The first day of school is often filled with anxiety and excitement for teachers, parents and students alike. But those feelings are heightened even more when it’s the first day ever.
“It’s hectic as far as moving boxes,” said Maria Dehghanfard, principal of the new Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 in the Mission district. “But the staff is awesome. We are very excited to be here.”
The school, formed through the marriage of a popular Spanish-immersion elementary and a struggling middle school, will welcome students in kindergarten through eighth grade this year. It is one of two new schools in the southeast section of The City.
Mission Preparatory School, a public charter in the Excelsior district, opens to kindergartners this year and plans to add one grade annually until it’s a K-8.
Mission Prep’s founder, Jane Henzerling, explained the need for a new school in the area.
“The achievement gap is widest in southeast San Francisco,” she said. “We wanted to site our school in the area where people really need access to an excellent public school.”
Mission Prep’s goal is to get kids to college, Henzerling said. Each classroom is named after the teacher’s alma mater — UC Berkeley, Yale, etc. — and the students will visit college campuses even in kindergarten. The idea, Henzerling said, is to immerse students in a college-going culture to instill in them the idea that they themselves will go on to higher education one day.
The K-8 structure is also an important aspect of the new school’s approach, Henzerling said.
“There’s actually a whole body of research about the challenges inherent in early adolescence,” she said. “Having to make a school transition can really exacerbate that, especially if it’s a bigger school environment.”
An analysis last year by researchers at Columbia University found that New York students’ test scores plummeted when they entered middle schools in sixth grade, while students at K-8 schools posted gains.
Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington, D.C., said the positive results are part of the reason the K-8 model is becoming more popular.
“We feel it’s a pretty good idea, especially if you’re able to keep these schools small,” he said.
Petrilli said being around younger students seems to help adolescents behave well, because they see themselves as role models.
“When you see the age span, the middle school kids tend to be more nurturing toward the younger kids,” said Guadalupe Guerro, SFUSD’s assistant superintendent for the Mission area, which includes Buena Vista Horace Mann. “It’s different than being a face among the crowd in a large, comprehensive middle school.”
Cathy Manshel, president of the Buena Vista Horace Mann PTA, said she was glad to have that option for her two children, especially since the school will now offer Spanish immersion through eighth grade. Her children, she said, were looking forward to the first day of school.
“They’re totally excited,” she said.