UPDATE: First of Two Meetings Held to Discuss End of Discovery Program at Walnut Grove

Longtime Discovery Program at Walnut Grove getting phased out.

Updated 5:00 p.m.

I escaped from my work at Patch to attend the first of today's two parent meetings about the phasing out of  Discovery Program, a multi-age educational option that serves about a third of the school's population.

The multipurpose room was packed, considering it was a 2 p.m. meeting, so I imagine the 7 p.m. meeting will be even better attended — though it's not my choice of a fun Friday night activity.

The room was pretty somber and quiet as Principal Jon Vranesh, in his first year at the school, and a panel of Discovery and traditional teachers faced the audience.

All told, my take away is that this decision has been a few years in the making and is being driven primarily by two things: the creeping increase over the past three years in elementary class sizes from 20-to-1 at the lower grades to an expected 30-to-1 the coming two years and a loss of Discovery teachers, either from layoffs or regular attrition/retirements.

While the letter sent home by Vranesh understandably attempted to put a positive spin on the change (let's unify the school, etc.) the teachers there Friday afternoon were quite honest in saying that if they could maintain the integrity of the more than 30-year-old program with smaller class sizes they would continue it.

"To do Discovery right, now, is very hard," said Discovery teacher Michelle Williams. "There is not the staffing for it."

And that makes me incredibly sad — that something the teachers and school community ultimately believe in and have supported for so long has to fall by the wayside because of California's screwed up education funding system.

Worse  is the thought of what that teacher-to-student ratio means for every elementary school in the city and across the state.

As a volunteer art teacher in my children's classrooms the past three years, I've seen firsthand the challenges of teaching little children packed into small spaces. I cannot imagine how they're going to do this.

While the general consensus among parents has been that academically Discovery these days really isn't so different from the mainstream classes — thanks to all the pressures of state-mandated standards-based testing — it certainly has had a special feel, with an emphasis on teamwork, grouping children with the same teacher for two years and mixing children of different ages.

In a description from one of the Discovery teachers, it's described this way:

The families really get to know the teacher and the teacher gets to know student (and family) and a bond is created. Inherent in the multi-age program a "learner/leader" relationship is created ... Students in the lower grade can enrich their learning by attending to the material designed for the higher grade, while the students in the higher grade can profit from opportunities to review the material designed for the lower grade... The classroom is child-centered and theme-based, with integrated curricula where possible. Multi-age classrooms develop into "families" with emphasis on caring, cooperation, and collaboration.

This approach has worked incredibly well for one of my kids; not so well for the other, so it was nice to have that choice based on each child's learning style. And of course all classrooms at the school always shared the core values of caring, cooperation and collaboration.

Parents at Friday's meeting lamented the potential loss of Discovery traditions such as older-to-younger student mentoring.

The staff explained that they hope to take the best of the entire school's practices — whether traditional or Discovery — and meld them into one.

Don't get me wrong. I do believe they can do it. I'm just sad they're being forced to.

Tonight's meeting is at 7 p.m. in the multipurpose room.

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Sarah H March 31, 2012 at 05:11 PM
I have 2 children in the regular program at Walnut Grove as well. I am sad to see the Discovery program go. I chose not to have my children in it, because I didn't see it as a good fit for my kids, but I like the fact that there is an alternative program. Children all learn differently and it's nice to see some choices and different teaching styles offered. I do NOT consider kids in this program as special or elite. Again, we had a choice and chose not to do it. I support those that did choose to do it and I am sad that these children will have to go through so many changes and am sad for everyone involved. It is true that the kids don't have many opportunities to mix but really my kids just end up playing with kids in their own class anyway. It also is sad because it means more regular classes at Walnut Grove so all of the kids will have less of a chance to end up in classes with their friends from previous years.
EastBayFam April 01, 2012 at 05:07 AM
As a parent with experiences in both Discovery and Traditional classes, I believe it is time for Discovery to end in WG. I have been wondering about it for many years now, not knowing that plans were already brewing for it. 40 years ago, when two legendary WG teachers started Discovery, it was welcomed as revolutionary, innovative and progressive. It was lauded as a wonderful forward-thinking program with the aim of optimizing learning and collaboration. 40 years later, the traditional classrooms have caught up with the Discovery teaching strategies and ways. Any present credential and undergrad educational programs in our colleges and universities all teach the many Discovery themes as standard curriculum now. The parents and students also do nt regard the Discovery kids as "elite." on the contrary, they seem to be segregated or separate. Students in the traditional classrooms score as well as the ones ion Discovery. They are as happy as the ones in Discovery. Visit any traditional classroom in WG and you will not see any glaring differences in how students learn and how they are taught. Even traditional classrooms had multi-age classes (K/1 and 2/3 I think) a few years ago when student enrollment just made it that way. It is time for WG to be unified, with no "us" and "them" and integrate everything that is great about both programs into one awesome Walnut Grove.
Emily Weak April 02, 2012 at 01:34 AM
I am a Discovery alumni, 1983-1988. This program really deserves to be preserved. Those years gave me a lifelong love of learning and the confidence to take responsibility for my own education. It was truly a great foundation to build my life on.
Beth Bourg April 02, 2012 at 10:03 PM
I, too, was a child of the Discovery program (and a child of a founding Discovery teacher) during the same years that Emily mentions above. In fact, Emily and I (along with other grade school classmates) are still close friends today because of those bonds we formed in Discovery. It is rare for one to have multiple friends from kindergarten that they regularly keep in touch with and see in person in their adult life. Discovery was also a great learning experience. I entered 6th grade in the regular class, and then Junior High school feeling much more prepared and ready. I echo the sentiments of Emily in that in made me take charge of my own education as well. I can also say that I never felt like we were better than the other students at Walnut Grove. What a terrible loss this is.
Mary April 03, 2012 at 12:15 AM
It is a shame you feel this way. Parents who chose Discovery for their children did so only because they wanted what was best for their child. They did not chose Discovery to segregate themselves and they did not chose Discovery because they think they're children are better than others. Maybe you know some families that feel this way, but it's despicable for you to assume all Discovery families are like that. It's insulting. I feel less unified and more segregated now than before the announcement to combine programs was made last Wednesday. I am also sad to see parents speaking ill of other parents and their kids. Above all, I am sorry to see educational choices and alternatives being eliminated from what was supposed to be a warm and inviting community.


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