Reviewed by Marcia Brady.
You can find a lot of the vital stats about Alvarado on Kate's review of 2 years ago at http://thesfkfiles.blogspot.com/2007/10/alvarado-elementary-school.html, or click on the link to the right of the posts.
So I will plunge into the meaty part:
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:
A time-tested immersion program, enrichment galore, a creative environment, progressive values, location in a quiet, safe neighborhood. It might not be ideal for a very shy child or one easily overwhelmed, as it's a large place with 480 students.
Class Structure / Curriculum: 2 classes each of GE and Spanish immersion; each class is 20 for a total of 40 slots. By 4th and 5th, there are only 3 classes, 1 mixed (since you can "check out" of an immersion program by moving away, but you can't "check in" midstream, there is some attrition), with a ratio of 1:27 for the main classroom. Because kids are pulled out for 8-week sessions of enrichment, they have exposure to several different teachers, which is good prep for middle school as well as a nice way for a child to have role models besides his/her classroom teacher. The GE and Spanish Immersion kids are mingled for these pull-outs, too.
Odds of Getting In: Beyond low, unless you are a native Spanish speaker or bilingual.
Campus/Playground: Big, old-style building (maybe 1910s or 20s?), well-worn, with wide halls, high ceilings, and lots of light in the classrooms. The halls are filled with kids' art as well as commissioned art: papier-mache bees hung from one hallway ceiling; another stairway has two-story stained-glass windows; yet another has a giant, beautiful mobile. Dedicated art room, music/science room, motor skills room, computer lab, library, cafeteria/auditorium. Upper and lower asphalt yards. Upper yard has huge new play structure complete with rock-climbing wall; lower yard has freshly painted game markers on the asphalt. Murals and gardening boxes abound. Parking situation is wretched, but after K you can drop off (you have to walk in to pick up).
After School programs: GLO (Growth and Learning Opportunities, more requests than slots), and Excel (by invitation only). Low-cost after-school clubs (chess, clay club, theater, yoga, etc.). Motor skills classes for K, 1, and 2.
Additional Programs: 8 week enrichment "pull-outs" for special project in art, hands-on science, music, dance, etc.
PTA: Apparently hugely involved -- raised $250K including grants last year.
Language program(s): Dual immersion Spanish
Library / Computer Lab: Library is smallish, but nicely equipped, with a part time librarian; library class is 1x/week. Computer lab has 30 Dell terminals and kids go 1x/ week.
Arts: The art room is fantastic, filled with professional-level equipment including 2 kilns. Art is 1x week for 8 weeks officially, for special projects. But the school is filled with evidence of art as an everyday pedagogical practice in the classrooms.
PE: 2x week. After school club sports available, including basketball for the little ones.
Recess/Lunch: 2 recess periods/day. Lunch for who knows how long?
The tour seemed already well underway by the time I arrived at 8:15. Apparently it had started at 8:00 even though the website says 8:15. Oh, well. We began in the playground, then proceeded to a motor skills room equipped with mats, stepping-stones, and other gross-motor equipment for the K-2 kids' special classes. We proceeded to a 2nd-grade GE classroom, where kids were working on money exchanges with little dry-erase boards. Interestingly, this classroom had a chart listing all the neighborhoods they represented. 2 kids were from Daly City and 1 was from San Pablo. I'm sure it's all very legitimate, but my heart did sink when I thought about how few SF kids get into Alvarado.
Onward to a bright, sunny SI Kindergarten classroom, where both SI classes were working together. The kids were doing small-group work and wow-- there was an adult (a student teacher, parent, or paraprofessional) at every table, for a total of 6 adults for the 40 kids present. We got to spend more time in the empty SI Kindergarten classroom, which was large and well equipped with easels, a reading area, a block play area, and art everywhere, including flags of the world created by the kids. I was pleased to see posterboard "vote charts" where kids could vote for which storybook they wanted to hear again (and later, to hear that the principal had recently promised to drink a bottle of Tabasco sauce if 50% of each classroom read a particular number of books for the annual Read-A-Thon -- and then drank it!).
We also peeked into a 5th grade SI class, where kids were doing geography with a combination of textbooks, colored pencil drawings, and inscrutable toothpick structures (topography models, I think). The teacher asked them to tell us what they were doing in Spanish, which several did. We also saw the bright, sunny science/music room and I was happy to see a large diagram/explanation of the scientific method on the wall, because I have it on good authority that UC kids don't know what the scientific method is, let alone how to follow it.
You know my thing is behavior management, right? So Alvarado gives awards *by classroom* for homework completed, clean-up, etc. This emphasis on the collective effort charmed me. Alvarado is also a good fit for us, in that social justice issues are woven into the curriculum (for women's history month last year, every class performed a rock song written by a woman, from Janis Joplin to Diana Ross). I saw just a bit of Principal Broecker, but he is young, hip, and very straightforward.
Overall? There's nothing not to love about Alvarado except, for us, the commute and the low odds: it's artsy and progressive, academically solid, and filled with opportunities for kids to learn beyond the 3 Rs. Without having had Spanish in the home and/or an immersion preschool, though, the odds are very low for getting in. Silly me for not being able to afford that Spanish-speaking nanny so we could get an immersion preschool so.... blah blah blah. But you see what I mean. It was also interesting to see a trophy school in action, and the very real difference in enrichment opportunities and facilities that such a school can offer. Yet as I understand it, Alvarado was once in the untouchable caste of schools, for middle-class parents: a friend of mine got her kids in when it was about where Daniel Webster is now, i.e., under the care of a first generation of "take back the schools" parents. Which leads me to a burning question. The commute aside, is it better to shoot the moon for a trophy school at #1, with other more attainable choices below? Or if a more attainable but still oversubscribed school like Flynn or McKinley isn't your #1, are you doomed not to get those either? I am a bear of little brain when it comes to the lottery. And then there's the question of whether it's better to meet up with a school at the beginning of its ascent, or to get onto an already-built bandwagon (to mix a metaphor).