Noe Valley Voice March 2004

School Report


Our Fundraising Angels

Angels were flitting about in Noe Valley this winter, even on the coldest, darkest days when vacant storefronts aroused rumors of doom. One appeared in Upper Noe Valley. Another was spotted walking boldly down 24th Street. Still more were reported in homes and businesses throughout the neighborhood.

These munificent beings emerged in the form of Noe Valley neighbors, merchants, and parents who opened their hearts when they heard James Lick Middle School needed donations so that more of the students could participate in travel to Mexico and Ashland, Ore., for cultural enrichment experiences they could not otherwise afford.

Knowing these are hard times for many of our families, Beacon Street resident Esther Wright offered to help students who wanted to go to Mexico develop their entrepreneurial skills so they could earn their own money. Wright's protégés raised about $500 each, with some students creating their own raffles of items such as DVD players.

Wright also went around and spoke to neighborhood groups, including the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, who responded generously. J.R. Hubbard, owner of Selecta Auto Body on 24th Street, asked what it would cost to send two Lick students to Mexico, then wrote a check for that amount ($2,400).

Lick neighbor Deborah Hitti brought some of her friends together to donate money for a trip. Annie Patrick, whose son attends James Lick, collected nearly $800 for the Mexico trip from her Financial District coworkers, even though her own child is not going.

These tax-deductible gifts have an enormous impact on our school. Our teachers report more bonding among students of different ages and cultures, and increased crosscultural understanding as a direct result of these shared travel experiences.

We plan to bring another group to the richly literate environment of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland May 7 to 9. For many of our students, this will also be an entirely new cultural experience. We welcome your support.

Lick Students in Charge at Portfolio Conferences

The second week of February brought parents back to school for conferences, but with a twist: The students did the talking! Each student presented a portfolio of recent work to parents or relatives, explaining their project's title, learning goals, vocabulary, and the actual work that was completed. Parents asked questions and rated their children's presentations on an accompanying evaluation sheet. Families also received interim progress reports in February and will return for parent-teacher conferences in March.

Black History Month Activities: Our annual African American History Assembly on Feb. 25 opened with a festive processional and featured music, drumming, oratory, and guest speakers.

GEAR UP, our college-readiness program, presented a related event for parents that night in the Bayview­Hunters Point area, which included a Youth Empowerment Panel and a presentation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

James Lick student orators Nemo Wilkinson and Antonio Ayala also participated in the 24th annual Oratorical and Musical Contest at Thurgood Marshall High School on Saturday, Feb. 28, sponsored by the San Francisco Alliance of Associated Black School Educators.

First Annual Webby Awards: On Friday, Jan. 30, James Lick students hosted a Web-Release Party to celebrate the completion of student World Wide Web portfolios. Students from other classes chose the winning web sites in several categories. View winners online at, and scroll down to the Webby Winners link.

Coffee with the Principal: 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, March 26, between 9:30 and 11 a.m.

The Merchants' and Community Alliance meeting will be on the last Wednesday of the month, March 31, at 12:30 p.m., with lunch provided. Noe Valley merchants and neighbors are welcome to attend.

New James Lick Hotline: Call our new message service for same-day response: 415-436-0349. 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 for sharing your ideas, enthusiasm, and support.

--Sue Cattoche


A School That (Almost) Never Sleeps

The school day ended hours ago, yet children's voices still echo through hallways bustling with late afternoon activity. A teacher leads discussion of a story with a group of children gathered in the library, while others ponder chess moves or run off rainy-day energy playing ball in a sheltered area of the playground.

Alvarado Elementary School offers a generous array of academic and enrichment activities until 6:30 p.m. every school day, through a pair of programs. Funded by a grant from the state, EXCEL provides free academic enrichment for students who are below grade level in any subject or who need extra help. Fee-based Alvarado After School offers quality childcare and socialization activities such as chess, kickball, crafts, science club, music, and computers.

On Fridays, the two programs join for a shared activity, which could be kite-making, yoga, a movie, or a field trip to a museum. An impressive number of skilled and caring adults supervise both programs, with many holding or completing California teaching credentials.

Kids' Turn to Give Back: Parent Wendi Grasteit has been working with a group of fifth-graders who want to give something back to their community. After deciding to collect household items for homeless families, they designed a flyer explaining the project, had it translated for Spanish-speaking parents by students in the school's immersion program, and distributed it to students throughout the school to bring home to their families.

On Feb. 28, eight of the fifth-graders brought all the items they collected to the St. Joseph's Family Center, a shelter for homeless families at 220 10th Street near Harrison. The shelter has an ongoing need for towels, sheets, pots, pans, silverware, and other housekeeping items.

