Back to School Preparation Well Underway

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Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), principals, teachers, nonprofit directors, and parents began planning for the upcoming academic year even before the 2016-2017 school year ended.  “Our PTA worked closely with staff to develop and vote on priorities for fall in mid-May,” said Kopal Goonetileke, Daniel Webster Elementary School’s PTA president. “We plan the semester before, so right on the first day of school we’re ready. Our PTA helps fund the purchase of school supplies that the school budget doesn’t necessarily cover. By setting up the budget in advance, teachers can shop for what they need over the summer.”   

Daniel Webster’s PTA will use a portion of the just-under-$200,000 amount it raised to fund a computer teacher, who will be hired by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). In addition, PTA funds will continue to support the OWL tutoring afterschool program, snacks for standardized testing days, and technology equipment purchases, such as Smart Boards and perhaps ChromeBooks.

According to Carrie Betti, Daniel Webster principal, the PTA helps enhance arts programming every year. “SFUSD funds many arts programs at our schools through our yearly budgets, but our PTA’s partnership allows for us to contract out additional local arts providers to implement a robust art program at Daniel Webster,” said Betti.

Betti said parents should expect changes to the campus this fall, including a new “greening project” on the play yard, which “will provide natural play spaces and potentially areas where we can engage in environmental studies through gardening and planting projects to complement our science standards and projects.”

Darlene Martin said she’s been preparing for her second year as Starr King Elementary School principal by reviewing her progress. She’s also questioning how she can value diversity and the needs of all learners. “We will be hiring an additional science educator to work with teachers and help set up experiments. We will expand our trial hands-on program in science to most grade levels this year. We will have some coding classes, a lot of enrichment, for our students,” said Martin.

Starr King has three tracks: general education, Mandarin immersion, and one for students with autism spectrum disorder. “We will continue to focus on working with all students to create a cohesive school community,” Martin said.

According to Martin, Starr King’s PTA has been instrumental in paying for staff, and funds Education Outside, a garden-based outdoor science program.  “We have had cuts to our funding. Fortunately for us, our parents have raised a lot. We used to use the money for enrichment. This year, much of the money will go to keeping personnel, like the therapist at our on-site wellness center and our social worker,” said Martin.

Martin said Starr King hopes to welcome high school-age language tutors from San Francisco International High School (SFIHS), which moved to Potrero Hill over the summer. 

Tessa Lee, Starr King’s PTA president, said planning to welcome parents and children back to school this month has been one of the organization’s focal points over the summer. “We start school on Monday, August 21, a week later than normal. The Saturday before, on August 19, the Starr King PTA hosts a Back to School Picnic Potluck from noon to 2 p.m. on campus. In addition, following morning assembly on the first day of school, we will have a parent gathering in the cafeteria,” said Lee.

Starr King’s PTA raised around $200,000 for this year. “We are a diverse community with diverse needs,” Lee continued. “Amazing volunteerism and fundraising efforts help us support our students and teachers. We work hard to fund a breadth of school needs: social-emotional support staff, outdoor education, academic support, such as a new classroom science initiative, enrichments, such as StageWrite, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building literacy through theater, and classroom supply stipends for teachers. Parent volunteers help at lunch and on field trips, assist teachers prepping materials, tutor students one on one, coach soccer and baseball. It’s inspiring.”

Elana Lagerquist, executive director of StageWrite, said her organization offers programs at Starr King and Daniel Webster.  In anticipation of schools’ opening, StageWrite is hiring and training teaching artists, and creating and updating its curriculum. “The program works the best when there is more one-on-one work with writing mentors in the classroom. The teaching artists and writing mentors write word for word what the kids say. Then the children’s stories are true to them. Writing mentors get the kids engaged, excited, and focused on their writing. We’re looking for volunteer artists, writers, and playwrights to be writing mentors for the students,” said Lagerquist. 

Lagerquist said the organization wants to hire teaching artists “who come on board with classroom management skills. It starts with having a lot of experience in the classroom or having an innate ability to engage a room.”

Katie Kurtzman, a second-grade teacher in Starr King’s general education program, said her back to school preparation involves reviewing the notes she kept and journaling she taught last year. She’s engaging in online training and conversations with her colleagues, putting up “nice, fresh, colorful posters,” and “resting up a bit. Last year, my students taught me to always be on my toes, to keep my word, to slow down, and to think about what they needed as a student rather than what was easiest for me,” said Kurtzman.

Kurtzman is also working to improve relationships with students and parents. “I make myself really available by cell phone and email to accommodate families’ schedules. I am also asking families what they want me to know about their child before we get started. For students, I will continue journaling. There is information that students don’t always want to share publicly, but will in a journal. I write back to them,” said Kurtzman.

