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Why I Love Jose Ortega

Susan Notes:

Thanks to Caroline Grannan for posting this on her blog. This is a reminder for all readers to add to our growing list of what a good school looks like No, I'm not going to add "has a view of the Pacific Ocean." But I'll definitely think about "has goats and chickens." Yesterday I visited a nearby Walden School and the kindergartners put on their winter jackets and boots to go out and feed the chickens and other animals. More about this later. I was only there for a brief visit but I'm going back to spend the day with kinders soon.

We all have a vision--and I hope memories--of good schools. Let's get specific about this.

by Amy Graff

I love Jose Ortega because it sits on a hill that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day you can see the Farallon Islands, and when the sun sets in the evening the sky turns soft pinks and purples, and my daughter says, "Oh mom, I wish I could have a dress in those colors."

I love the Friday morning sing-alongs when all the children and teachers and many parents gather in the auditorium. It's loud and noisy and chaotic and the children are distracted as they sing through a medley of songs. and then Ms. Young starts pounding the school song on the piano and the children sit up straight. They sing loud and proud: "It's Jose Ortega on the hill we love..."

I love that my daughter learned to read at Jose Ortega. She also learned to love books.

I love that the principal knows every child and parent by name and that she always puts children first. I love that I can walk into her office any time and she'll listen. I love that she stands her ground.

I love Jose Ortega because one day when my daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher said to me, "I'm really concerned because your daughter hasn't been smiling as much as she usually does and I'm just wondering if something is going on at home. I'd like to be able to help her."

I love that there's often a hawk sitting atop the fence overlooking the outdoor playground.

I love that my daughter is learning to speak Mandarin. It's her magical power and it gives her confidence. I love that we were in Big Lots the other day and my daughter pointed out that one of the store clerks was speaking Mandarin to another customer.

I love that we planted an herb garden at the school entrance this year.

I love the parents at Jose Ortega because they support one another. They're the sort who invite you over for dinner when your spouse is out of town, who wait with your child when you're late for pick-up, and who put hot casseroles on your doorstep after you have a baby.

I love our PTA because it's bursting with passion to make our school better. It's small but doing the work of a big crew.

I love our greening committee that comes out on weekends to pull weeds. Its members have big dreams of converting our expansive blacktop area into a lush sea of green where children can climb trees and get their hands dirty pulling carrots from the earth. I love that ideas such as "We should get goats and chickens" are tossed out at our meetings.

I love that I visited my daughter's classroom one day and they were digging their hands into big tubs full of dirt and worms.

I love Ms. Ginny who works in the office. I love that I walked into her office once and she was blaring music and dancing. I love that she puts band-aids on boo-boos that children are certain exist--but really aren't there. I love that she notices when my son has gotten a haircut. It's all about the little things.

I love Jose Ortega because it's small. The school has only 260 students so after awhile you really do recognize every face.

I love that when you're in a conversation with the principal at Jose Ortega and a child interrupts, "I didn't get any breakfast and I'm really hungry...." the principal immediately turns her attention to the child. The kids always, always come first.

I love that my daughter brought home a Nancy Drew book that she checked out from the school library.

I love Jose Ortega because it has an amazing art teacher, Aiko, who taught the kids to fold origami cranes. They made nearly 1,000 cranes and the flock serves as the backdrop for the school stage. I love that this year Aiko is teaching the kids to paint and the school hallways are full of vibrant artwork.

I love that when you walk into the teacher lounge at lunchtime, the teachers are gathered around the table talking and laughing. They all get along--setting a tone and a good example for the rest of the school.

I love the small courtyard areas outside each classroom. Right now, the garden plots are filled with tangles of weeds but we have plans to transform these. We started a community garden program so individual families are adopting the plots. Come visit the school in a year and you'll be amazed.

I love that my daughter came home the other day and said, "Mommy, I need to tell you all about Rosa Parks." She proceeded to tell me about how everyone is equal no matter their skin color. She talked about race candidly, comfortably, and openly. If only Jose Ortega could teach everyone could do this.

I love that our PTA raised money to pay for tutoring kids who were falling behind.

I love the gorgeous Chinese characters that my daughter draws on everything--restaurant place mats, birthday cards, notepads, old envelopes. To her, writing in Chinese is like making art.

I love that a group of schoolchildren lead their fellow classmates in the "Pledge of Allegiance" every day. And I'll never forget the morning when our principal announced that the child leading the "Pledge" had just become a citizen.

I love that my daughter always points out her school every time we drive by it on the freeway. I love that she misses school over summer break.

I love Jose Ortega.

--Amy Graff, mother of a first-grader who is in the Mandarin language immersion program

— Amy Graff



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