Noe Valley Voice March 2010

School Report

By Tara Duggan

You may not know it, but Noe Valley is becoming a hotbed for Spanish language learning. Two nearby public elementary schools, Fairmount and Alvarado, offer two-way Spanish-immersion programs, and James Lick Middle School is one of the few middle schools in the district to carry on the same program.

Unlike most schools with dual immersion programs, Fairmount Elementary is in the process of converting all of its classrooms, other than special education, to Spanish immersion. As of next year, all three classrooms in grades kindergarten to 3 will be part of the program, and the few remaining English-only classes in grades 4 and 5 will phase out in the following two years.

This shift reflects the increasing popularity of dual immersion programs in the district, of which there are 20, including classes in Korean and Mandarin. In this educational model, the majority of instruction, from social studies to math, is taught in the second language. Ideally, classrooms are composed of half English speakers and half native speakers of the second language. The goal is for them to emerge not just bilingual but biliterate--able to speak, read, and write fluently in both English and the second language.

"Dual immersion is more than just an opportunity," says Mary Lou Cranna, principal at Fairmount on Chenery Street. "It serves dual purposes. The model is intended to help English-language learners, but English speakers benefit as well."

Here's how it works at Fairmount: In kindergarten, 90 percent of instruction is in Spanish and 10 percent is in English. With each year, the amount of English instruction increases, to roughly 20 percent in first grade, 30 percent in second, and so on, until fifth grade, when English and Spanish instruction time are equal.

Neither children nor their parents need to have knowledge of the second language to succeed, but Fairmount offers programs and events that reinforce literacy and support cultural understanding. The school has an English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC), a group for Spanish-speaking parents, and adult English and Spanish classes have been offered on campus.

The school year starts off with Baile Familiar, an all-ages dance party under the stars with salsa classes, hot chocolate, and pan dulce.

"We wanted to have something more cultural--an event that was a fundraiser but that would reflect our traditions," says Gaby Marin, president of the board at ELAC and vice president of the Parent Teacher Association. "In Mexico, especially, they do have these bailes in the plaza. The whole family participates. Here in the States, kids don't go out to dance; adults just go to nightclubs."

Next month, the school will host its annual Pijamada, or Pijama Party, an evening when children get to go to school in their pajamas and read books in a magical setting of tents and sparkling lights, while their parents take classes on how to encourage literacy at home.

"The goal is to educate the parents and to reinforce nighttime routines that support literacy and learning. Making goo d nighttime habits helps kids have a good day of learning," says Marin.

The school's biggest community builder and fundraiser is FiestaVal, which is coming up on May 8 from noon to 4 p.m. This free festival includes performances from local artists, games, and an auction with great donations from local restaurants and other businesses, all open to the community. The food draws from the school's rich Latin-American culinary heritage, with homemade dishes ranging from Yucatecan cochinita pibil to Oaxacan mole.

Fairmount community is actively looking for donations from local businesses for FiestaVal, which will support the PTA's funding of crucial programs such as the school library, science, and the ever-popular capoeira classes from Abada Capoeira in the Mission. This Brazilian form of martial arts and dance is fun and great exercise. Abada has the added benefit of an instructor who teaches in Spanish--with the occasional word of Portuguese, of course.


Fairmount Elementary School
Mary Lou Cranna, Principal
65 Chenery Street at Randall

Mission Education Center
Deborah Molof, Principal
1670 Noe Street at Noe Street

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

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