According to Maybelle Miranda, youth programs director for Bayview and Potrero Hill schools at the Urban Services YMCA, her organization is hiring and training staff for the afterschool and morning care programs it offers at Daniel Webster and Starr King.  “We will have open enrollment for our morning care program at Daniel Webster. This is the first fall the YMCA offers that. It will mostly be for families that need to drop their students off early. Students will be able to do homework, read, play games, and have breakfast. We offer the Rising Starrs afterschool program at Starr King, with a total of 140 spots. The hours are 2:40 to 6 p.m. The Starr King program is $280 a month, with sliding scale payment options based on income,” said Miranda. Daniel Webster’s morning care program is $75 monthly, with a $45 deposit due this month.

Miranda said parents should turn in their applications, as the programs fill up quickly. “We’re usually at capacity within two to three days after the first day of school. Parents are not guaranteed a spot just because their child was in the program last year. Enrollment is on a first-come, first-served basis,” said Miranda.

Miranda said the YMCA is helping students get ready for school by collaborating with Daniel Webster and Starr King on the annual Backpack Giveaway and Resource Fair, which will take place at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center on August 12 around 12 p.m.

Gail Meadows, Meadows-Livingstone School principal, said her school, which has a board of directors instead of a PTA, has been fundraising throughout the summer. The board is holding its Second Annual Meadows Livingstone Scholarship Fund Concert on August 6 at Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. Performers will include Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, Jennifer Johns, and the Meadows-Livingstone band and choir. Meadows said the school hopes to raise $50,000 through the event.

Meadows-Livingstone is a first through sixth grade school located at 1499 Potrero Avenue.  It draws students from the City and East Bay. “We are an Afrocentric school that helps children discover and celebrate their identity,” said Meadows.  The media we are looking at include the film, The House of Dies Drear and the books Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales, The Planet of Junior Brown, and Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat.” An educational workshop this fall will focus on parenting children of color; a camping trip to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park in Calistoga will be held in the spring.

Annie Schuessler, parent of seven-year-old Axel Palms, a Meadows-Livingstone School student, said she tries to maintain an educational atmosphere throughout the summer. “This way he stays in his routine. He’s got to keep reading and have us read to him every day. We avoid increasing his TV and video game time in the summer,” said Schuessler.

Brandi Mack, an instructor at Meadows-Livingstone School, and parent of nine-year-old Isis Mack, who attends the school, is familiarizing herself with current efforts in STEM education.  “I am a permaculturist and horticulturist and I do restorative justice. I will be teaching a writer’s workshop, math, and gardening at Meadows-Livingstone this year. This summer I’m “cross-pollinating” with other individuals in the community, learning more about science education. I am also engaging in self-care, going to medical check-ups, and incorporating more family events into my schedule. That way I can be fully present for the students when I see them this fall,” said Mack.

“So much of our back to school prep involves moving our building,” Julie Kessler, SFIHS principal, said. “We’re unpacking boxes, getting the building rekeyed, making sure we have a working bell system, and painting the Huskies name on the side of the building.”

SFIHS was previously situated at 1050 York Street at the old Bryant Elementary School campus. It moved to the Enola Maxwell campus at 655 De Haro Street, which was largely empty for at least a year, last June. Over the summer, SFUSD is repairing the campus’s floors, electrical system, and plumbing.

SFIHS’ has 400 students, all of whom are refugees or recent arrivals to the U.S. The move to the Enola Maxwell campus marks the first time the students will have access to such things as a cafeteria, gym, auditorium, library, and science laboratories. “Our parents work two to three jobs,” said Kessler. “A PTA doing fundraising is not a reality for us. The district has provided a lot of support. We and the parent community are very excited about the opportunities this campus provides.”

Kyle Halle-Erby, a SFIHS teacher, said he’s dedicated his summer to college prep planning for recent graduates and rising seniors.  “I teach 12th graders in college and career classes. I’m also one of the coordinators for the Span college retention program. This summer, I’m getting all of our alumni headed off to City College of San Francisco together for a reunion at the new Enola Maxwell campus. It’ll help make sure everyone’s ready,” said Halle-Erby.

In addition, Halle-Erby is planning family meetings with parents and rising seniors along with other SFIHS teachers and counselors to discuss the college application process.  “It’s so new for everyone. We tell the students, “You’re the one who’s going to decide what is going to happen,”” said Halle-Erby.

Halle-Erby said another task is to collaborate with other SFIHS faculty to bring back recent graduates to talk to and tutor high school students. “There’s a sense of hope that my students and their families bring here. We like to encourage and build on that for our current student body,” said Halle-Erby.