Noe Valley Voice March 2005

School Report

The School Report features news from three local public schools--Fairmount Elementary, Alvarado Elementary, and James Lick Middle School--provided by school parents and volunteers.


Class with Glide Teacher Knocks Their Socks Off

On a warm February afternoon, three dozen students sat on the rug in the Fairmount library, their voices filling the room: "I wake up, singing in the morning time."

They clapped their hands, slapped their knees, and rocked back and forth as they talked out the line. Then they sang it, repeating it higher, then higher, then lower again.

Vernon Bush, the choir teacher, knelt in the center of the rug, scooting around to face one group of students, then another, and another. "Okay, stop, what do you think just happened?" he asked.

"It got faster," one student said.

"Right! Now close your eyes and listen. When you close your eyes, you feel it--you've got to hear it, you've got to feel it."

"I wake up, singing in the morning time," they sang out again and again, until by the end of the hour, they were all standing, swaying, their shoes and socks off, as the temperature in the room rose.

"It's all about learning rhythm," Bush said later. "Once they have it inside them at a very young age, then they've got it inside them always."

Bush, who began teaching the Fairmount choir in January, leads the teen choir at Glide Memorial Church and also teaches at other schools in the city.

"Everybody is different," said Bush of the different groups he teaches. "I have to go off the energy they're giving me."

The Fairmount choir will hold at least three performances throughout the spring, including one at the school's FiestaVal fundraiser in May. Among the songs will be a Spanish song, to fit in with the Spanish-immersion curriculum at Fairmount.

Bilingual Parent of the Year

Fairmount's own Hydra Mendoza, whose children are both in the immersion program at Fairmount, was named Parent of the Year at the California Association for Bilingual Education in Los Angeles in February.

"It is wonderful to have Hydra at our school," said Fairmount principal Karling Aguilera-Fort. "She is always around, helping out in so many areas."

Mendoza, who is executive director of the San Francisco chapter of Parents for Public Schools, is always present at school events, and during the fall she led parents on tours of the school every week. No one at the school is surprised that this treasured parent received statewide recognition!

Getting More Computer-Savvy

Meanwhile, Fairmount is in the middle of a push to train parents to help kids learn to read. The school received a federal grant for $8,400, and is using the money to buy computers for classroom use. San Francisco School Volunteers will give parents and community volunteers special training in how to use the computers to teach reading to targeted students at all grade levels, Aguilera-Fort said. The focus will be on phonics and reading comprehension.

"We are really working on getting the Latino parents who do not have access to a lot of these resources," said Aguilera-Fort. "The training is open to everyone. The more parents we have, the better."

To donate extra computers or to volunteer to help children learn to read, call the school at 695-5669.

Noe Val Is a Pal to FiestaVal

Fairmount's big community event and fundraiser, FiestaVal, will be held this year on Saturday, May 21. On that date, the school site will be party central, with friends, families, and neighbors coming by to check out the food booths, activities for kids, student performances, silent auction, and raffle from noon to 5 p.m. Each year, local merchants have generously donated items and services. Last year, they helped the school raise more than $30,000 for programs such as art, library services, and p.e. classes. Mark your calendars!

--Jan Ruiz


Art and Music a Big Part of 'Not-So-Silent' Auction

March is a busy month at Alvarado Elementary School, with everybody gearing up for the "Not-So-Silent" Auction at Fort Mason on the evening of Saturday, March 19, from 7 to 11 p.m.

Each classroom is working with a local professional artist, as part of the Alvarado art curriculum, to create a wonderful piece of artwork for the live auction. Previous projects have included furniture, a copper mobile, woodblock prints of local Victorians, and a large ceramic urn embedded with toys and other special items. The students do a great job, and come away knowing "¡Yo puedo!" ("I can do it!").

Meanwhile, some adults collect goods and services for the silent auction, while others tune their instruments for an evening of lively musical entertainment. Still others put their catering expertise to work creating delicious morsels for hungry bidders. As a special treat, the band Familia Peña-Govea will perform from 7 to 8 p.m.

This combined event is the Alvarado PTA's largest fundraiser of the year. Tickets are $15 in advance, or $20 at the door. If you would like to participate, either by making a tax-deductible donation or by attending the event, please contact our auction chair, Caroline Scott, at 563-6238 (

Celebrating Women's History

The students are also working with their teachers to create a Women's History Assembly on Friday, March 18, at 9 a.m. The Alvarado Second- and Third-Grade Chorus will perform as featured guests, and there will be short plays, dancing, and poetry presented by various classrooms.

