Clarendon's reputation clearly precedes the school, but I still had to see for myself why Clarendon is the top choice for so many parents in the city.

My first step into the school is met by half a dozen parents running a bake sale for the Second Community Program (Clarendon has two programs - Second Community and Japanese Bicultural Bilingual Program). A few feet to the right of them was a JBBP parent marketing their auction (selling tickets?). Talk about parent involvement!

As I waited for the school tour to start, I walked around the hallway and looked at the information posted on the bulletin boards. Of particular interest to me was the fundraising goal for the Clarendon Second Community - $222,150 by May 2011 from various programs:
  • LEAP (year round) - $40,000+ from direct donations by parents
  • Gift Wrap (Oct-Nov) - $2,800+
  • Quilt Raffle (Mar-May) - $2,800+
  • Corporate Matching (year round) - $17,000+
  • eScrip (year round) - $7,000+ (chart showing participation % by class)
  • Walkathon (Oct 3) - $30,000+
  • Auction (Spring) - $80,000+
  • Halloween Carnival - $2,500+
JBBP's own goal was not too shabby either. Its target for the school year was $180,000. With $400K+ in combined additional funding, it's no wonder the school can offer so many enrichment and after school programs.

As we gathered in the courtyard, a Second Community parent made the introductions about the school. The school starts at 9:25am and ends at 3:25pm. She touched on the four things that make Clarendon special:
1. Clarendon is made up of two great programs, Second Community and JBBP.

2. The school philosophy centers on teaching the whole child using project-based learning. For example, the third graders had a Willie Wonka project recently where they read, wrote and designed candies. The curriculum also has a social emotional component, and the school has a mentoring program between older and younger kids.

3. The school has incredible parent participation. In particular, the Second Community was founded in 1972 based on the co-op model.

4. The school offers a wealth of enrichment activities such as full-time art, PE , music, computer and Italian (for Second Community). It also has a partnership with DeYoung Museum.
A JBBP parent was next to speak. She described how JBBP is not an immersion program but rather that the language and culture are integrated throughout the day. The JBBP program also shares many of the enrichment teachers with Second Community. The principal Peter Van Court said a brief hello and mentioned that the school will have 4 kindergarten classes (each with 22 students) for next year.

We broke up into four groups to walk through the school. We first saw a Second Community kindergarten. The classroom was divided into stations and had student self-protraits made of yarn, foam, paper and other materials on the wall. The JBBP kindergarten was similarly configured but had artwork (e.g. Year of the Rabbit paintings) associated with the Japanese culture instead. It also had Japanese numbers and characters mixed in with English on the wall. One of the parent tour guides mentioned that the school has a reading specialist to help the students in the early grades and that the teachers are very good about helping students after school.

We then walked out to one of the playgrounds briefly and saw the garden. It was great to see the school dividing up the playgrounds into three tiers so that the younger kids aren't getting overwhelmed by the bigger kids. In response to a question about bullying, one of parent guides talked about the respect built into the curriculum and the Tribes philosophy at the school. She didn't see bullying being much of a problem at the school at all.

After that, we saw "centers" in action in the Second Community first grade. Couple times a week, parent volunteers would come into the classrooms for both JBBP and SC to help the teachers run exercises in smaller groups. In this specific case, one center was working on compound word concentration, another on persuasive writing and the third on compound word flaps.

When we were in the library, our tour guides highlighted how fun the Annual Pajama Readaloud Day is at the school. Students would come to school in their pajamas, and the parents would read stories all day to them. How fun!

Another class we saw was the JBBP 5th grade. The teacher was reviewing fraction problems (e.g. 5/8 of 1/2) by drawing and shading fractions in rectangles. The workbook they were using was Everyday Mathematics.

The last stop of the tour was the art room. Ellen the art teacher has been at the school for 15 years and teaches art based on the exhibits in town. She encoruages her students to try different media so that each of them can find an aspect of art they're excited about. Students in the SC program has art once a week while those in JBBP program has art once every two weeks.

The principal met us right outside the school entrance for a brief Q&A session after the tour. He pointed out that Clarendon is a full inclusion school. On the topic of differentiated instruction, he described how the teachers are essentially trying to individualize lesson plan for each of their students. He mentioned that over 70% of the students at Clarendon are identified as GATE students in 4th/5th grade. He also stated that the school does have 4th grade spots for the upcoming year in case parents are looking at that grade level.

Without question, Clarendon is a well-oiled machine. The parents are super involved, the children are happy in and out of class and the enrichment activities available at the school are second to none. Now I know why some compare getting into Clarendon to hitting the lottery jackpot (for those who are not in the attendance area).