Friday, November 7, 2008

Mozart school preview - Nov. 6

My impression after visiting the Mozart School can be summed up in one word: scrappy.

It’s a K1-5 school with a uniform policy, and it’s the closest elementary school to our home. I noticed that their 3rd grade MCAS scores weren't too shabby in 2008. I think they ranked 269 out of 1000 schools statewide in math and 465 out of 1002 in reading.

I had to take my son along for this one. This school is only about four blocks away, so I thought we’d have a nice walk there. It was rainy, and he was having none of it, so we drove. We’ve always come to Mozart’s playground as a way to burn off energy, and honestly, the playground has never impressed me. There’s a lot of blacktop and a very small play structure and some small evergreens.

However, I had never been inside the Mozart except to vote. My expectations for Mozart weren’t all that high, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s definitely a small school, but I got the impression that they really make do with what they have and do their best to get grants for extra programs.

They only have one class per grade, and it’s definitely a more diverse student body than the Kilmer, the only other school I had visited before.

One thing that made a big difference on this tour was the classrooms were opened up to our small group.

I really loved the science classroom. I’m such a sucker for science. The teacher was working with older students when my son turned around and saw an open plastic box on a shelf with bugs inside. They were moving around on a bed of oatmeal and there was definitely some squirming underneath the oatmeal. He asked what it was and the teacher came over and explained that they were darkling beetles. She had examples of larvae and pupae in the box too. Then she showed us another structure that contained some caterpillars. I think they also had millipedes in the classroom. She also said they’re trying to get a compost pile started. For some women, the magic word that gets them all excited is “Ferragamo.” For me, it’s “composting.” I know. It’s weird. I think all students have science twice a week.

Along those same lines, the students are also champion recyclers. They recently won the citywide recycling progream and recycled 21,000 pounds of paper. Seriously.

I believe they have after-school programs for children with prior knowledge or children who need to catch up. I think a sizable chunk of kids move on to advanced work schools after the third grade. Sorry, I don’t have the numbers there.

The music area is next to the cafeteria on the lower floor. The music instructor is a jazz musician. Students play their recorders every year in the Roslindale Parade. Grades 3-5 can play the trumpet, coronet, violin, or flute in weekly music lessons.

They have two classes for students on the autism spectrum, one is K-2, the other is grades 3-5.

On the downside, I thought that one teacher was a little short with a student. In her defense, the children were transitioning from one activity to another, and it was naturally a little chaotic.

The principal, James Brewer said they know their outdoor play area needs work and they’re applying to the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, which would help restructure the playground. They don't have regular PE or gym, but they do participate in the Sports 4 Kids program. A coach helps structure outdoor play before school and in the classroom. Obviously, there isn't a gym in a school this size.

There also isn't a formal art program, but students can do artwork as a part of normal classwork. We saw a painting on an easel in one of the kindergarten classrooms. I can already tell that my 2-year-old isn’t a big fan of structured art projects, so this would not break his heart.

The library is located off the music room on the lower level. I’ll be honest, it’s a little dungeon-like with its painted cinderblock walls and lack of windows. But they said most of their books are relatively new. That would be an improvement over the children’s collections in some of our local public library branches.

They don't have an afterschool program there. Kids are bussed off to other sites.

Overall, I came away from this visit really liking Mozart. Sure it’s an older building and it’s not big, but I got a real sense of community there.

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