Reviewed by Wendy
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: an emphasis on social skills and community building (they consider teaching these skills equally important as academic ones); a beautiful facility, including a two-story library in the center of the school; an excellent outdoor education program (including overnight camping trips starting in third grade, and a five-day backpacking trip for the seventh grade); committed, involved teachers (many of their teachers have long tenures with the school); a great technology program (a room full of relatively new iMacs and the use of technology to aid learning in traditional subject areas); an intimate environment (the Head of School seemed to know the kids and their strengths and weaknesses); an after-school program until 5:30 p.m.; and an 8:00 a.m. start time.
Web site: www.sfds.net
School tours: Open Houses can be scheduled through the Web site.
Location: 350 Masonic Avenue, at Golden Gate, NOPA
Start time: 8:00 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 40+ students, two classes of 23-25 children.
Playground: I did not see these during the Open House, but maybe when I tour, I will see them. I was told that they have three separate outdoor play spaces on the roof of the building and an additional one in back.
Library: Yes, a beautiful library with cozy reading spots, and a terrific alcove where the children sit on small, carpeted risers while the librarian reads to them from an overstuffed chair. Children visit on a weekly basis and check out books to discuss during class time.
Technology: Smart Boards in all classrooms, which are like giant iPhone touch-screen whiteboards. Computers in classrooms, a large computer lab, all teachers meet with the technology teacher to explore of how to use computers in support of science and other projects.
Before- and after-school program: After school care available until 5:30 p.m.
Language: Spanish instruction is required starting in 4th grade, and Latin is available in grade 7.
Highlights: Extraordinary social skills education integrated into every classroom, with two full-time school counselors and a health and education program starting in 4th grade; excellent technology program with a full-time teacher, classroom integration and awesome resources; a delightful, large library with cozy reading nooks and immense book collection; teachers that stay long term and seem creative and excited about their school; outdoor education program with overnight trips starting in the 3rd grade; backpacking adventures for the 7th grade, and the 8th graders going to the Pinnacles this year.
School community: This school seems to have created a loving community of students. The school teaches using the “responsive classroom” method. The mantra of this method is, “Love for self, respect for others, care for the community and environment.” (This is paraphrasing, as best I can remember) The students seem to know each other well, communicate well and support each other well. The kindergarteners are all assigned to 8th grade “buddies,” sit with them during assemblies, and help shepherd them through their first year at the school. There was a panel of six children at the Open House, speaking to a crowd of over 100 parents. All of them were articulate, confident, thoughtful and honest. They were very impressive kids.
Facility: The facility is beautiful, especially considering its very urban location. I wanted to lose myself in the library. They have two science labs, two art studios, two music studios, an immaculate gymnasium, and courtyards with plants, benches and sculptures.
Academics: The school emphasizes academics and creating well-rounded kids. The program relies on responsive teachers and staff to support kids who lag behind as well as to find additional challenges for kids who exceed expectations. Classrooms are well-staffed such that each child receives one-on-one attention and gets tailored assistance.
Teaching: The teachers seem truly energized by their work, creative, caring and nurturing to the students. For example, a history teacher that spoke to the parents had been at the school for 21 years. He focuses on class participation, analytical thinking skills, and getting kids to have civil and energetic discussions, and getting them to ask questions. He uses “the Ethicist” columns from the New York Times to encourage discussion among his kids about academic honesty. Another example is the technology teacher, who has been at the school for 14 years. He was jazzed about the whole school, especially the outdoor education program. He talked about using computers to assist with a science project. The kids were studying the effect of changes in water temperature on a fish’s frequency of respiration. He showed the kids how to use a computer to monitor the water temperature over time, so that the kids could focus on counting the respirations (“breaths”).