Noe Valley Voice April 2004

School Report


Early Spring at Alvarado

Jars of tempera paint left open on a low bench scent the hallway, evoking memories of childhood, past and future. Arms intertwined, a trio of girls walks past a first-grade classroom. Boys jostle milk crates as they head toward the cafeteria, while cries of delight rise from the playground beyond. Underneath their bright decorations, the timeless walls of Alvarado School impart reassurances of safety, warmth, and generations of care.

The school secretary welcomes a young family who have come to register their eldest child for the 2004­05 school year. (With test scores steadily rising, Alvarado, like neighboring schools Fairmount and James Lick, is experiencing increased interest from local residents.) Will this boy and his two wide-eyed younger siblings return decades from now with their own children in tow, and remember best friends and the scent of tempera paint?

Outside, a new, safe and accessible (and beautiful) play structure rises brilliantly from the blacktop. It was erected on March 9, with a financial and physical boost from the American College of Orthopaedic Surgeons, KaBOOM! and Noe Valley realtor B.J. Droubi. The shiny new equipment is ready for sliding and climbing, but the playground has been temporarily fenced off and swathed in yellow tape, pending installation in early April of matting to cushion falls.

After months of planning and waiting, the children are a tad disappointed they must wait for the green light. But on this sun-drenched, almost-spring morning, everyone seems perfectly happy.

Cinco de Mayo Assembly: An event sure to bring happiness will be the May 7 assembly in the school auditorium, celebrating Cinco de Mayo and honoring Latino Heritage. Programs at 9 a.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. will feature music, costumes, and performances on a stage decorated with art by our very own students. This is an event not to be missed!

Youth Arts Festival: Alvarado students are also busy readying artwork for exhibition in the Youth Arts Festival at Zeum Gallery in Yerba Buena Gardens, at Fourth and Howard streets downtown. The annual event will open on May 8 with a day of activities specially designed for children and their families, including a giant puppet parade, multicultural youth performances, and jugglers, clowns, face-painting, and other hands-on activities for kids. The gallery will be open weekends 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 8 through16.

The Principal Is In: Speaking of hands-on, drop in to chat with Principal David Weiner on first and third Fridays from 8 to 9 a.m. (This month that's April 2 and 16.) Come see our new playground, too. For more information, call 415-695-5695 or visit the school's web site at The address is 625 Douglass Street at Alvarado Street.

--Sue Cattoche


Students Dive into Mexico Experience

Jumping off a 20-foot, vine-covered cliff into a sparkling underground pool was a highlight of the excursion to Mexico for many of this year's participants. Thousands of natural underground springs called cenotes (say-NOH-tays) occur in the Yucatan, and are usually accessed by walking down slippery steps cut into rock. Our students visited a spectacular cenote that was open to the sun on top and had exotic fish swimming in the water. Eighth-grader Michael Dodson kept climbing back up the cliff to repeat the exhilarating experience of the first dizzying jump. Michael described the trip as "life-changing," and embarked on a major effort to learn Spanish while traveling with the group.

Although it's a sign of the times that fewer James Lick students were able to travel to Mexico this year, those who did go traveled everywhere as a group, which led to increased bonding. Second-time traveler Maya Danaher appreciated being able to grow close to the wonderful new friends she might never have met in her classes at school. While it was fun for the Spanish-immersion students to surprise the Mexican merchants by speaking fluent Spanish, Maya found the sight of barefoot 4- and 5-year-old children selling flowers and homemade jewelry to tourists sad and moving. Another cultural challenge united the new group of friends: trying to remain polite and respectful while a hiccupping guitarist sang to them off key!

A huge thank-you to everyone who worked so hard to make this trip possible: the patient helpers, generous donors, and tireless chaperones; and especially those kids who raised their own money for the trip. Without the extraordinary support of each of these "angels," this wonderful trip might not have happened at all.

I-Search Projects: Every year James Lick eighth-graders are challenged to complete a major research project called "I-Search." Each student selects a topic of personal interest for investigation and prepares a comprehensive report. With a focus on social justice, our students are investigating such timely issues as the war in Iraq, the 9-11 Commission, the deportation of minorities, and the dangers of smoking. During April and May, students will present their I-Search projects to classmates so that everyone can share this wealth of relevant information.

Cinco de Mayo: Salvadoran poet and award-winning children's book author Jorge Argueta will be a featured guest at this year's Cinco de Mayo Assembly on May 5. The San Francisco resident writes about living in his adopted city's Mission District through the eyes of an immigrant child. Many students at James Lick enjoy his books, which are published in Spanish and English. The assembly, which will include mariachi music, presentations, speakers, and poetry, begins at 10:45 a.m.

