Mrs. Allen is, without a doubt, the best teacher I have ever run across. She is so focused on the children's individual progress and learning. There is no wasted time, no homework assignments that make you pull out your hair because they suck up family time with busywork. She understands teaching's "best practices" and follows them. Homework is corrections. Research has shown again and again that one of the best ways to learn is to correct your mistakes. She also requires tons of reading. This is amazing, but I already see distinct improvement in Zhenya's reading and spelling. Plus, she knows the secrets of motivation! I've never, ever, seen Zhenya make the effort to study without coersion from me. On his own he studies for Mrs. Allen. One interesting feature of this school is that it is 90% AA. Zhen is one of two white children in the elementary, but I kind of like that. These are the nicest families! Sometimes we've not seen the best aspects of the AA "community" on our end of town.
Lest Mrs. Allen's classes sound so focused on academic progress that there is no experiential learning, let me tell you that she (and Mr. Allen) excell in that,as well. The second week of school they took the entire student body on an overnight camping trip to the Sand Dunes. Long-time readers will recall my discomfiture at Anastasia's class going to Washington DC, something she was not ready for. But, this year the group is going to go to Florida and Disney World, and that is just the perfect thing for Zhenya! She has the trip threading throughout the year as a focus for learning and a motivator. (They earn "Bonus Bucks" in many ways - behavior, academics and more - which help them "earn" their trip.) There will undoubtedly be some real fund-raising going on, too.....
The church is in a part of town called "Old Town" which is becoming a sort of "artists'" area. It is on the third floor of a church which was previously First Presbyterian, and now "The Epicenter of Worship". I have to say that name makes me giggle inside; I guess it is just the contrast between it's drama and the solemn names of the churches I've attended - St. Thomas Aquinas, Resurrection, Our Lady of Sorrows, etc. A few times I've chatted with people at the church and I have never run across kinder, warmer - yes, more Christian people. For example, I came in with a box of books one day and before I could even focus on how much I did not want to carry it up three flights, a zealous young man came down from a ladder where he was painting, grabbed the box from me and headed up to the classroom. What kindness! If that happened at my church, I really think that the onlooker would be friendly, "Got a heavy load there, eh?" or even, "Why don't the custodians do that?" but I can't see too many folks helping.
The surrounding area is very mixed; they can actually walk to the Capital. This week they walked to the Historical Museum for the afternoon. The "mixed" aspect is why the doors are always kept locked. And since the school is on the third floor, there is usually a wait before someone comes down to let the kids in. I feel like volunteering to watch the door from 7:30 - 8 and let everyone in. Someone needs to.