Reviewed by Thanh
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: a very well rounded approach to school – core curriculum of the three Rs and equal emphasis on extracurricular activities (sports via CYO, student council, yearbook, community service, etc); an active (and I mean active) parent community, and a very traditional school setting and culture (think Leave It to Beaver), engaged teachers who seem devoted to their craft, a foundation of Catholicism in the sense of a respect for God and appreciation for spirituality, a structured and clearly well-run administration, and a real sense of community between the different grades.
Web site: www.stmonicasf.org
School tours: by appointment
Location: 5920 Geary Blvd, Richmond district
Start time: 8:00 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 16 students (by my count – but I am told that average class size is 25)
Average class size lower school, K–8: 20-25, one class per grade
Total student body: 225 students
Tuition: (based on one child)
$5,320 for Catholic in Parish
$5,570 for Catholic out of Parish
$6,010 for Non-Catholic
Financial aid: Financial Aid assistance is awarded on the basis of need and funded through the BASIC Fund for low-income families.
Before- and after-school program: Extend Care program $2,394/year, drop-in fees $6.00/hour. School-run with multiple activities, including dance, music, and physical activities. There are also numerous additional enrichment programs for additional cost. In addition, starting in 3rd grade (I think) there is a variety of sports teams offered and school extracurricular activities (at no cost).
Language: There is a Mandarin Chinese class offered after school for additional cost. I did not note if additional language class offered starting in middle school.
Highlights: There is a wide range of extracurricular activities after school including Mandarin language, Science Adventure Club, guitar and piano lessons, dance, etc. for additional cost. In addition, mostly for older children, the school offers a host of school-sponsored activities including student council, media club, yearbook, newspaper, peer tutoring etc. Also there is a range of sports options starting in 3rd grade soccer (I think), basketball and baseball (co-ed) for boys and soccer, volleyball and baseball (co-ed) for girls. All at no cost.
In addition, because of the schools Catholic foundation, community service is also integrated beginning in 8th grade with visits to St. Anthony’s kitchen, volunteering in the Parish, etc.
St. Monica is a very traditional school in the very best sense but will never be mistaken for alternative school. My takeaway is that their mission is to develop the whole child – academically and developmentally. As such, there seems to be equal emphasis on core academics and extracurricular activities. Academically the school wants to ensure that their middle schools students are prepared for high school. We’re told that most students seem to enroll in St. Ignatius, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Archbishop Riordan, Mercy and Lowell – and from the parents who led the tour, that seemed to bear out. As you can see from the highlights, there is what seems like a few hundred ways to get involved in the school via extracurricular activities.
Our tour started in the Library (with a dedicated librarian) and two current St. Monica parents met us. The Principal, Mr. Sweeters, who has been there 3 years, led the intro session. We met Mr. Mullen who is the 8th grade science teacher and two 8th grade students who were part of the Student Council. Mr. Mullen was clearly excited about his craft, he leads a 7th vs. 8th grade science challenge every year, and is proud of the fact that St. Monica kids are ready for a college preparatory high school when they leave. Example cited: you take Algebra in 8th grade and when you enter 9th grade, you are ready to Algebra II or Honors Algebra. One statement he made stuck out for me. St. Monica offers a range of tutoring – both by peers and by teachers – outside of class. The philosophy is that instead of lowering academic standards and expectations, they want to build a “scaffolding” of support with regard to academics, should you’re child need it.
The curriculum is based on California standards, in addition to adherence to curriculum guidance from the Catholic Archdiocese (I think). K-6 is homeroom style, with one teacher teaching all subjects, and augmentation from specialty teachers for art, music, computers. Starting in 7th grade, you start having multiple teachers across different subjects, so a history teacher, a math teacher, a science teacher, and english teacher, etc. Homework starts in kindergarten, and is about 15 minutes, for both K and 1st grade. Then each subsequent year adds an additional 15 minutes – so if you’re doing your math, it ends up being about 1.5 to 2 hours by 8th grade. I am told that the K homework might be something like read your child a book and have him or her tell you about what happened. I don’t know the extent and how it works in practice, but apparently the teachers (who are mostly long-term), are required to take additional professional development courses.
