Saturday, October 26, 2013

School Tours: Monroe

While arriving at Monroe Elementary I saw families biking to school together and big kids holding hands with little kids as they crossed streets.  Immediately I felt like I was in a smaller neighborhood where local kids went to the local school.  I liked the feel of it.

I entered what I hoped to be the main building and the super friendly women in the office directed me to the cafeteria.  I was the first to arrive and started looking at the walls.  There was a lot of info on recycling, composting, gay pride, eating healthy and field trips within San Francisco.  Again, I liked it.

A few parents started arriving and we all chatted.  Most of them lived nearby, this is their neighborhood school, and they want Spanish or Chinese Immersion.  The other parents were friendly, informed and very interested in finding the right fit for their child.

Our tour was led by a PTA parent who was exuberant and informative.  The school is currently under construction and grades 2-3 are off-site at another facility until construction is done (early 2015).  They are working on one building now, when that is complete all students (minus grades 2 & 3) will move to it while they work on their current building.  A Kindergartener entering in Fall of 2014 will deal with construction for a few months until the project is complete.  (Obviously this could be a big problem for those with health issues, ie Asthma, etc.)  I didn't actually hear or notice the construction while we were there so I didn't feel it would be a huge impediment to learning.  And in early 2015 all grades will return to the Monroe campus and the school will be done with construction.

Here are the basics covered in the tour:
-There are about 450 students at the school

-Kindergarten has 5 classes with 22 kids in each class
-Two classes are Spanish Immersion
-Two classes are Chinese Immersion
-One class is English Plus Pathway
-It's a very multi-cultural school

The school is:
45% Latino
30% Asian

They wear uniforms of a white top & navy bottoms
Friday is free dress day

School runs from 8:25-2:25pm
There is an early dismissal on Tuesday at 1:25
Earliest drop-off is 7:45 and they do serve breakfast.

Like most immersion programs, Kinders spend 90% of their instruction in Spanish/Chinese and 10% in English

They do not have a dedicated PE teacher.  Rather the teachers have been trained in PE and they do about 100 minutes/week.

-There is one music teacher for the Upper Grades
-Two dance teachers on site for the lower grades
-Artist Residents on Tues & Thurs (during which time teachers collaborate)
-They are currently trying to bolster their arts program

They have an after school program: the YMCA is on-site to help children with their homework.  The Excelsior Rec. center walks kids over for their after school program (I head a parent say that one is run by the Boys & Girls club).  Also Buena Vista has an after-school program and some kids are bussed there.

They do not have busses aside from that though.

Homework for Kinders: about a 1/2 hour each day

The Feeder Middle School is Hoover.

We began the tour and went to the Library and a Kinder classroom.  Since I toured some schools that were K-8, what struck me about Monroe was it's size.  It really felt like an elementary school and it didn't seem like a young child would be overwhelmed by its volume.  The library was decent size - it has books in all three languages.  And the Kindergarten classroom was very cute with a lot of artwork on the walls.  However, these exact rooms will be gone before my daughter would arrive there due to construction.  According to the Principal, the library will be much bigger in size.

As we walked on, we viewed the playground which seemed of average size.  Recesses are done by grade so the Ks wouldn't mix with the 5th graders.  There was a large solar panel that I asked the Tour Leader about and he said it powers a few classrooms and they're very focused on being green at Monroe.  They talk a lot about composting, etc.

Solar Panel on the playground

We moved on to an outdoor amphitheater.  So in addition to the stage in the Cafeteria they also can host events here.  Nearby there was a garden, including a veggie garden, and a beautiful gazebo that was built by a parent.  Apparently the garden is also in limbo because of construction but they're hoping to either keep it or rebuild it.

Outdoor Amphitheater

I really got the feeling that the community works hard to make Monroe thrive.  When asking about the PTA we were told they raised $62k out of a goal of $60k.  The Principal stressed this is a HUGE amount for their community to raise.  Our Tour Leader said the PTA President is named Frank Lau (sp?) and he is very involved.  He actually passed by our tour later so we got to see him on campus.  Our Tour Leader had great things to say about Frank and mentioned that the parent community was very involved at PTA meetings and they were fun, lively events where the cafeteria gets packed with people.  At the school I felt a lot of community spirit, saw lots of volunteers and felt how much parents care for this school.

Garden built by parents

We also received a pamphlet of more details about the school.   What continued to impress me was they really stress no junk food - even packed in lunches.  No candy, no cookies, no potato chips, etc.  There are no vending machines.  They offer on-site lunch by Revolution foods for $2.50.  Your child can opt in and the bill would then be sent monthly if they don't qualify for free lunch.  Parents can come and have lunch with their child any day but again cannot bring junk food.

They don't have any formal "buddy program" where a 4/5th grader meets regularly with a younger child.  But they do have 4th & 5th graders who volunteer to help at the Kindergarten lunch.  They might open milk or clean up trash for the younger kids.  It gives them an opportunity to have a leadership role and to be helpful.  They also help resolve conflicts amongst kindergarteners if necessary and can learn from that as well.

The average teacher time is 7-9 years.  Although they have 2 new teachers this year.  The principal has been on site for 2 years.

Overall I really liked Monroe.  It reminded me of a 'normal' school, one you might find as your neighborhood school in the burbs; it's small, parents get involved, they are making a lot of progress and it has a big community feel.

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