PREFund opens Potrero Kids in Dogpatch
By Keith Burbank
Potrero Kids at Daniel Webster Elementary (PKDW), a pre-school originally launched as part of an effort to increase enrollment at Daniel Webster Elementary School, has added a second facility. The new school, Potrero Kids at Third Street, opened late last year in the recently constructed Potrero Launch. Seventy children are enrolled in the school – its capacity – with 59 typically present on any given day. Asked if a third location is planned, Potrero Residents Education Fund’s (PREFund) administrative director Stacey Bartlett said, “I wouldn’t say yes, and I wouldn’t say no. It’s a community thing. If there was a need in the community...”
In 2005, the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education wanted to close or relocate three of Potrero Hill’s five schools – Daniel Webster, Enola Maxwell Middle, and International Studies Academy – leaving the community with one elementary school and no middle school. A six-week effort by parents and concerned residents resulted in the creation of PREFund, a group of volunteers dedicated to championing “public education on the Potrero Hill…through grant making and strategic and programmatic support.” PREFund convinced the board to keep Webster open, contingent upon several factors, one of which was increasing the school’s enrollment.
PREFund formed PKDW as a feeder program for the elementary school. After establishing the preschool, “the enrollment went up,” said Daniel Webster principal, Moraima Machado, “and we were able to serve the families that live close to [Webster].” Today, nonprofit PREFund is funded through tuition fees.
PK Third Street offers a Spanish bilingual curriculum, geared towards feeding into Webster’s Spanish immersion program, which has a goal of graduating students who are fully bilingual. “We’ve been pretty successful at that,” Bartlett said. In addition to the language program, PK Third Street operates two enrichment programs: music and story-telling. Story-telling is provided by a librarian from the Potrero Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. According to Bartlett, more programs will be offered in the future.
PK Third Street follows each child’s interest to guide their learning. For example, one day the kids heard a ship’s horn blow, piquing their interest in the sea and port. Later, the teachers took them on a field trip to learn about the San Francisco Bay and boats. “It’s a totally different mindset,” said Mimi Kawakami, PK Third Street’s program director, of the research-supported method. The approach was first described by William Heard Kilpatrick in a 1918 essay “The Project Method,” according to a paper by Michael Knoll of the University of Bayreuth in Germany. According to Kawakami, the learning method requires teachers to spend significant amounts of time observing their students, and less time teaching from a prepared plan.
Preschool for All (PFA) – a City-sponsored, free, high-quality, part-day preschool program available to all four-year-olds in San Francisco – held workshops for PK Third Street teachers to prepare them to use the method, Kawakami said, and a PFA consultant conducted private consultations with the teachers.
With regard to enrolling in the new school, Bartlett said, “it’s a tough time of year to quantify the waiting list. Most people want to stay put wherever they are until the beginning of the new school year.” Families with collectively roughly 100 kids have expressed interest in starting at PK Third Street in the 2013 and 2014 school years. Parents can apply to the preschool when their child is six months old; however, they have to be two years old by September 1 to enroll. To attend PKDW, a child must be at least four years old by September 1.
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