Tour and Day in the Life
We then moved on to look at the kindergarten class. It was incredibly cheerful room with all sorts of kid drawings and activities on the wall. There were 3 computers in the class. They had just finished english and were involved in free form play – most of the girls were playing dress-up in a great dress up corner and playhouse, and most of the boys were building giant forts with wooden blocks. From what I could see of the english workbooks on their desk, it looked like what they had been doing was coloring with crayons all pictures of things that started with D, so coloring in a dog and not coloring in phone. I have to say I liked what I saw of both things in that there was both structured learning and unstructured activity. Unfortunately, did not meet the K primary teacher because she was out sick. Met the assistant teacher and a parent who was helping out. Apparently parental help is welcome, and up to the teachers to determine the level.
We saw a 1st grade PE class in a nice little gym, led by their PE teacher who seemed enthused and liked the kids. All the kids were lined up and learning how to kick a soccer ball with the inside of their foot and passing it back and forth to each other. The K-3 play yard did not have a playground structure – apparently the teachers bring out balls, hula-hoops, equipment, etc. to play with. There are two daily recesses, each 30 minutes. And an “Activity Time”, for 30 minutes – activity time might include yoga, PE, etc. depending on the day. The school day at St. Monica is long, 8:00am to 2:50pm, so there is a 30-minute Rest Time after lunch for Kindergarteners, where you can either do quiet activities or even nap. We saw a 2nd grade class in the computer lab (with new iMacs) doing games that helped them with math and keyboarding, led by a computer teacher, with the second-grade teacher present and lending support. We saw the middle school science class and observed a 4th grade class – I can’t remember the subject – and the only thing from my notes that is interesting at all, is the fact that there was same level of cheerfulness – with walls plastered with student work.
Student Observation and Diversity
St. Monica is a mostly Asian student body – 40% are Chinese, 24% are Caucasian, and 22% are bi-racial (mostly Asian/Caucasian), 14% other. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember seeing any African-Americans. My observations of the kids are that these are real kids – not worldly nor overly coddled, just happy, well-adjusted children. The two 8th graders we met were confident, bright, articulate boys who seemed respectful to each other and respectful to their teachers. Just a nice note: the school has a K and 8th grade “buddy” program, which work on projects together once a week, and it was delightful to hear how much those boys liked working with their K buddies. That was reinforced by the K teacher who remarked on how much the Ks adored their 8th grade buddies.
You are expected to provide 25 hours of service per family/year. You are also expected to participated in Fall Fundraiser by selling $300 worth of products (you’re able to buy our $200 yourself), participate in Spring Fundraiser by purchasing $100 with items in something (auction?), and $250 in Maintenance Fund, an emergency fund to cover capital improvements. In addition to that, it sounds like, just as there seem to be a lot of extracurricular activities for your kids, there are many ways you can jump into and help as a parent – parent club, room parent group, parent volunteer on business side (marketing and development). The parents we met were long-term parents who were relaxed, clearly very involved in the school and in their kids, and really proud of their children.
So I have to address the Catholicism, a bit, I think. St. Monica is Catholic school – make no mistake about it - which means in Kindergarten, you have 20 minutes of religion class, school assembly every morning starts with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, and there is once-a-month student Mass. Catholic students will be prepared to have First Communion and Confirmation. There are students who are non-Catholic (as a matter of fact, my notes tell me that 50% of students are non-Catholic, could that be right?), and they seemed genuinely open to accepting students who are non-Catholic. Personal note, I am Catholic (and handful of Mass/year attendee who was raised by a Buddhist father, who promised my mother when she died that he would raise me Catholic), my husband is not, and our son is not baptized. For some folks, Catholicism, however offered, is not going to be suitable. For others, it might be a draw. For our family, here is how we look at it: the tenets of religion (any religion) are good – do right by yourself, do right by others, do good in the community and honor some higher being – whether that’s God with a capital G, whether that is Allah, whether that’s a spiritual being you find in the nature, etc. The religion question in our family is an evolving one, but currently we’re thinking that our son’s path can take on many forms, Catholicism, Buddhism, Muslim, spiritual awareness, etc. And as he grows up, and as we grow up (!), we’re open to wherever that may take him and us. So for our little family, an introduction to Catholicism via school is fine and that’s why we’re looking at them. But I appreciate the fact that for many of our friends, and I’m sure others, it wouldn’t be appropriate.