "vroo") looks as if he stepped out of a J. Crew catalog. He's got that East Coast boyish look with well-trimmed blond hair, and on the day of my tour he was wearing gray wool slacks and a V-neck sweater. Vroegh (pron. "Vroo") came on board a few years ago after completing a one-year administrator internship at Alice Fong Yu. Before that, he was an elementary school teacher. Vroegh is smart, dedicated, and sincere. And he's passionate when he's talking about his school's curriculum and teachers.
When Vroegh started at Peabody, he had the opportunity to replace some retiring teachers and a few who were moving. This was at the time when the district was closing schools, so Vroegh made some calls to make sure he hired those schools' best teachers. What's more he has two teachers with MBAs, and one of his kindergarten teachers is a former principal and literacy specialist.
So he sounds great. Is he sticking around?
"I just signed a three year contract," he said.
Vroegh started the tour by giving us some background: the school was founded in the 1900s, but the current structure was built in the 1970s. It's basically a concrete box with no charm—but the students and teachers make it feel like a warm, cozy nest. We walked to the small playground with a play structure painted in a rainbow of colors. Murals and paintings of sea creatures brighten a stretch of blacktop. A bungalow sits on one end of the school yard and this is where kids eat lunch and attend assemblies. Vroegh says some parents hope to raise money to eventually build a multipurpose room to replace the bungalow—a project that will require millions to complete.
Stepping into Ms. Krey's kindergarten classroom, we were greeted by giggles. Ms. Krey was singing a song about turkeys with her class, and the kids found it hysterical. On the kids' tables, fat smiling turkeys made from paper bags and construction paper were drying. The room was messy—as Ms. Krey was getting ready for some new shelving—but it was filled with cheer.
In neighboring Ms. Levett's kindergarten, students were engrossed in their journals. They were drawing pictures and writing words; one little girl had written a story about volcanoes and lava and dinosaurs. On Ms. Levett's page on the school's Web site, she says, "I believe in offering a program that is rich in literacy—where reading and writing take place all day in one context or another."
Outside the classrooms, Vroegh explained that the district's core curriculum requires kindergartners to know 18 words by sight and all the letters in the alphabet. "But our children know much more than this," he said. In fact, the curriculum at George Peabody emphasizes reading and literacy. Vroegh talked about a reading program called SIPPS that's overseen by Ms. Krey; it's outside the district's required curriculum.
On the side of the building, Vroegh pointed out a poster featuring the school's four values: Respect, Responsibility, Kindness, and Effort. Under each one, kids had written examples of the values. Their writing was cryptic but I liked that the students had created the poster themselves.
Back to the tour: Vroegh covered PTA details. Over half the families are members. The budget is about $68,000 a year.
PTA funds music for kindergarten through fourth. The district pays for music programs for fifth graders. In fourth and fifth grade, students get to pick from three instruments. There's also a chorus in fifth. In kindergarten and first, students focus on dance movement; in second and third, it's visual arts, and in fourth and fifth, it's performing arts. These classes are taught by outside consultants and of course students get art from their primary teachers.
We wrapped up with a questions-and-answers period with Vroegh.
What percentage are English language learners?
20 to 25 percent. The school does have a large Chinese populations but it seems to be more dominant in the upper grades. The kindergarten classes looked more diverse.
In 2007, Peabody fourth graders scored 74 in English and 78 in math. For comparison, Lawton fourth graders scored 93 in English and 97 in math. Alvarado fourth graders scored 58 in English and 66 in math (Note: Alvarado has Spanish immersion). So Peabody is actually quite strong. And you have two take into account that the school has two classes for kids with special needs. They make up 13 percent of the school. Those kids have to take the same test as all other children. The school also regularly assesses students for reading comprehension, which isn't required by the district. This is so teachers can adjust curriculum.
There's a Junior Great Books program, which is basically a book club for kids—though I imagine that they're not reading Oprah books! And then once a month, teachers lead their students in a Visual Thinking Strategies lesson, that uses art to teach thinking, communication skills, and visual literacy.
Will the school increase in size?
The school can increase from 225 students to 240 students. The upper grades will eventually grow from one fourth and one fifth to three fourth-fifth combos. Why three combos? "Because then you have a team of three teachers who can collaborate," Vroegh says.
Where do kids go to junior high?
Presidio and Roosevelt
Have requests for the school gone up?
Last year they went up 88 percent.
We ended where we started, in the office. Vroegh pointed out some of the photos of special days at the school: "Twin Day," "Pajamas Day," "Red Day."
"I want kids to enjoy coming to school," he said.
The photos brought back memories for me. My elementary school had these same sorts of theme days. In fact, I remember the pants my best friend Isabel and I wore for Twin Day: matching white pants decorated with splashes of colorful paint. I'm sure we looked ridiculous but we were definitely enjoying ourselves.