Noe Valley Voice February 2004

School Report


New Mayor Commends Alvarado Arts Program

Arts critic Steven Winn, describing the challenges facing newly elected Mayor Gavin Newsom in crafting a public arts program for the city, recently wrote: "In one place, not long ago, Newsom saw the arts working in the kind of inclusive, synthesizing way that makes his eyes shine. It was at Alvarado Elementary School, where art is integrated throughout the curriculum. 'You go there, and you can't tell the difference between an art class and a math class,' [Newsom] said.... 'It permeates the halls. It's in the bathrooms. The art is just everywhere.'" (San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 6, 2004)

Let's hope the school will be able to sustain this model arts program, despite substantial funding cuts at all levels of government and from many private sources. Please read on.

Auction Boosts Arts and Literacy: Need a quiet getaway? Crave an exciting night out? Want to ensure the continuation of Alvarado's excellent arts and literacy programs? If you can answer yes to any or all of these questions, mark Saturday, March 20, 7 to 11 p.m., on your calendar. That's the date of the Alvarado School 2004 Auction at Fort Mason Center.

As a fundraiser, this annual event has raised as much as $40,000 for the school's arts and literacy programs in a single, fun-filled night. Once part of a weekend rummage sale and brunch, the evening (just for adults) now features a live performance by local band Go Van Gogh; hors d'oeuvres and beverages; a silent auction of gift certificates, getaways, classes, and goods and services from local merchants and restaurants; and a live auction of works by local artists such as Ruth Asawa, Paul Lanier, Aiko Cuneo, and the talented children of Alvarado School.

The event is open to the public, and tickets are only $10 in advance/$15 at the door. For more information, please contact Carolyn Scott (415-563-6238) or call the school.

Ice Cream Mixer: Alvarado School is co-sponsoring, along with District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty, an ice cream social on Saturday, Feb. 7, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Isabella's Ice Cream Parlor, on the corner of Castro and 24th streets. A highlight of the event will be Dufty's introduction of our newest school board member, Heather Hiles.

Here Come the Surgeons: Alvarado's new "dream" playground is only a few weeks away. Four hundred volunteers from around the country--many of them orthopaedic surgeons--are expected to participate on March 9 when the school's old playground structure will be replaced with a safer one designed by the doctors (with the help of Alvarado students). We are grateful to the American College of Orthopaedic Surgeons, KaBOOM!, and a very generous personal donation from Noe Valley realtor B.J. Droubi for making this project possible.

Chats with the Principal: Alvarado Principal David Weiner opens his doors on the first and third Fridays from 8 to 9 a.m. For more information, call 415-695-5695 or visit the school's web site at The address is 625 Douglass Street at Alvarado.

--Susan Cattoche


Lord of the Rings Prompts Students to Look to the Future

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." --Gandalf the Wizard

There are neither hobbits nor walking trees in the silent hallway at James Lick; only Alejandra Reyes, a petite eighth-grader with an elfin smile. She sees me waiting outside Marna Blanchard's locked classroom.

"They're in the library," Alejandra volunteers. "Do you know where it is?"

I follow the swaying column of her ponytail down the stairs to the middle floor of the middle school, where Marna Blanchard--language arts teacher and department head--is just ending her class.

James Lick eighth-graders earned seats at the San Francisco premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, plus a set of J.R.R. Tolkien books for the school library, by writing 200-word essays applying the words of Tolkien's character the wizard Gandalf to their own lives.

Blanchard, who coordinated the writing project (co-sponsored by S.F. School Volunteers and New Line Cinema), explains that after discussing the quotation, "the students interpreted Gandalf's words to mean, 'What will we do with our lives?' The entire eighth grade participated in the contest, and everyone did a great job."

After the bell rings, I pass Alejandra in the hallway, deftly helping another student open a stuck locker. What will she do with her life?

"After I finish college and everything else, I want to be a doctor." Her gentle eyes shining with confidence, she adds, "The kind that helps little kids."

Student Leader Honored: Eighth-grader Antonio Ayala was the youngest of 11 youths honored at City Hall by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Youth Commission on their third annual Youth Recognition Day, Dec. 16, 2003. Antonio was selected by Supervisor Bevan Dufty in recognition of his leadership in student government, outstanding academic achievement, and involvement in diverse school, community, and volunteer activities. Antonio is currently student body vice president and co-leader of the James Lick Noe Valley Merchants/ Community Alliance.

