Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bernal visits Marshall

So much to love so much to be concerned about

What a sweet, small, neighborhood school located in the heart of the Mission. Marshall is:

  • K-5
  • full immersion Spanish (versus  a school with both a GE track and immersion)
  • 8:40 AM - 2:30 PM
  • 75% native Spanish speakers
  • 75% neighborhood families
  • two classes per grade
  • ~20 children  per class in K, 1, 2 and the decreases to about 18 per class
  • the majority of teachers are native Spanish speakers
  • Everett is the middle school Marshall feeds into

The actual facility has an open middle space (think Melrose Place) with a lovely tiled area for school gatherings. The school is in their third (of three) year of a $150,000 greening grant. As a result of this grant they have done some greening to their blacktop and have set up a lovely garden along the side of the school. There is half-time outdoor ed staff person there. 

The children have once a week art, library, computer lab and PE. There is not an actual art room so its done in their classes and come to think of it I did not see a gym. Music is third grade and up (although the principal said the K/1/2 get some through the Berkeley rep). 

This was the first school that I've seen that does not partner with PlayWorks. According to a PTA mom, its a priority but its about funding. Also, interesting because at BV-HM I was told that all Mission schools partner with PlayWorks. PTA is in its seventh year and raised about $52,000 last year.

A limited number of children can be dropped off as early as 7AM for supervised play and games. Aftercare is available until 6PM (5PM for Kinder) through the excel program (which wont work for us since I need four days and for Excel you must do five days). There are off-site options with partners through the Boys & Girls Club and Arriba Juntos.

The school touts themselves as placing an emphasis on science. Oddly, when given the opportunity to talk this up, the principal responded that 'yes, we emphasize science but there is a lot more we need to do". They have an 'Oceans Month' which is a school-wide month long focus on the ocean that includes field trips, on-site marine life exhibits and culminating in a marine habitat fair.They partner with Mission Science for K-2 field trips and their science curriculum is from Lawrence Hall of Science.

I really liked the principal, Peter Avila. As I was waiting for the tour to begin the principal overhead two kids talking and one said that he didn't have breakfast. I watched the principal take him into the cafeteria and get him fed. He seemed laid back and approachable. Principal said there are little to no discipline issues at school. Peter's wish list is for more monolingual English speakers to attend so that the native Spanish speaking children would have those models and peers. He also recognized that one issue the huge number of siblings. He also recognized the gap in test scores between the two native language speakers.

I saw two kindergartens in action - one teacher was a young male who was energized and full of life (and so were the kids he was teaching). The other teacher was much older (thinking grandma/abuela) and did not so much as crack a grin or offer and excited intonation patters. It was a class of 18 children (both had 18 children) and SILENT! Both kinders were working on the calendar and I felt that the only way my daughter would not be bored with this was the fact that it was Spanish. The first grade was just starting to learn about patterns - something my daughter has been doing for the past two years.

I love this school for me. I feel like we/I could make a real difference here in terms of a white monolingual English speaking kid with a family who could donate a good amount of time. But, is this the right school for my daughter?  The lack of arts is HUGE for us. We also need aftercare.

I also wonder who my daughter's peers will be. We are monolingual English and over 75% of the current families are monolingual Spanish there are going to be barriers.  Given the school's location and the percentage of Spanish speakers this certainly seems to be the school to get an intensive Spanish speaking education.

I asked how the teachers handle it when there are 1-2 English only kinder speakers in a class of 18 Spanish only speakers? The recognized this is an issue but that the Spanish is definitely not dummed down and this is mostly addressed in small group instruction.

I just keep thinking about how sweet this school is! Funny, as I re-read this I thought WHY would I want this school. I guess its just a great feeling and that I cant stop thinking about.


  1. Did you ever consider there are families (and teachers and support staff) that are making a real difference at the school every single day? ALL the families make a difference not just the white ones with time on their hands.