Your Castoffs Needed

The school will begin collecting items for the Alvarado Rummage Sale on Saturday, March 26, in the cafeteria. Please drop off any treasures that need a new home at the 22nd Street entrance to the school, between Douglass and Eureka streets. The Rummage Sale will take place on April 9 and 10.

Odds and Ends

Parent-teacher conferences will take place the week of March 21 to 25, followed by a week of Spring Break, March 28 to April 1.

The PTA General Assembly will meet on Tuesday, March 1, at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria.

The School Site Council will present its budget for the 2005­2006 school year at a community meeting on Tuesday, March 8, at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria.

Chat with the Principal

If you need more information, we invite you to call Alvarado at 695-5695 or visit the school's web site at Or you may drop by the campus at 625 Douglass Street. In addition, on the first Friday of each month from 8 to 9 a.m., Principal David Weiner hosts a "chat" in the school cafeteria.

--Rebecka Hernandez Wright
President, Alvarado School PTA


Science Fair a Hit with Students and Families

How can you tell whether your cat is right-handed or a southpaw? Ask Maria Laws, who exposed her feline friends to catnip and reached an interesting conclusion.

On the evening of Feb. 15, hundreds of James Lick families filled the school gym to discuss the science experiments individual students had performed using materials most of us handle every day. Christopher Magallon demonstrated the advantage of using fertilizer to grow vegetables. Large green leaves spilled over the sides of a tray of radish seedlings grown with fertilizer, while only a few tiny leaves were visible in a matching tray without the added nutrients.

Sara Rama's set of bar graphs confirmed that while expensive paper towels are more absorbent than cheaper ones, when price is factored into the equation, a cheaper towel is a better value. Meta Hillman solved the problem of removing chewing gum from the sidewalk by demonstrating that ice was the most effective of nine methods she tested. Norma DeLeon inflated balloons with the carbon dioxide generated by combining different quantities of yeast, sugar, and water. Luis Munoz's attractive display, "La Cantidad Perfecta" ("The Perfect Quantity"), in which he finds the precise quantity of sugar needed to make Norma's yeast/sugar/ water experiment work best, was written entirely in Spanish. He was equally confident discussing his hypothesis, predictions, methods, and results in Spanish or English.

What did Maria discover about cats? Males were more likely to reach for a catnip toy with a left paw, while females were more likely to favor the right. But she'd like to repeat the experiment with more cats because some of her furry subjects had no response to the pungent herb.

Is Humanity for the Birds?

On Feb. 16, during one of those intense five-minute intervals when kids are rushing between classes, slamming lockers, and releasing pent-up energy, a naive young pigeon flew into a third-floor window and ended up in the noisy, crowded hallway. In its panic to elude the jostling students, the frightened bird flew against lockers, window panes, and other barriers. Fortunately, student body president Tifani Fuentes was there. Seeing first worry, then terror in the frightened bird's eyes, she took action to save its life. After persuading everyone to leave the bird alone, she called Animal Care and Control to help rescue the bird, and waited with the trembling creature. After they arrived, Animal Control released a more experienced and wary bird back into the great outdoors, where Tifani reports it wasted no time finding something to eat!

Black History Spotlighted

A Feb. 16 PTSA meeting and potluck dinner filled the Joseph Lee Recreation Center in Bayview with enthusiastic members of the James Lick community. The program included presentations by students who are using poetry and the arts to find their voices and develop leadership through the San Francisco Peninsula Peace Initiative.

The following week, a Feb. 25 Black History Assembly featured inspirational speakers, a performance by the newly formed James Lick Choir, and plenty of student drumming!

Donations Made Easy

Here's a new and quick way to help our teachers get the classroom supplies they need. DonorsChoose is an easy, high-tech way to funnel resources directly to the classroom or teacher of your choice. Donors may go to, search for school projects, and make a tax-deductible contribution online.

Keeping in Touch

The James Lick Merchants/Community Alliance meetings will continue on the last Wednesday of the month at 12:30 p.m., with lunch provided. Join Principal Janice Daniels for coffee, refreshments, and discussion of school-related issues between 9:30 and 11 a.m. on the last Friday of each month.

If you miss those opportunities, call 695-5675, or our message number, 436-0349. Or you may drop by the school at 1220 Noe Street at Clipper Street and visit parent liaison Denise Rueda in Room 108. Thank you for sharing your ideas, talents, enthusiasm, and support.

--Sue Cattoche


James Lick Middle School
1220 Noe Street at 25th Street
Janice Daniels, Principal

Alvarado Elementary School
625 Douglass Street at Alvarado
David Weiner, Principal

Fairmount Elementary School
65 Chenery Street at Randall
Karling Aguilera-Fort, Principal