Saturday, November 7, 2009

Eliot School: The Quiet Storm

Something's going on in Pasadena's schools. Teachers are teaching and kids are learning. Quietly. Without making a lot of noise about it.

As I mentioned in yesterday's comments, they don't use the lockers at Eliot School in Altadena. Principal Peter Pannell noted a couple of reasons, the obvious one being that kids can't use them for hiding contraband. The less obvious reason is noise. Books are kept in the classrooms, and much of the homework gets done in after school programs. If kids have to take a book home they can check one out. At Eliot, they're not loaded down with pounds and pounds of them.

It was quiet during the first period at Eliot, and our tour group sat in the library while Pannell told us a little bit (well, a lot) about how the school operates. They do 90-minute class periods, alternating subjects but keeping the same group together in the same area of the building. Teachers meet regularly to discuss curriculum, the students in their group, what's working and what isn't. (A teacher group was meeting in the library while we were there.) All the teachers in the group know all the students in their area. This "embedded grouping" helps educators spot problems and work as a team to solve them. It also makes the kids feel safe--it's a big campus but they get to know their area and their group.

All this has been successful at Eliot, where they chalked up a 97-point gain in their API score just in the last year, jumping from 606 to 703. The target for all schools is 800. (I linked to the same article yesterday but in case you didn't read it, it's worth a look.)

Even if you don't have kids I think every citizen should care about the quality of local schools if only for mercenary reasons; if the schools in your town are good then your property value is higher. Touring Eliot School (see yesterday's post) showed me that, contrary to tired rumor that gets passed from tongue to ear to tongue to ear with nary an open-eyed fact check, Pasadena's schools are in decent shape and getting better. There's enough improvement (and hope for more) that it's worth making some noise about.

Our tour group was in the library when first period let out. I expected pandemonium. But it was a quiet storm.
Parent Tours at Eliot School are given the first Tuesday of every month, first thing in the morning. Contact the school at (626-396-5680).


altadenahiker said...

Did it feel odd to be in school again, or as though you never left?

Interesting series, P.

Petrea said...

Karin, the schools I went to as a kid were all newer than this one, but still the building was loaded with nostalgia for me. There's something compelling in these beautiful old institutional buildings. I really jumped at the chance to see inside this place.

Petrea said...

But I didn't feel as though I'd never left. School is really different now than it was in the sixties!

HearkenCreative said...

Petrea, just wanted to let your readers know that most PUSD schools have tours similar to Elliot's; for instance, McKinley's is the first Wednesday of every month. I highly recommend these tours to both parents and residents, to see what is going on in the schools.

Thanks again for spotlighting our beautiful schools, and the work that is going on there.

Unfortunately, going on campus is not at all nostalgic for me, because PTA parents view the campus as a workplace. You wouldn't believe how many volunteer hours have to go into making a school run smoothly. Much of this is because of state budget cuts over the years (dating all the way back to Prop 13), and we feel an obligation to step in to "fill the gap." It's fun and rewarding work, but not at all nostalgic. My parents hardly ever set foot on my campus when I was a kid.

Lisa..... said...

A lot of the schools in the area who had the 90 minute class period structure can no longer afford it. They have had to swtich to traditional periods r/t budget cuts. In LA, the track system saves money but I've heard teachers say how awful it is for the kids. I hope this budget crisis doesn't ruin all that the schools have accomplished in last few years.

Cafe Pasadena said...

I think unless our economy returns to the strength it used have relative to the rest of the world, you can probably say good bye to the good old days. Good bye to some of the things we grew up with, taken for granted, such as low-cost quality education.

There's no free school lunch for much of anything.

Trish said...

the father of a friend used to teach at Eliot. He never told me it was special, but he never seemed to dislike his work as some public school teachers did. I think if more kids had learning environments like this, we'd have fewer dropouts and fewer problems. Tho, I do know that 90 minute periods can be tough for the ADD set.

ok...pulling from yesterday's comments---stealing from schools? jeesh people, c'mon! grrrrr.

Margaret said...

No lockers! That would have made me so happy.

TheChieftess said...

FYI Hearken...prior to Prop 13 there was still a lot of volunteerism in the schools...PTA was very big and all our moms were in it and participating, much to the chagrin of us kids...little did I know then that I would appreciate the time my mom (and sometimes dad!) spent in PTA and all those school related projects...

Petrea said...

It doesn't surprise me, Loren, that you're putting in a lot of time. I have a friend in the Valley who not only helps in the cafeteria of her six-year-old's school but puts in one day a week in the classroom and donates huge amounts to the school.

Lisa, is the track system the 90-min or the 60-min? They were talking about the 90-min at Eliot as though it was a choice, not forced by budget concerns.

Amen, Cafe. We do have to vote our tax dollars for schools, or if we feel we've sent enough money that way then vote in school board elections to make sure the right people are overseeing that money.

Trish--no kidding about ADD. It takes a dynamic teacher to keep a 13-year-old's attention for even an hour.

Margaret, I'd love to hear your locker stories someday.

Me too, Chieftess.

St├ęphane Kardos said...

just popping by to say hi :)
Hope all is well Petrea, I will have to start to think about school someday soon for our son... I'll send him study in France :)
Have a lovely weekend

USelaine said...

I'm so glad I finished school before Prop 13. Schools are the last thing that should be starved of funding. The survival of our republic depends on a deeply and widely educated citizenry. Already, evidence of revitalized superstition and demagoguery are threatening the fabric of our culture.

verification: slated

Petrea said...

Stef, by the time your little one is ready for middle school, Eliot's API score will be 1000 so you can just send him there.

I feel the same way, Elaine. I had such a great education. It pains me to see the kids in my neighborhood having to sell crappy wrapping paper or inferior candy to go on field trips.