Noe Valley Voice October 2008

School Report

Volunteers share the news from Alvarado Elementary on Douglass Street and Fairmount Elementary on Chenery Street.


Green Secrets Revealed

What was once a stretch of asphalt behind Alvarado Elementary School's portable classrooms has become a hidden secret garden--a sustainable oasis of plants that will serve as an outside classroom, thanks to many volunteers and donations.

The engineering, materials, and much of the muscle came from HOK, a worldwide architectural design firm committed to environmentally sound building practices. First-grade parent Zorana Bosnic, an architect at HOK, responded to the company's call for community-building charity projects by proposing the garden at Alvarado.

Many public schools in San Francisco lack green space and offer children only an expanse of concrete, Bosnic says.

"You have kids who spend their entire days and weeks there," she says, and not all of those students have parents with the time to teach gardening or learn about sustainability.

Now all 500 students at Alvarado will have a leafy green classroom surrounding a 1,300-gallon cistern that catches gray water from the portables and rain. The oddly shaped 2,500-square-foot space has a shaded area with benches and tables for quiet reading time. U-shaped benches and potting tables that face dry-erase boards allow teachers to lead hands-on projects. There will be a compost pile.

Because HOK has the resources and the know-how, the company has been able to provide the best engineering for the small space. The dug-up asphalt has been duly recycled. New benches were created from material made of recycled milk jugs. Raised boards surrounding plant beds were made from 100 percent resin. The company also donated educational plaques printed in child-friendly Spanish and English.

Children will learn about reuse, recycling, and sustainable life from both the construction efforts and the end result.

In materials alone the project cost about $10,000, but its value is much greater, says Bosnic.

"The gift that is unquantifiable is the enthusiasm of the army of volunteers," she says. Last spring, her colleagues joined gardening teacher and Alvarado parent Mara Sieling and principal Robert Broecker for six Saturdays to help build the space. Other parents threw in their time as they could. Bosnic estimates 100 volunteers helped, including the families of her HOK colleagues.

The project has fulfilled HOK's goals, a need at Alvarado, and her secret plan, says Bosnic, laughing.

"Kids are going to be the stewards in the change of our relationship to the environment," she says. That process will begin in the secret garden, as children learn and take their knowledge home.

--Heather World


Another Day, Another Dollar

Most Fairmount families knew that new principal Ana Lunardi would begin her first few weeks in the job as a cheerleader for the Spanish-immersion program and as an administrator looking for ways to inspire teachers to use their best tools and talents in the classroom. But what parents were surprised to find was that Lunardi was the one who answered the phone early in the morning and helped their son or daughter search through the lost-and-found box for a missing sweatshirt at the end of the day.

Now, perhaps because Lunardi has shown that she is someone who really cares about the students, the community is throwing its support behind her and the school--to make up a budget shortfall.

Fairmount began the school year with a deficit of $20,000 from last year's programs. In 2006-07, the school raised only $70,000 to pay for $90,000 worth of PTA-sponsored programs, including a P.E. teacher, a behavior specialist, dance classes, science-through-gardening classes, drama, choir, Mission Science Center field trips, and other special events throughout the year.

PTA president Dionne Crawford sent a letter to parents in September, asking families to consider donating one dollar a day, the amount needed to fund these programs. Right away, parents began bringing in extra bills they found in their pockets; students began bringing pennies, nickels, and dimes to the office; and families began writing checks.

"Everybody's been so helpful," Crawford reports. "This sounds like a huge amount of money that we need, but there are over 300 families at Fairmount, which means we need to raise about $300 per family per school year. That's only one dollar a day for the 10 months your child is in school."

And what's more, in addition to all the programs the Fairmount PTA is already funding, the school will add capoeira dance classes this year.

Anybody who has an extra dollar to donate for today--or a few more dollars for a few more days--please drop it off or send it to Fairmount PTA, at 65 Chenery Street, San Francisco, CA 94131.

The "Fun" in Fundraising

The PTA staged its first fundraiser, a family dance at Fairmount, at the end of September, with salsa lessons, family portraits, and a buffet dinner and aguas frescas. The event was very well attended, and everyone has high hopes that the proceeds will put another deep dent in that deficit.

A Healthy Start

Each year, as Fairmount has drawn higher enrollment from Noe Valley and other nearby neighborhoods, the Walk to School Day has gotten a larger turnout. This year's district-wide event is on Wednesday, Oct. 8.

Families are arranging walks from various starting points, and joining with friends and classmates to all walk together.

Muni and the Department of Public Health support the Walk to School Day and will hand out giveaways to those participating. Mayor Gavin Newsom has participated in past years, and Carlos Garcia, San Francisco School District superintendent, is expected to join students during their walk to a local school.

--Jan Goben


Alvarado Elementary School
Robert Broecker, Principal
625 Douglass Street at Alvarado

Fairmount Elementary School
Ana Lunardi, Principal
65 Chenery Street at Randall

James Lick Middle School
Bita Nazarian, Principal
1220 Noe Street at 25th Street