In this era of school choice, parents have such a wide array of schools and educational programs to choose from that the choice can sometimes feel overwhelming: private, parochial, magnet or charter…which all come in flavors and focuses almost too numerous to list – STEM, STEAM, arts, performing arts, Montessori, constructivist, language immersion, public affairs, social justice, boys-only, girls-only, medical, gifted, communication arts, technology, biological sciences, environmental sciences, social-emotional learning, and on and on and on.
But with all of these sparkling new choices available, and with everyone’s friends and neighbors dashing off to check out the latest additions, many people may have fogotten about (or deliberatly turned away from) the schools in their own back yards – the regular neighborhood public schools that have, in some cases, been there for almost a hundred years – as long as their neighbohoods have been here – and are still going strong.
One reason may be that in the era of school choice, and the dozens of choices available, these good old neighborhood schools may seem a bit boring, bland, or “vanilla” in a world of such sparkling new educational options. But if you haven’t taken a look at your neighborhood school lately, you may find a few surprises there — special programs, both as part of the regular curriculum and as enrichment opportunities, which may rival at least some of the programming at popular magnet, charter and private schools. Also, because so many families have chosen those other kinds of schools in recent years, many neighborhood schools have seen significant drops in their enrollments, to the point that for some lucky students, class sizes are even smaller now than at magnet, charter and even some private schools.
We recently spoke to the principals at two of our local neighborhood schools, Van Ness Elementary and Wilshire Crest Elementary, about what’s new and wonderful at their schools…and which grades or classes at each may still have room for additional students.
Van Ness Avenue Elementary
Principal Pauline Hong is in her third year at Van Ness Elementary, and is very excited about many of the changes that the school has seen in recent years, particularly the addition of 50 minutes per week of Mandarin language instruction for all students.
Overall, the school has just 214 students in grades Transitional Kindergarten (TK) to 5, and because this is the first year of TK at the school, enrollment in that program is particularly low – with just 8 students in the class and plenty of room for more. (Other grades at the school average 24-25 students per class.)
In addition to the Mandarin language instruction, the school also now has these special programs:
EnrichLA Garden Rangers – EnrichLA is a non-profit organization that builds school gardens and provides schools with educational materials, seedlings, soil amendments, teaching supplies and a trained staff person to provide weekly hands-on garden education, during the school day, to the school’s students.
CoputerwiseKids – Provides computer and coding instruction to students during the school day, and works with the school’s teachers to integrate technology into the classroom.
Got Game P.E. – A physical education program for all students, aligned with California state standards, which covers gross motor skills, traditional sports, and playground games.
Visual Arts instruction – Brought back to the school by the school’s enthusiastic parents.
Dance Instruction – Returned to the school by LAUSD this year, after it had been cut for several years due to budget shortages.
Vex Robotics – An after-school enrichment program for 4th and 5th graders, in which students build and program robots, and attend robotics competitions.
Wilshire Crest Elementary
Wilshire Crest Principal Gayle Robinson is also in her third year at the school, and is most excited this year about the expanding Dual Language Immersion (Spanish/English) program, which began with a Kindergarten class last year, and added a 1st grade class this year. (The program will continue to expand, with the addition of one grade per year, until it’s K-5.)
At the moment, Wilshire Crest has only about 125 students in grades ETK-5, with the most openings for new students in Extended Transitional Kindergarten (ETK), Transitional Kindergarten (TK), Kindergarten and 1st grade (both the Dual Language and Regular K and 1st grade classes).
In addition to the Dual Language program option, the school also offers:
Garden School Foundation Seed to Table Program – An instructor from the non-profit Garden School Foundation provides both gardening and cooking classes to all students, during the school day. The program “encourages exploration, critical thinking, and teamwork as children learn how to collaboratively grow, harvest, cook, and eat their own healthy foods, as well as how they can impact both the broader environment and their own communities.”
UCLA Math Project – Works with the school’s teachers throughout the school year (and during school breaks) to provide professional training and coaching in Cognitively Guided Instruction for math, which “helps teachers understand how children’s mathematical ideas develop and provides an opportunity to build on their own thinking.”
Reading Partners Tutoring Program – Provides trained tutors to work one-on-one with students who struggle with reading, following a structured, reasearch-based curriculum.
Orchestra and Choir Program – Provides both instrumental and vocal music instruction to interested students, during the school day, with a credentialed LAUSD teacher.
Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits Program – Brings activities, educational materials and workshops on health, nutrition, and exercise to the school’s students, teachers and families, and sets school-wide goals for wellness and activity.
LA’s Best After-School Enrichment Program – A free after-school program, open to all students, that includes “science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the arts, literacy, sports, nutrition,” as well as social-emotional learning that helps students “gain confidence, show empathy and develop positive relationships.”
So if you’re looking for interesting curriculum options, small class sizes, and schools small enough that everyone will know both you and your child…not to mention the chance for your own involvement to really make a difference in your child’s education, and being able to walk to school (no more morning traffic and car lines!) – be sure to at least take a look at your local neighborhood school, whichever one it may be (Wilshire Park, Hancock Park, Wilton Place and Third Street schools are also all in our general Greater Wilshire/Miracle Mile area).
You might just find that it’s a great choice after all.