Reviewed by Kate
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: art-based curriculum; solid test scores; a middle school (K–8); woodsy campus; community environment; diversity; parent involvement (PTA raises $250,000); an early start time
Web site: www.rooftopk8.org
School tours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; call for an appointment at 759-2832
Location: 433 Burnett Ave., eastern slope of Twin Peaks
Start time: 7:50 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 60 students, three classes of 20 children
Playground: Lovely! Woodsy and surrounded by trees; colorful murals; sweeping city views
After-school program: only 14 spaces for incoming kindergartners
Highlights: outstanding sensory motor program for kindergarten through second; lunch time art "Yard Art" program; hands-on science/garden classes; computer lab; family art evenings; performing arts for K–8th; visual arts K–8th; instrumental music K–8th
Have you ever avoided a movie or a book because a friend told you the plot? That's how I was feeling about Rooftop. Other parents had built up this school so much that I assumed I could only feel disappointed.
I was wrong.
Rooftop enchanted me. Perched on the side of Twin Peaks' eastern slope overlooking the city, this school feels magical. My husband dropped me off on the hill above the school, and I walked down a skinny dirt path, which Alice would have called a fairy trail, through a grove of trees to the entrance. Inside, bright, bold artwork wallpapered the walls and parents and children buzzed about. The school felt alive—and it was bursting at the seams with energy.
The tour started in an auditorium, where some 200 eager parents gathered. A current parent, Elizabeth, with sons in seventh and fourth and a three year old daughter, greeted the crowd. "I will spend 18 years at this school," she said, as if she was the luckiest person on the planet.
Elizabeth provided an explanations for the fabulous artwork adorning the school hallways. "Rooftop has a focus on art," she said. "We believe that art enhances learning. We integrate arts with academics."
She went over logistics: There are three classes of 20 through third grade. In fourth it jumps to two classes of 30. There are two neighboring campuses: Burnett is kindergarten through fourth, and Mayeda is fifth through eighth. She talked about the school's diversity. "There's no 'other' at this school. There's no this type or that type," she said.
PTA? They raise a whopping $250,000. How? Through two primary fund-raisers: the Rooftup Run, where students get sponsors and then run around the track at Lowell, and an auction, which involves more than 400 parent volunteers. "We don't say everyone is expected to give this amount of money or this amount of time," Elizabeth said. "you can do what you want to do."
And then Elizabeth introduced the principal, Jane Bieringer—and I immediately adored her.
Bieringer is funny, bright, and genuine—and as she explained her clear, focused vision for the school she smiled and laughed and danced around a bit. She's the sort of person who I'd love to chat with over a cup of tea—or a glass of wine.
Bieringer's children attended Rooftop and she was the president of the PTA. She's also a former teacher, learning specialist, and assistant principal.
She explained that art, music, and drama are considered an integral part of the school experience. "This school was founded in the mid-70s, with the idea that kids would be better problem solvers and critical thinkers if we developed a curriculum that mixed arts and academics" Bieringer said. Parent volunteers teach art in the classrooms regularly and teachers integrate it into curriculum.
She went on to say that Rooftop students are encouraged to take positive risk and face challenges with confidence and optimism. "We expect you to act as if it's impossible to fail," she said. The students are involved in community service and they think globally. "Today, our kindergartners are holding a 'Healthy Snack Sale' for children in Guatemala."
"This is so much more than a school," Bieringer said. "It's a community." Parents are encouraged to volunteer and be present at the school. "Rooftop students flourish in this extended family environment," she said. Bieringer's children still talk about their friends and families from Rooftop.
Every year the school hosts an artist-in-residence. This year jazz musician Marcus Shelby meets with every class, grades kindergarten through eighth, once a week. Shelby is a renowned artist who you might have seen on advertisement posters for the San Francisco Jazz Festival. Shelby recently helped students in seventh and eighth grade English class understand mood and tone in writing by playing different musical sounds. "There were students who understood mood and tone for the very first time," Bieringer said.
Discipline? The school takes it seriously. "Be safe, be responsible, and be respectful" are three values that all students learn. Bieringer believes that good behavior is something that can be learned and practiced.
How do the two campuses stay connected? "We are one school," Bieringer emphasized. All grade levels come together many times a year for events and community service. Also, Bieringer spends Monday through Wednesday at the Mayeda campus while the assistant principal is at Burnett. And then they swap on Thursday and Friday—so they're both familiar with the two sites.
She opened it up to questions:
Where do students go to high school?
Eighty to 90 percent of the kids who apply to Lowell get in. The acceptance rate at private schools is high.
Honors classes and GATE?
No standalone GATE classes (only separate curriculum) in lower grades, but, yes, honors classes in middle school.
Biggest challenges? "We have a vision that we have a differentiated group of learners—and we want to make sure we're reaching every single child," she said. And Bieringer added that No Child Left Behind has introduced its own set of challenges.
Bieringer wished us all luck and we broke into groups to tour the school.
We walked through the playground, encircled by trees. I loved all the greenery. Several bungalows sat squat in the yard but they were bright and cheery with murals. Painted bird houses hung from the trees. Art was everywhere.
We stepped into the sensory motor classroom, where children whisked across the room on a zip line and slid down a slide on a cart with wheels. And into a library, housed in a brand-new bungalow. Kids visit the library once a week, and it's also open at lunch three times a week. The librarian picks out special books for lunchtime readers. And then we strolled through the garden, where artichoke plants grew tall and trees were weighted down with apples. Groups of 10 kids visit the garden once a week, and all children have their own "garden names." The garden teacher goes by Coral Bells.
Back inside, to a second grade classroom where the teacher was talking to the students about Harriet Tubman, an African American slave who escaped and rescued many other slaves throughout her life. The teacher explained that Tubman was a true heroine and she talked about her struggle narcolepsy. One of the students spoke up and said, "My Dad used to have that sickness. Yeah, it was because he worked so much overtime and then he would just fall asleep at home."
This was my last stop because I had to make a meeting at work. But I saw enough of Rooftop to know that it's a special place. The kids were enjoying themselves; they were smiling. Maybe it's the art? Maybe it's the principal? Maybe it's the trees? Whatever it is, this school has come up with a formula that allows its children to learn and have fun. Isn't that what being a kid is all about?