Gearing Up for College: Last month's Coffee with the Principal on Jan. 30 featured a talk on strategies parents can use to prepare their kids for college. "College: Making It Happen" was hosted by GEAR UP coordinator Denise Rueda and presented by Jaclyn Johnson, the middle school outreach coordinator for San Francisco State University. Translation was provided for Spanish-speaking parents.

Travels Enhance Learning: James Lick's annual trip to Merida, Yucatan, has been rescheduled for March 6 to 16, 2004. A trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland is scheduled for May 7 to 9. Several of the students are still looking for sponsors who can help them cover the costs of these valuable educational experiences. (Your assistance is tax-deductible.)

Coffee with the Principal: Parents, neighbors, and merchants are invited to join Principal Janice Daniels for coffee and refreshments between 9:30 and 11 a.m. on the last Friday of each month. The chats take place in Room 107 and feature open discussion of school-related issues.

The James Lick Community Alliance meetings continue on the last Wednesday of the month at 12:30 p.m., with lunch provided. Noe Valley merchants and neighbors are welcome to attend. Share your ideas, talents, enthusiasm, and support for a diverse and caring community. Please visit Room 107 or call Parent Liaison Denise Rueda at the school at 415-695-5675.

--Susan Cattoche


Found in Translation

The Center for Art in Translation is a group of people in San Francisco who believe the world will be a better place if more of us learn the art of translation, to bridge cultures through language, literature, and poetry.

So what did they do? They sent a teacher, Michael Ray, to Fairmount School three days a week to work with children on translating poetry. Students in the Spanish-immersion program in the third, fourth, and fifth grades meet with Ray each week to write poems in Spanish, translate those poems into English, and translate poems written by famous poets.

Ana Rodriguez, a third-grader, says she enjoys the poetry classes because "it helps you write more about yourself." When she's writing a poem, Ana says, "I talk to my body, like my heart, and that makes me feel happy."

At the end of the school year, poems written and translated by Fairmount students will be included, along with works by students from other schools, in the latest volume of Poetry Inside Out. The book shows how each child translates a poem in a slightly different way.

"Students are learning the different ways of using the language," says Fairmount Principal Karling Aguilera-Fort.

Posada--Singing for Shelter: The Fairmount community ended the year before the holidays with Posada, a party of food and dance that is a tradition in Mexico. Children dressed up and acted the parts of pilgrims looking for shelter.

"It comes from the belief that Mary and Joseph were seeking shelter," says Aguilera-Fort. "In Mexico, the story turned [from the Biblical version] into pilgrims singing songs to people who have houses--'Would you please open your doors? We need shelter.'

"It was so nice to see all these families from different cultures singing these songs from papers that were given to them," says Aguilera-Fort.

About 100 people showed up, and those who attended enjoyed it so much that it will likely become an annual tradition at Fairmount.

Read Till You Drop: The school's annual Read-a-thon begins on Feb. 23 and runs through March 5. Students collect donations for the number of books read, or the number of minutes spent reading each day. The fundraiser ends with a sleepover on March 5, in which children and parents spend the night in classrooms, playing games, eating pizza, and--you guessed it--reading.

In Harmony: A schoolwide choir for all interested students is now practicing each week after school with a music teacher from the school district. Upcoming events will sound a little sweeter with these voices all harmonizing.

Kids' Chat: Twice a month, Aguilera-Fort holds a principal's chat with parents during school hours (on Thursdays). Now he's extending his hospitality to the kids. On Feb. 20, he'll hold a principal's chat for students, so they can ask him questions, tell him what they like, and what they'd like to change.

FiestaVal: Fairmount's grand party, FiestaVal, is still a few months away (May 15), but parents and kids are already gearing up for the fun, which last year brought in $20,000 for the school. Last spring, families, staff, and neighbors gathered to eat wonderful food, watch dances, and bid for treasures in the auction (many from generous Noe Valley merchants who donated meals and merchandise to the school). Thank you in advance.

--Jan Ruiz


Alvarado Elementary School

625 Douglass Street at Alvarado


David Weiner, Principal

Fairmount Elementary School

65 Chenery Street at Randall


Karling Aguilera-Fort, Principal

James Lick Middle School

1220 Noe Street at 25th Street


Janice Daniels, Principal