Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Joyce Kilmer Elementary School preview - Nov. 4

The first open house that I wanted to hit this year was the Kilmer school in West Roxbury. In 2007, 97-100% of the students scored on the proficient or advanced levels in the English and Math MCAS, according to this report card. From what I’ve heard around town, some people put it number one on their lottery list sight unseen. There were nearly 40 adults on the tour, and a few young children.

My overall impression of the school – it’s nice, sure. However, I’m not sure it’s worthy of all the adulation. Then again, I haven’t seen what else is out there. These kids aren’t curing cancer by the third grade. They’re learning age-appropriate material while still having fun (and none of the kids I saw seemed like zombies endlessly reciting MCAS test prep material). The new principal, Jerome Doherty, seems really forward-looking. I suppose that counts for a lot.

I guess I have a couple of minor concerns. One was that they don’t offer instruction in musical instruments. Where I grew up, it was a given that you had the option of joining band and picking a musical instrument by the 5th grade. The principal, a former music teacher, said this is on his wish list. So is foreign language instruction. Right now, they don’t offer any foreign language.

This one is a bigger concern of mine. Neither of their buildings includes a gymnasium or a PE teacher. My son is very, very active. In the winter time, he really needs a place to run around and get out some of that energy. That’s one of the many reasons I like his preschool. They have a big hall where kids can play when it’s rainy or snowy. Let’s face it, in New England, that’s a good chunk of the year. So the principal said they try to incorporate movement into performing arts classes, including dance and yoga. They do have a nice outdoor play area and have daily recess for K-5.

Here are some of the nitty-gritty details:
-- It’s expanding to K1-8. Right now, I believe they’re K1-7. K1-3 are in a building on Baker Street and grades 4-8 are on Russett Road.
-- The onsite before- and after-school care is generally not for K1 students. That program is run by the Y and kids have to be 5 years old. Four-year-olds are bussed over to the Kidstop at the Y. If they turn 5 during the school year, they can stay on-site.
-- They have 44 K1 seats (2 classrooms). Like with other schools, most of those spots are filled by siblings of current students and kids in the walk zone. Translation: good freakin’ luck to the rest of us. If a child doesn’t get in at K1, there’s an even slimmer chance of sneaking in at the K2 level.
-- We peeked in the classroom windows. They seem large and bright. The K1 setup seemed similar to our preschool --- different centers like a sand/water table, easels, a kitchen area, tables for other activities and a rug for circle time.
-- In the afternoon, kids go out of their classroom for special subjects. I think it’s a different subject every day, and I think they include science, performing arts, math, music, and computers. I can’t imagine 22 4-year-olds in a computer lab at once. My son’s already a YouTube junkie – he really likes to watch footage of trains. (Note: I recently learned that math is also taught every day, in addition to being a special subject).
-- The hallways had a lot of student artwork hanging on the walls, along with an explanation of the projects’ goals.
-- The principal said that last year (or maybe the year before) the Kilmer sent one-third of its sixth graders to exam schools. That’s why they only have one seventh grade class. They’ll stick to one eighth grade class too.

The preview happened to coincide with election day, and Kilmer served as a polling site. So we were kind of rushed through the lower floor. Like a lot of schools, they had their own ballot box set up for the kids.

The verdict: I really liked it, but I’m eager to see what else is out there, especially since our chances of getting in seem slim to none.

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