Auction Reminder: Alvarado's 2004 Auction is Saturday, March 20, from 7 to 11 p.m., at Fort Mason Center. Contact Carolyn Scott (563-6238) or call the school for tickets, which are $10 in advance/$15 at the door. Your purchase of tickets for this vibrant evening of live music, auctions, and wine helps maintain Alvarado's outstanding arts and literacy programs in spite of deep cuts in funding from other sources.

Playground Ribbon-Cutting: Join us for the inauguration of our new safe and accessible playground on Tuesday, March 9. The ribbon-cutting will begin at 3:30 p.m.

The Principal Is In: Drop in to chat with Principal David Weiner on the first and third Fridays from 8 to 9 a.m. If you're there on March 19, come see the 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.

--Sue Cattoche


A Lion's Share of Gifts from The Lion King

Kristyne Cardenas was a little bit nervous as she stood on stage at the Orpheum Theatre before thousands of people. The audience was waiting to see The Lion King in January when Kristyne introduced Gavin Newsom, telling the crowd he was a great mayor who cared deeply about public education.

"Can I bring you along to introduce me everywhere I go?" the mayor asked, to laughter and applause.

"It felt amazing because I'd never done that in my life," said the 8-year-old Fairmount School fourth-grader. "It felt great when they clapped because it meant I did something good."

Cardenas and a handful of other Fairmount families were on hand for the benefit performance that night, representing one of four schools that were selected as beneficiaries by the show's producer, Carole Shorenstein Hays.

Kristyne and her family watched as elephants and giraffes filled the stage and danced to haunting songs as the desert sun rose and set that night, all through the artistry of musicians and set designers and actors on stilts, wearing flowing costumes.

But the beauty of that night will extend to the Fairmount community for years to come. The show raised $500,000, which will be shared by Fairmount, Roosevelt Middle School, Balboa High School, and the Edible Schoolyard at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Middle School.

Fairmount will receive upwards of $75,000, said Hydra Mendoza, a Fairmount parent and the executive director of San Francisco's Parents for Public Schools.

Items will be funded from a wish list that teachers and families pulled together when they learned of the benefit, said Fairmount Principal Karling Aguilera-Fort. He would also like to see some of the funds go for literacy programs for all three strands of the school: Spanish-immersion, English language development, and special education. He also would like to fund a weekend retreat for teachers, staff, and parents to set up goals for the next school year.

Shorenstein Hays began thinking about a benefit that would help San Francisco schools when she heard about budget cuts that could wipe out summer school programs, Mendoza said. She got in touch with Parents for Public Schools, and with Mendoza as a guide, began visiting schools throughout the city.

When Shorenstein Hays visited Fairmount, Aguilera-Fort said, "She kind of interviewed me, asked me what my vision was for the school. We spoke a little about the challenges of being a principal and of being a second-language learner. She was very interested in our special education program. When she asked questions about what we do and how we integrate the special education students, that was what made the difference, I felt."

Mendoza said that after Shorenstein Hays had narrowed her selection of beneficiaries to Roosevelt and Balboa, she called Mendoza one day. "She said, 'Are you sitting down?'" Mendoza said. "I was scared; I was sure she was going to tell me the program wasn't going to work. But she said, 'We have a high school, we have a middle school, and now we need an elementary school. We want to do Fairmount.'"

The coming months will bring much joy to the staff as they get to see some of their funding dreams realized through this gift, and the coming years will bring improved programs for all the children at Fairmount.

Read-a-thon: Students are tallying up the minutes and pages of what they've read every day, as the school's Read-a-thon, which began in February, continues into March. Children received pledges based on the amount they expected to read, and will turn in the money they've raised this month. The school hopes to raise $3,000 for the day-to-day operations of the library.

Laurel's Cuban Cuisine: This restaurant, located at 205 Oak Street, donated 15 percent of its profits one week in January from all diners from the Fairmount community. The school raised $200 and many families discovered a delicious new dinner spot.

Operation Respect: Fairmount students performed at Lincoln High School in February before an audience of school district parents and employees who had gathered to hear songs by Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Steve Seskin. Seskin sang his song "Don't Laugh at Me," while Fairmount fifth-graders followed along in sign language. The event was designed to promote Operation Respect, a character education program.

FiestaVal: The auction item donations are starting to roll in for Fairmount's big fundraiser, the May 15 FiestaVal, where the community is invited to come and enjoy songs and dance routines including Ballet Folklorico, fabulous food, raffle prizes, and wonderful auction items. Last year the event raised $20,000 for the school; this year it looks even more promising. Anyone who has items or services to donate can contact Nancy Windesheim, fundraising chairwoman, at 695-5669.

--Jan Ruiz