UCB Parents School Recommendations

Columbus Elementary

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Columbus School is now called Rosa Parks School. Newer recommendations about Rosa Parks (2002 and later) are here.


We transferred into the Berkeley district and both my boys went to Columbus last year,the first year for the newly-built school). They both had excellent teachers (first and fifth grades). The principal is involved and responsive and seems to get things done. One of the things we noticed when we started was that everyone was smiling--teachers, parents, students. Maybe its the excitement of the fabulous new buildings and facilities. Our youngest son is in second grade now and we're happy. Even though some of the kids in his class are not as proficient as he is, instruction is geared so that all are challenged. Good teacher! Columbus has just gotten a Science magnet grant. It's an exciting place!

Incidentally, our children have never been in classes where the teacher is not in total control and they have always attended public schools (both Peralta in Oakland, and Columbus and now Willard in Berkeley). Test scores, in my mind, are not as important as whether children are challenged and all are learning. The key seems to be good teachers (supported by a principal and school bureaucracy that's effective). My oldest son is in the GATE program, he started school when he was 4 going on 5 (late Oct birthday), he likes school, and is achieving. We have been lucky to have excellent teachers. I'd like to second the suggestion to give public schools a chance and to get involved. Kathleen

I wanted to put in a note for Columbus School. My five-year-old twins entered kindergarten there this year and I have been so pleased with both of their teachers (they're in different classrooms) and with the principal, Becky Wheat. Becky involves parents without overwhelming them, and really listens, which is so nice. I'd be happy to answer any specific questions about the school.
My son is in first grade at Columbus.(in the bilingual spanish immersion program, which is very well run, credible, and popular). It is in many ways a very exciting school, with lots of energy and resources pouring into it. The strong emphasis there is science; some parents are working hard on getting more arts integrated in. There are excellent family services and a family resource center, including onsite dental care, onsite psychological counseling ( short term) for kids and families experiencing difficulites. There are many other ways that families are included in the concerns of the school community and encouraged both to be part of things and to get services and support they need.

Like any school, public or private, Columbus is a mixed bag. There are some superb teachers, and some not! It is academically certainly on a par with any other Berkeley Public School. It is a school "in formation", developing its identity, structures,programs. Its an exciting time to be part of it if you like to get involved and help shape your child's educational community. It has the inevitable frustrations and limitations. We are fairly satisfied with our choice at present; I am particularly impressed with the bilingual opportunities and diverse student body, and with the special services and "extras". They have a strong after school class program (paid for by parents and PTA), with Yoga, Instrument Making, Science, Woodworking, etc.

I have a daughter in kindergarten at Columbus. I plowed through the public school process and applied to three private. The private school that I really liked had 100 applications and were taking only 16. I have to admit I failed to check out the test scores at all of these schools. I relied on my instincts and what felt right. I was looking for kind, happy, warm, loving teachers. I visited four public schools, three of them twice, spoke with a few other parents going through the same process and found Columbus to be most highly praised in the north zone. I actually ended up putting it down as my second choice due to its distance from my home. After receiving my welcome letter from Columbus and none from the private schools. I let go of the private and decided to make the public work for us. I talked very little about this whole process to my daughter.

She knew no one in Kindergarten going to Columbus. It wasn't until the Kinder. BBQ that she actually saw faces of kids that might be in her class. She had a great time at the BBQ as did my husband and I; it put us all at ease. She met the three kindergarten teachers and the Principal, Rebecca Wheat. Everyone was very friendly and went out of there way to make the event a very comfortable and happy occasion. School started three days later and we've been happy ever since. I have never seen my daughter so happy to go to school. She was never this happy to go to pre-school. She is constantly busy drawing pictures, letters, spelling words, wanting to read, creating art, doing homework, etc. She does her homework right when she gets home. Her class goes to the library every Thurs. where they can check out a book. They go to their little garden where they are learning about plants and planting. She rides the bus which I never thought I would let my 5 yr old ride the bus. She loves it. She especially loves her teacher Ms. Gallegos. All of the teachers are tremendous with the kids. The three Kindergarten teachers get all the kids together once or twice a week and sing songs. My daughter comes home singing songs in Spanish. The kids were making books the first week of school. Ms. Gallegos is consistently emphasizing writing stories and making the illustrations and the kids love it.

I volunteered to be a room parent and managed to get one parent to participate every day of the week. Ms. Gallegos is a pleasure to work with and is very intuned to the childrens needs. There are a few children who get distracted more easily than others. But I'm sure we would find that even at the private schools. From my observations these kids seem to distract only the other kids who are like themselves. The rest of the kids tend to do their tasks and don't seem to be bothered by the others.

My daughter, Molly, started the Spanish Immersion Program at Columbus School this September. We are thrilled with the school, her teacher, and the principal.

Columbus is a vibrant, thriving environment. It has attracted all kinds of money--federal science, technology, and language grants, Bayer Corporation contributions, private fundraising, and probably more than I don't know about.

The parent community is committed and involved, the teachers are wonderful, and the principal is supportive, active, and effective. I feel that the academic curriculum is appropriate and interesting. The spanish immersion program is very exciting and Mr. Martin is a great teacher. The two other kindergarden teachers also seem very good, as well as (most) of the rest of the upper grades teachers.

The campus is imaginatively designed and spacious. I didn't pay much attention to test scores when evaluating schools, but I feel that what Molly gains from the fact of being in a public school with a diverse population and the opportunity to become bilingual more than compensates for whatever she might miss in private school. Meghan

My three girls all attend Columbus School this year. They are 5, 8 and 10 in grades K, 3 and 5. So far we are very happy with the school.

