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Programs offered to get kids ready to learn, pt. 2


Last updated 3/13/2008 at Noon

This is the second in a series of features about Fallbrook public school education.

“It doesn’t have curb appeal,” says Christy Baker, whose comment about the Fallbrook Street School site draws laughs from the parents and teachers assembled to discuss the education children receive in the cluster of historic buildings erected on Fallbrook Street in 1949.

Baker is a parent, a former real estate agent who is now student teaching in one of the classes.

A half hour earlier, the campus teemed with 480 children pouring out of kindergarten, first, second and multi-age grade classrooms at the school where principal Diane McClelland has overseen its achievements for 11 years.

“We have seven kindergarten classes, six first grades and eight second grades, plus two multi-age classes in which students enroll in kindergarten and stay through second grade,” says McClelland.

She is rightfully proud of the school that was modernized in 2003 and opened its new library last year, but the accomplishments of its students are what make her smile.

In the last five years Fallbrook Street School received a California Distinguished School award, was recognized three years in a row by the Fallbrook Public Utility District for having the highest number of entries in an environmental lesson on how grease negatively impacts drains, applauded nine students who published poetry in the children’s section of a local daily newspaper, received a $50,000 financial award from the Staples Foundation for their Kodaly Music program, took first place in a county emergency services preparedness pilot program and became a model school site for its Response to Intervention program, which uses research to determine an individual student’s need for special education.

“Fallbrook Street School is a ‘hidden gem’ for Fallbrook,” says Stacey Savin, whose two girls are enrolled in a multi-age class.

While all teachers are credentialed and deemed “highly classified” by federal No Child Left Behind standards and technology in the classrooms introduces computers and keyboards early, it is the dynamic academic standards-based curriculum that challenges students.

“Failure is Not an Option” is the school district’s theme, as evidenced in the 2007 Fallbrook Street School Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores.

School-wide, 62.4 percent of students are mathematics proficient, while 43.2 percent are proficient in English language arts.

All but 0.9 percent (those students classified as having disabilities) of the students enrolled in 2007 exceeded the Annual Measurable Targets determined by No Child Left Behind legislation for proficiency in English language arts and mathematics.

For all its accomplishments, something more is at work in the small school where teachers are reluctant to leave and children eagerly run to their classrooms each day.

The place has “charm,” a comment often heard, says McClelland, but perhaps it’s the heartbeat of the school children respond to, evoked by the nurturing teachers, who can often instruct one-on-one because there are no more than 20 students in a classroom.

Maybe it’s their Open Court Reading program that combines phonics with literature and helps students decode words, allowing them to learn them more quickly.

“It teaches higher level language rules,” says teacher Sandra Norton, who adds the process is a key learning experience for gifted students.

Perhaps it’s the “challenge and re-teach” method preferred by teacher Guillermo Acevedo, who likes its overlapping and review tactics which inspires students, or the gardens students plant each year to demonstrate science in action.

“We can’t live without our gardens,” enthuses Carmen Donez, one of the multi-age class teachers.

Or, maybe it’s just the fact that the teachers are there because they want to be. “This is their passion. We’re here for the kids,” Norton says.

Parents who attended the school enroll their children and others apply for intra-district transfers so their children can go to Fallbrook Street School.

Fany Lopez, for instance, wanted her daughter to have the music instruction, and Veronica Perso says with conviction that she transferred her children “because it’s better here.”

Kelly Trento, whose three children have excelled at Live Oak School, believes it’s because of the educational foundation they received at Fallbrook Street School.

All Fallbrook Street School second-graders move on to Live Oak. “The transfer is seamless,” Trento says.

Ana Arias, a parent who teaches at Fallbrook Street School, says the faculty works closely with Live Oak to help place incoming third grade students with teachers whose expertise closely fits their needs.

Parents are heavily involved in their students’ lives at Fallbrook Street School, says McClelland. In fact, she adds, sometimes “we end up hiring them.”

Seventy-five percent of parents show up for Open House, and recently 77 percent of parents participated in a disaster preparedness pilot program for which the school received an award.

Although turnout for school events is commendable, McClelland knows that because so many of the students’ parents work, it’s a balancing act for them to be involved.

The pressures of school today are much different than in years past. Now children must have computer keyboard skills by third grade, be able to grasp broader and deeper concepts and test regularly to meet federal standards.

To meet the challenges, Fallbrook Street School offers a richer academic program than many other schools because it qualifies for Title I federal funding, which “ensure[s] that all children have a fair, equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.”

As a result, all children receive the benefit of special programs paid for by Title I funds.

Beside a greater mastery of subjects, McClelland believes that when students move on to third grade from Fallbrook Street School, they leave as more compassionate children.

All of them meet with a counselor who teaches social skills, how to behave in the classroom and the playground and how to deal with bullying.

Parents say they know how to help their kids handle situations and problem solve, McClelland says.

Though fencing, gates and sidewalks replaced many old trees on the Fallbrook Street School campus due to safety purposes and can be said to detract from its appearance, it’s what goes on within the buildings that makes this school a treasure in Fallbrook.

Instructors passionate about teaching, children eager to learn and parents who support their efforts will forever make Fallbrook Street School a “hidden gem” in Fallbrook.


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