View Full Version : West Portal-Forest Hill Notes from our St. Brendan tour

10-22-2010, 03:38 PM
Our notes and impressions from the St. Brendan tour:

St. Brendan is a coed Catholic K-8 elementary school located in Forest Hill Extension on Laguna Honda and Ulloa. Each grade is roughly 35 students with the Kindergarten class split into a morning session and an afternoon session. The school has a great reputation for academic excellence among the Catholic schools.

We were greeted by two charming eighth graders when we showed up for the tour. Once inside the school library, the principal Ms. Grewal (pronounced more like Garywal) went around the room to greet each and every one of us. She was warm and loving - you can tell immediately how much she loves the school. She offered her cell phone number to all of us in case we wanted to talk to her about the process. The only thing she asked was that we not call between 4-6AM. She also put in place a policy to make sure each student is greeted three times by the time s/he goes to class, just so s/he can start the day in a good mood.

We watched a brief video about the school highlighting the school's academic rigor, the students' leadership and the sense of community at the school. Ms. Grewal further elaborated on each of these topics. The school placed 96th percentile on standardized testing, and half the students test out of Algebra 1 when they go to high school. In place of a student council, the school creates job that the eighth graders can sign up for and take on a leadership role. Some jobs include running the SBTV (internal online broadcast), managing the whole P&L for selling ice cream and so on.

The first classrooms we saw were the ones on the lower floor for Grades 1-4. The first graders' Mondrian art work and other assignments covered the halls. Between the different rooms, we saw students learning to play the recorder with their music specialist, first graders learning practicing spelling and a religion class in action. The one thing I noticed is that the instruction seemed to be more structured than the other Catholic schools we've seen.

We then walked across the street to see the morning kindergarten class. Having been a kindergarten teacher herself, Ms. Grewal was in her element as soon as we stepped into the kindergarten classroom. She knew every student by name, peppering them with questions and praising them with love. It was great to see the eagerness and joy on their faces. On a side note, each K session is 3 hours and 15 minutes long.

After that, we walked through a PE class in the impressive gym, a seventh grade science class and then back to the library for more Q&A. Extended care is offered from 3-6pm. Since school hours are pretty structured, the after school programs are not as formalized to give the students time to decompress. The amount of homework students receive is roughly equal to the student's grade multiplied by 10 (e.g. 7th grade = 70 minutes). With 16-18 siblings applying this year, that leaves about 20 spots for new families.

Leaving the tour, we got a very clear sense of the emphasis the school placed on academics. We were also really drawn to Ms. Grewal's enthusiasm, warmth and leadership. It was easy to see why St. Brendan is one of the most sought after Catholic school in the city.