James Lick Music Factory: You can tell it's spring when you hear that samba beat resounding from James Lick. Our families are once again practicing drumming and dance steps for this year's Carnaval Parade at the end of May. Neighbors are welcome to join our dance classes at 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays. You'll also hear our students rehearsing songs, dance, and instrumental performances for our famous annual Talent Show, which premieres the evening of April 7, with a daytime performance for our students on April 8.

Coffee with the Principal: Meanwhile, join James Lick Principal Janice Daniels for coffee, refreshments, and open discussion of school issues in Room 107 on the last Friday of the month, April 30, from 9:30 to 11 a.m.

The Merchants' and Community Alliance will meet on the last Wednesday of the month, April 28, at 12:30 p.m., with lunch provided. Noe Valley merchants and neighbors are welcome to attend.

How to Contact Us: Call our new message service for same-day response: 415-436-0340. Or you can come to the school at 1220 Noe Street, at Clipper Street. Contact Parent Liaison Denise Rueda at 415-695-5675. Again, thank you, Noe Valley, for sharing your ideas, talents, enthusiasm, and support.

--Sue Cattoche


Small Is Beautiful, Bilingual Too

As the 2003-04 school year begins to wind down, the teachers, parents, and staff at Fairmount Elementary School are already thinking about next year.

The Fairmount School Site Council has sent in its academic plan for 2004­05, after many meetings and a community summit to determine what's most important to our school. According to Principal Karling Aguilera-Fort, the top two items on the school's agenda are hiring a literacy specialist and keeping the classes small in the fourth and fifth grades.

The literacy specialist will be a new, full-time position.

"This person will support students in reading in both languages and will work with our library consultant to choose the right books for our library," says Aguilera-Fort. Two-thirds of Fairmount's students are in the Spanish-immersion program, and are learning to speak, read, and write in both Spanish and English.

The parents, teachers, and staff on the site council also felt it was important to limit class size throughout the school. The group recommends that the fourth- and fifth-grade classes be kept at 23 or fewer students, which is the current size for those grades at Fairmount. (The state mandates that in kindergarten through third grade, class size must be limited to 20 students. However, in the fourth and fifth grades, class enrollment can go up to 33.)

With small classes, Aguilera-Fort points out, "we can pay more attention to the students' individual needs. Teachers will have more time to work in small groups with kids."

He adds, "One of the things we are really proud of is that ELAC [the English Language Advisory Committee] has been very active this year and is advising the site council on the needs of this community." ELAC, which is mainly Spanish-speaking parents, is supportive of both the literacy specialist and class-size reduction goals. The site council has also allotted funds for after-school tutoring by Fairmount's teachers.

More Books, More Pizza: The Fairmount Read-a-thon kept kids tallying up their hours of reading and raised $2,500 in pledges in February and March. The festivities culminated with a sleepover and pizza party at the school, and the five students who read the most went out to a neighborhood restaurant for a special lunch with the principal. The money will go toward the day-to-day operations of the school library.

Dance for the Kids: On Thursday, April 8, any and all are invited to a dance party and fundraiser at El Rio, 3158 Mission Street. A deejay will crank up the music, and parents will serve food to help the fourth- and fifth-graders gather enough money for an outdoor education field trip.

The students are also raising money by selling pizza, juice, and cookies after school on Fridays. Students can buy a treat for $1 during the Dulce Viernes (Sweet Fridays) fundraiser.

Gearing Up for FiestaVal: The kids are practicing their Ballet Folklorico moves, the choir is working every week on "De Colores," classrooms are finishing up art projects to auction off, and Fairmount parents are reaching out to local merchants for donations. FiestaVal, Fairmount's annual spring event, with music, food, dances, raffle prizes, and an auction, is coming up fast: May 15, and the school community is hoping neighbors will come join the party.

The auction and raffle bounty includes tickets and backstage passes to a performance of The Lion King, tickets to the zoo and the Discovery Museum, dinner at Chenery Park restaurant, shoes, jewelry, pajamas, and many other goodies donated by merchants in our neighborhood. Last year the event raised $20,000 for the school; this year it looks even more promising. For information on the events, or to donate items, please call the school at 695-5669.

--Jan Ruiz


Alvarado Elementary School

625 Douglass Street at Alvarado


David Weiner, Principal

Fairmount Elementary School

65 Chenery Street at Randall


Karling Aguilera-Fort, Principal

James Lick Middle School

1220 Noe Street at 25th Street


Janice Daniels, Principal


The San Francisco chapter of Parents for Public Schools will hold its annual meeting from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, April 3, at McKinley School, 1025 14th Street at Castro Street. The group urges parents to attend and find out how they can help bring about positive change in public schools. PPS will also offer workshops on such topics as school board involvement, boosting the arts, and student assignment strategies. Translation and child care will be provided; if needed, call 415-468-7077.