For those who are new to Berkeley, all public elementary schools were either reinforced or rebuilt after the 1989 earthquake, using $58 million in city bonds. Columbus was closed for several years; the students were moved to Franklin Elementary; Columbus was razed to the ground and rebuilt; and it just re-opened this fall. The cafeteria, library, computer room, and large field won't be finished until sometime this month, so for now, the kids eat their lunches on picnic tables that circle the playground courtyard in the center.

One reason that we chose Columbus was because of a dedicated group of parents, including Jesus Mena of the UCB Public Information Office and his wife Roz, who banded together, worked closely with the architect, raised substantial sums of additional money, got the school a top-notch principal, arranged for before- and after-school childcare and after-school classes on-site, and generally provided a positive start to the new school. They are still working on more programs and more money for the school. All three San Francisco newspapers carried positive articles or editorials about Columbus, and so did one of the national news TV shows.

My children are happy at the school and they like their teachers, who all appear to have good skills and positive attitudes. The PTA is already very active, with three excellant co-presidents.

I personally like the physical buildings and grounds. The classrooms are in small one-story buildings, with two rooms and a teacher's office in each building. High-up gable windows make the rooms light and airy. The buildings are joined by small patios, which are designed for use as an outdoor extension of the classroom.

The downside of Columbus is the reputation of the surronding neighborhood for crime. I'm not sure of the plans for school security, but I am relieved to see that fences with locking gates are going up all around the school. It is my hope that access will be limited (without of course limiting emergency exits).

My experience with the Berkeley Public Schools so far has been excellant, with most of the teachers being top notch, highly motivated, and well loved by my children. The only problem so far was that one year one of my kids was bored.

The Berkeley Public Schools definitely have kids with behavior problems, but so my children are not upset by it. As long as my children can handle it, I would rather that they learn to deal with easy and difficult people throughout their lives, rather than being suddenly thrown into situations that they can't handle when they're older. (I saw this happen to some of my friends in college.) My kids enjoy the mix of kids they find there, and have made friends of various sexes, races and nationalities. Beverly



I am also relatively pleased with Columbus. My son is the fourth grade. He likes his teacher, LOVES the music program, hates the PE teacher. The prinicpal helped me solve a childcare problem in a very common sense way, and the school secretary loaned Noah lunch money one day when he forgot his lunch. I haven't heard much playground bad news, and there seem to be fewer problem kids (or the kids are behaving better) than at Franklin.

Columbus does have a point of view re: bilingual education and since it is a new approach, including all students, not only those with limited English, I'd suggest you talk to Alison who is the program coordinator. She was very helpful, met with me, explained what the goals were, etc.

I'm not so crazy about the building (although I appreciate its newness), but then I'm an architect with my own point of view. So far I feel pretty comfortable in the neighborhood.

Columbus is supposed to become a "beacon school," open community hours, and with many services, and much enrichment available to children and families. So far, not available beyond the usual set of after school classes. The on-site childcare is part of BUSD Early Childhood program. The teachers are very nice; however, the program is really only set up for K-2nd graders, and the room isn't yet fully set up with supplies. Another complication for me (and this may only be for 4th and 5th grades, I'm not sure) is that the school day goes until 3:20 MTuTh F, but only until 2:05 on Wednesdays.

Lots of nice parents and I know that my son is enjoying being part of the first group of students at the school. As a parent, I definitely feel energy, enthusiasm and commitment from the staff. Emily (10/97)

From: Lynn

Here's some more information on the Spanish immersion program at Columbus,
from Alison Jones, who is the coordinator of the grant that funds the
program. Alison's first comment is relevant to the question raised in the
last Parent List about specialized language for math and science

Alison writes:
The gradient of language use actually begins with a 90/10% ratio of
>Spanish/English in K, 80/20 in 1st, 70/30 in 2nd, 60/40 in 3rd, and 50/50 in
>4th & 5th.  The importance of having 2 solid years with a 50/50 ratio is
>critical.  4th & 5th grades becomes so content rich that students develop
>much more sophisticated vocabulary through content instruction.
 I would have only included [to Lynn's last message] one more bullet to
emphasize academic
>gains that don't necessarily address language development.  For instance, for
>the native Spanish speakers, introducing them to academic content in Spanish
>gives them greater access to the curriculum.  In most cases, our Spanish
>speakers enter school already at a disadvantage coming from less educated
>families of lower income.  For those students, the Spanish immersion program
>gives them a head start in gaining academic acheivement early on, while
>developing English.  As for the native English speakers, many of them tend to
>arrive to kindergarten with a lot of cognitive development due to family
>experience which exposes them to literature and authentic experiences that
>build academic knowledge.  Their academic development will definitely
>continue in the Spanish Immersion program along with the continued family
>activities at home in English.  Being immersed in Spanish challenges their
>intellectual flexibility and develop higher level thinking skills to make
>inferences and distinguish new concepts being introduced in both languages.
>The experience for these two groups is quite different.  And yet, their
>social interaction is the critical link to bridging the gap.  Recognizing the
>assets of both groups there's a mutual exchange of knowledge taking place
>that gives value to both cultures as well as both languages.
>I'm thrilled that parents are discussing this process.  I'd be happy to
>respond to any questions that come my way.
>Thanks Lynn, - AJ

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