  2. I can't say enough about what a wonderful and loving school Marshall is.. The teachers are amazing. The emphasis on science is real. The school recognizes and applauds high achievement through its Student of the Month program. Marshall is one of the very few bay area elementary schools that participates in the Odyssey of the Mind competition. My child also had great art instruction in Kinder. The school is small, so students and families start to all know one-another over time. The school often looks at itself as an underdog, as compared to other schools that are able to raise much larger amounts of funding. I'm not surprised that Peter Avila responded to a question with, "yes, but there is a lot more we need to do". Peter is wants each year to be better and better for the students and families at Marshall. He wants the school to be able to raise more funding, so we can create more programs and more opportunities for the community. Marshall has extremely low teacher turnover - I think it's because they love teaching at Marshall. If you haven't seen the school, stop-by on a Friday morning for assembly!

  3. As a parent of a (formerly) monolingual English speaking child at Marshall I can tell you I am extremely happy with the school, principal and teachers. I really wouldn't judge teachers based on a couple of brief observations, the vast majority of teachers are excellent. The only way to fairly judge teachers is to observe them over a long period of time, which I know is impossible during this process.

    I'm not sure where you saw the information on 75% of students being monolingual Spanish speakers. The last highlight report posted by SFUSD shows that over the past three years only 55%-60% of students have been English learners. I think the goal is 50%. Either way don't worry, within a year or two they are all bilingual and though some prefer to interact within their primary language group during recess, many do cross over and they all interact in the classroom.

    We don't do a good job letting people know about aftercare options. Please see our website for a full list: The BV/HM transfer program has not been able to take off b/c we haven't been able to get 3-5 kids there so it justifies BV/HM sending staff over for pick up. CYO started this year and parents there are very happy with the program.

    As for academics, it is sadly inevitable that some kids are ahead while others are behind. The teachers, however, are aware of this and try hard to keep them all motivated. Learning Spanish was a big enough challenge for my kid the first two years. Now he frequently gets extra work and does independent work when the general subject matter is too easy for him. Not ideal of course, but it works, and it usually only occurs during math time for our son. Language arts certainly keep him engaged still.

    Finally, your overall impression of Marshall having a good feel is absolutely correct. Not sure what it is exactly, but we do have a happy, safe and collegial environment for students and parents.

  4. thanks for your feedback - its great to hear as I cant get marshall out of my head.

    Peter gave the 75% number (monolingual Spanish speakers).

    as for 2:24, what a silly statement. my comment was in response to the principal stating that Marshall could benefit from some white monolingual English speaking families (to help with demographics). Lordy...

  5. You are assuming you will get the school of your choice with the teacher of your choice. Plus 16th and Mission Bart nearby?

  6. Before you commit and you need after-school care- check out Arriba Juntos first. It frightened me. The after-school program at the school was full with a large waiting list. Maybe Buena Vista because its immersion with an after school program.

  7. My child goes to Marshall, is white and comes from a monolingual, English speaking household. She loves it there. I have been impressed by all her teachers (she is now in one of the upper grades). I chose Marshall for her in part because I had heard that the Spanish instruction was more rigorous than at some of the other immersion schools. I know a few families with kids elsewhere and I have to say I have found this to be true. Small sample size, of course, but the bottom line is I have been very pleased by our experience. Also, there is a lot of family involvement there on the parts of both the Spanish and English speaking communities.

  8. Our family is another English-only family who now have a Kinder at Marshall. She is in the class taught by the male teacher mentioned in the review. We are extremely happy with the class and her progress. Her "friend group" is a mixture of Spanish and English speakers, and she is handling it very well, although to be fair she is quite outgoing to begin with.

    For afterschool, there is a variety of options as mentioned in earlier comments. we chose the CYO option as it has a more flexible pick-up option - the aftercare at the school is aimed at the low-income and students needing additional help, is funded by the city (I believe) and as such requires that students stay for the full day.

    CYO costs us $150 a month (there are scholarships but we don't qualify) and provides art, physical education, and homework completion. CYO sends a bus to pick them up and take them to CYO. It is a good program.

    I would encourage anyone to check out all the Spanish Immersion schools. We were won over by Marshall due to the small school size, our opinions of the teachers we met, and the proximity to our home. We didn't realize how much more "latin" it was than some of the other immersion schools until after we started attending, but that is only another plus in our books.

  9. We LOVE Marshall! Our native English first grader rides his bike to school 7 blocks from our Mission home every day and is happy, safe and bilingual! He receives an excellent education from an incredibly dedicated and caring community. I have been an SFUSD employee for 12 years myself and my husband works for a private school and we are thrilled with Marshall. We wouldn't have him anywhere else.