Noe Valley Voice December-January 2008

School Report

Here's the latest from parents at two Noe Valley public schools: Fairmount Elementary on Chenery Street and Alvarado Elementary School on Douglass Street.


Raise a Glass to
Environmental Education

The fourth- and fifth-grade students at Fairmount Elementary School are preparing for a February visit to Westminster Woods, a campsite nested in 200 acres of redwood forest in western Sonoma County.

Every two years, the school loads the fourth- and fifth-graders onto a school bus and takes them up north to this mystical campground, where the children stay in cabins for two nights and spend three days exploring the surrounding area.

Students spend their days studying ecology, exploring the stream that runs through the camp, going tide-pooling at the Pacific Ocean six miles away, and taking team-building challenge courses. A highlight of the camp is a night hike, where counselors take the children out to listen and watch for wildlife and learn about astronomy.

Of course, this wonderful experience isn't free...and's party time! And where is the favorite venue for parents to hang out while they raise money to ensure a good education for their children? El Rio, of course!

The party--which is open to everyone, of course!--will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 17, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at El Rio, 3158 Mission St. (a half-block southwest of Cesar Chavez). Not only will there be music, dancing outside in the cool night air, and drinks at the bar, there will also be raffle prizes and food donated by parents and local restaurants.

One of the party organizers, teacher Loren Chasse, is urging everyone to invite their friends. "In the past, we have had a blast while the donation jar fills up magically in the corner! And let's get a certain ex-principal back on the dance floor," Chasse says, referring, of course, to that dancing star and former principal Karling Aguilera-Fort.

Teacher Links Kids with Earthwatch

Loren Chasse's passion for education goes beyond taking students to Westminster Woods. He has just received a fellowship from Earthwatch Institute (, an organization that works with teachers and students on environmental research projects worldwide.

For the first week of December, he will be working at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, a nature preserve on the west shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

"There, I will be working with scientists researching the health of that particular forest, doing such tasks as taking soil samples and measuring tree growth," Chasse says. "I will be communicating with my students each day from the forest via satellite phone."

He also has started a blog, allowing students and others to keep updated about his activities while he is away:

Earthwatch will cover all of Chasse's expenses and pay for a substitute teacher in his classroom while he is away. Once he returns, Earthwatch will fund a project Chasse will work on with his students--something he hopes to be able to share with the whole Fairmount community.

Opera Stars, in the Cafeteria

Continuing their annual work with Fairmount, performers with the San Francisco Opera came to the school in October to help students put on a production of the classic opera La Bohème.

For the past several years, fifth-grade teacher Maureen Sullivan has been inviting the Opera to Fairmount, giving students a chance to sing alongside stars of the world-famous company.

The shortened production was performed by fourth- and fifth-grade students for the whole school, to rave reviews from other students (and, of course, a few proud parents).

Bilingual and Biliterate

Fairmount parents and teachers are still giving tours to parents who are interested in sending their children to a school that leaves children bilingual and biliterate in English and Spanish after six years.

Teachers and parents give tours and provide details on the school's instructional and extracurricular programs, which include arts, environment, gardening, physical education, choir, music, and more. Just drop by for a visit, 65 Chenery Street (corner of Randall) any Tuesday at 9 a.m., or if that doesn't work, call the school office at 695-5669 to schedule another date.

--Jan Goben


The Bounty of Science

Alvarado Elementary School just welcomed science consultant Carolyn Gencarella to the staff, and the former elementary school teacher already has fourth- and fifth-grade students absorbed in paper towels. Using both math and science, Gencarella is teaching the children how to test towels and predict which will hold the most liquid. The students are also evaluating various companies' advertising claims. With the knowledge they gain, they'll be able to tell which brand is the best bargain.

Modeled after Alvarado's renowned arts program, the science program gives students in each classroom an eight-week rotation in the science lab, with Gencarella overseeing the experiments. The program is supported by Alvarado's PTA, which also pays for science field trips to the new Academy of Sciences, Slide Ranch in Marin, and the Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo County.

At the same time, classroom teachers are implementing the second year of FOSS (Full Option Science System), a science program for kids K-8 developed by U.C. Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science. The program provides teachers' guides, videos, reading materials, and equipment kits for studies in life science, physical science, earth science, technology, and scientific reasoning.

Meanwhile, Alvarado parent Angela Danison is working with Gencarella and the school's teachers to ensure that science learning is well integrated in the classroom. Her assistance, says Gencarella, has been a real boost.

"The opportunity to focus on what I love to teach in a supportive community like Alvarado is a joy," Gencarella says.

Fiesta Latina Feels Like Home

The holiday season can be lonely for families far from their homeland, so Alvarado's English-Language Acquisition Committee (ELAC) decided to bring Latino festivities to school by hosting a Fiesta Latina on Friday, Dec. 5.

"Most of us cannot travel to see our people, so this just gives the feeling of home," says Alvarado mom and ELAC president Angélica Guerrero, a native of Mexico.

The night of live music, native foods, and dancing is based on "Las Fiestas," a tradition of celebrations that are used in Latin America to mark a holiday, the arrival of a fair, or the anniversary of a patron saint. In many Latin American countries, Las Fiestas kick into high gear over the winter holidays. Some celebrations encompass a city block; others involve an entire town. In most events, the whole community is invited to eat, drink, and dance, Guerrero says.

Celebrations vary from country to country, so Alvarado's Fiesta Latina will blend traditions from several, including El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. From 6 to 10 p.m., families from Alvarado and beyond can enjoy traditional finger foods--called antojitos--such as tamales and tostadas, and dance to the "tropicale" music of the band Los Compas, playing punta, salsa, and cumbia rhythms.

"It's music to make you move, to make you warm," says Guerrero. "We communicate a lot through dancing."

Tickets cost $10 per adult and $1 per child, accompanied by a parent or caregiver. The cost of admission includes a bottle of water. To join the fun, contact Nancy Velasco at 572-7020 or e-mail her at

--Heather World


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