Tuesday, October 29, 2013

School Tour: Alvarado

I must say I was pretty excited about Alvarado.  It's supposedly the Spanish Immersion school in San Francisco and after checking out a few others I was ready to view the one everyone talks about.

Prior to showing up we had to sign up via EventBrite and then print our tickets at home.  We were told these would be checked, but that didn't happen.  We all filed in to their cafeteria space and eventually we were greeted by a volunteer mom of a kindergartener.

She discussed her reasons for choosing Alvarado, we were told the Principal wasn't there that day but we could get questions to him via her.  Then we watched a video on Alvarado which gave us some basic facts (below).

The parents (about 60+) were divided in to two groups and we were whisked away by another parent volunteer.  This woman was friendly, has had three kids at Alvarado and is very excited about the school.

We first traveled to the art room.  Alvarado has a kiln and the art room shows a ton of the projects the kids have worked on throughout the years.  Our parent volunteer spoke about all the projects that have returned home and been too special to discard.  This does seem like a great space for a child.  I was a little unclear (and maybe a current parent can clarify) but she mentioned a kindergartner gets one day/week for 16 weeks in the kiln room.  So it doesn't seem to be ongoing throughout the school year for each child.  Alvarado does have a strong focus on arts & creativity.  Their playground has murals & mosaics that date back to previous classes.  This seems like a strong focus for the school and parents.

We then went to a Kindergarten room which was english speaking, we weren't going to be able to see a Spanish Immersion class.  We quietly observed before we moved on.  I must say I thought the teacher was crabby and did not speak with the typical "kindergarten voice" that I've observed in other classes.  As we entered the hallway the parent volunteer said "Can't you just feel the nurturing?"  I looked at some of the other parents and we all exchanged looks...Really, that was nurturing?  One parent murmured as we made our way out, "If that was nurturing, I'd hate to see strict".

I started to notice that aside from the Parent Volunteer telling me how special and nurturing the community was, I didn't actually see it in the faces of anyone in the hall.

We then headed to the library, which is the smallest library I've seen yet.  We went outside to view the playground and the garden (outdoor science lab).  Both were fine.

We went back to the cafeteria to get our questions answered by two additional parents who are involved in the PTA and have had numerous kids at Alvarado.  They seemed like nice folks and people who are committed to public schools.

The main take-away from that was that the After School program for 2014-2015 is unknown.  It's TBD and the Principal doesn't yet know what's the plan is.  I guess currently there is a paid program and a free program for those who need it.  I believe they're trying to determine how to serve more students.

I was impressed with their homework for Kindergarteners.  I'm looking for less homework, not more.  They gave a sample sheet of homework for K's and it includes fun activities like "Bring in something to share that begins with the letter Tt".  and "What color are your eyes?"  It seems completely age appropriate and something that would be fun for kids, rather than tiresome and make them dislike school.

Alvarado Details:

Strong PTA
Raises $400K last year
$200K comes from their auction

Big arts focus:
They have a Artist-in-residence on site
Art room w/ their kiln
Music for 4th graders+ for one hour/week
3rd graders learn to play the recorder

There is no GATE program aside from a letter in the mail saying your chid has been "GATE identified"

There are 22 kids in every class
2 Spanish Immersion classes/grade
2 English classes/grade

Kindergarteners have separate bathroom and water fountains

There is a separate computer lab and children have classes there every other week.

The staff has low turnover
Our parent volunteer mentioned this and also said it can be a drawback because there is less innovation.

Playworks is on-site and they have a yard coordinator

Parents volunteer time to come and work on art projects throughout the weekend as a way to build community and restore past murals, etc.

The feeder middle school is James Lick.

There is no neighborhood preference to Alvarado for the Spanish Immersion Program.

School starts at 7:50am and there is a curbside drop-off.

Overall, I thought Alvarado was just okay.  It certainly didn't WOW me like I was expecting.  After some of the other tours where I've really felt community and school spirit I was let down a bit.

Did any other parents feel this way on the tour or were you all wowed?   Current parents I'd love to hear from you as well!

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