Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thomas Edison Charter Academy

The worst experience I ever had as a teacher was at a charter school.  I never considered sending my children to a charter school until about a week ago when I had my first parent teacher conference at my daughter's preschool.  Her teacher said with pride, "She's 100 percent ready for kindergarten." He had forgotten that she has an October birthday and won't start Kindergarten until 2016.  I wish we could send her to some wonderful "forest school" where she would just be outside exploring all year next year, or leave her at her wonderful preschool for another year instead of sending her to TK, but we simply can't afford it.  I wish she could just start Kindergarten.

So I decided to tour a charter school. I had beard that TECA was going to have space for 10 students in TK and that they are going to combine their class with Kindergarten. It will be a "bridge class" with mixed ages.  I think a mixed class will be good for my daughter, she can be in reading groups with K and learn the social skills she might need with the TK kids. Another factor is that some of my daughter's friends are siblings and going to go there next year. They also have a 50/50 bilingual program starting in kindergarten.  It's also close to home and almost on my way to work.

I arrived to the school very early because I was worried about parking.  There was plenty of parking right on Dolores so I  decided to walk around the block while I waited.  As I got to the entrance on Chattanooga I saw a familiar face.  One of my former colleagues was greeting students on the curb, along with the principal.  My colleague told me that she loves working at the school.  I expressed my worries about it being a charter and she said, "Oh no, this is a good charter."   I also saw some younger siblings of kids I know, and their parents told me that they love the school, too.  It was nice to see familiar faces and feel part of the community.

The tour began in the Gym.  Since I was one of the first people their I had time to talk to the PE coach.  He loves the school and has been there for something like 12 years, from when it was "for profit" through the transition and beyond. He said the kids love being there.  I also got to meet the drama teacher/ K-2 instructional coach.  She said that she and some of the other teachers are all going to have kids in TK next year, and although it is a new program, they are excited about it.

There were 4 parents giving the tour, 3 native English speakers and one native Spanish speaker.  They talked about their growing PTC, the afterschool program, the immersion program.  They were all very enthusiastic.  They said they write grants to get funding for programs they are interested in, even though the PTC only raised around 20,000 last year.  I personally don't care about fund-raising, I care about community. They also said there are monthly community events and yoga and baile folclorico electives in the afterschool program.

The classrooms we entered had writer's workshop anchor charts on the walls and the teachers were giving phonics lessons.  The kids were engaged in call and response phonics activities.  The writing samples displayed on the walls were in both languages and at grade level. There was also art displayed all over the hallways and Dia de Muertos decorations. We also had the chance to see the cafeteria (sort of dark) and the music class. I was concerned about the fact that Kindergarten has lunch at 10:30! Apparently, they also have an afternoon snack, because it seemed too early for lunch. The music class was dynamic, all the students were rehearsing in rock bands - each with their own instrument.

We met back in the cafeteria to talk with principal.  She answered questions about community, and curriculum. Their immersion program only goes to 3rd grade, but they are hoping to start a Spanish Literature/Culture class for the kids as they get older. She also said something that I liked about charter schools.  She called them "Private Schools in Public Spaces." They are trying to provide academics, arts and athletics to public school kids - a commitment that sadly many district schools have lost.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience at TECA.  I think my daughter would do well in a combined TK/K class.  I wish it was an option in the immersion program too, but we speak Spanish at home and there are only 2 immersion TKs in the district. I like the arts focus and the immersion program.  I liked the Principal more than any I have met so far.

I am genuinely surprised. We will be applying to TECA.  I am not sure if it is my first choice, but it is the first option that has seemed right for my daughter.

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