School Beat: Starr King, a School on the Rise

by Renee Tan on December 20, 2006

Two years ago, I would have never looked at the school my son is attending. I knew no one with kids there and nobody ever mentioned it at the playground so it did not have much of a reputation. Lesson learned: take a look. Starr King Elementary turned out to be our number one choice. Sometime in 2005, Starr King Elementary was named the school that would be home to the first Mandarin Immersion program in the San Francisco Unified School District. The program was the opportunity of a lifetime for our family; though the school’s unknown reputation was of concern.

As the 2005 touring season kicked off, I narrowed a list down to 25 schools, and began my search. The new Mandarin Immersion program was on my mind, though would I really be comfortable applying to a program where I could not meet teachers or view a classroom or see any curriculum or books or watch students in action?

After touring a number of schools, it was my day to tour Starr King. The principal led the tour through all the classrooms and spent a good deal of time talking about all aspects of the school.

What I saw there was amazing…a teacher talking through a scenario which was a math problem as her fourth grade students all sat on the rug with whiteboards and markers working through the answer. Then they all flipped their boards toward the teacher so that she could look at all their answers and go forward from there.

What a great concept; I was so impressed. The kid who always has the right answer still gets a chance to show his work. The kid who is too shy to answer in front of his classmates for fear of being wrong is no longer afraid. The kid who has the wrong answer is not identified as such.

The additional benefit is that the teacher can look at these boards and see the thought process of the student to determine how to best proceed. After seeing this, I wanted my child in this environment. I had complete confidence in the current staff and principal that this new program would be a success!

So a school that I never thought I would tour made it to the top of my list of choices! The dedication of the principal and staff and the peaceful aura of the school were factors that made this my top choice (and I got it).

We were immediately welcomed into the community. The principal, Chris Rosenberg, invited all incoming K families into Starr King starting in April of the previous year. In April we were invited to Science Night, where each grade had science projects to intrigue young minds. Making molecules with gumdrops held the attention of my three year old, and the incoming kindergartener was fascinated by the experiments that the fifth grade teacher had he stayed at that booth so long that he missed the ice cream making booth and did not complain!

In June we were invited to the International Potluck with all of the current Starr King families. Over the summer families of the Mandarin Immersion program met at a park to get acquainted. The principal came and bought his daughters as well. Three weeks before school started there was a summer camp for all incoming Kindergarten students; it was a great opportunity for kindergarten students of all programs to get to know one another, as they eat and have recess together on a daily basis. Parents in the Mandarin Immersion program also took this opportunity to help the new teachers clean and put together their classrooms.

We are about half-way through the school year now. What makes Starr King special to me at this time are many of the recognition programs that are celebrated each Monday morning in the yard. The principal announces a “Student of the Week” for each classroom, the students who have completed ten books in the “Books for Breakfast” program are recognized as “Reading Machines”, and student birthdays are celebrated as well.

We sing “Happy Birthday” in four languages. I can now sing it in Samoan, and some 2nd graders can now also sing it in Mandarin (and there is no Mandarin Immersion program at the 2nd grade level yet though there will be in 2008). What a community this is!

I recently asked my son what he liked best about Starr King. His response was #1: Mandarin, #2 Fine Art Friday, and #3 doing homework–impressive to me as I was expecting recess and lunch to be the only things on the list!

As for the Mandarin Immersion program, in this case words speak louder than actions. Every student is able to respond back to their teacher in Mandarin. It is amazing to witness and to be a part of! Next year the Starr King Mandarin Immersion program will have openings at the K and 1st grade levels for the ’07 school year. Come join us!

Renee Tan is a Potrero Hill parent of two children and teaches international business and economics at a nearby university.

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