Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Three Great Stories and just a Bit of Stitching in Time at 7th Street Elementary School Had Me Really Thinking: Principal Zan Colazas Has Some Fantastic Ideas of How to Make San Pedro A Better Place for Our Kids...and We Should All Be Helping Him

By Diana L. Chapman

It was one of those moments in time where either coincidence fell upon coincidence or someone higher up in the sky was moving the world of puppets to spark events and sew them together in a perfectly stunning pattern.

Call it divine intervention, coincidence or whatever you will, but something convinced me to walk inside 7th Street Elementary School and make a quick visit to principal Zan Colazas.

The silly thing was I really had no reason to. I was standing outside when the Dana Middle School PTO treasurer pulled up in her car. She was the person I needed to see so I could drop off some paperwork. She works at 7th Street.

But there she was pulling up at the same time I did and there was utterly no reason for me to go onto the campus. What do you think, I asked her, do you think Zan’s available? The Thanksgiving holidays were about to begin and as usual, I had many other things to do. “Sure, he’s there,” she said. “Just go say Hi.”

And I was so glad I did. Zan always has a good story to tell – but this day in particular, it seemed the match and the flint were there to spark some interesting discussions and get the fuel burning. Three pieces of news are coming out of 7th Street – from establishing an after school Italian club to starting a new pre-K program, much needed here.

First, Zan began to tell me how the Italian Consulate had offered up money to a bunch of schools to teach this beautiful romance language, which in my mind is riddled with accents of emotion and tradition and with so many Italian families living here, just a great gift to give to our kids.

Only two schools accepted their offer, the principal told me, and 7th Street jumped at the chance for the funding and partnered up with Taper Elementary School.

On the idea that its easier for younger children to learn and absorb a language, 7th Street asked all its 2nd and 3rd graders if they were interested in participating in the after school class. Out of about 140 students, 70 enrolled; twenty are on the waiting list, the principal explained.

Italian teacher Carmela Funicello will begin her first round of classes this Thursday and the principal revealed, he can’t even deal with the numerous late applicants. The response has been that overwhelming.

“You have to teach the kids early,” Zan said during our discussion who is a proponent of all students learningat least one second language or more. “As Americans, we neglect this part of our education.”
For me, this was thrilling news because I’m just getting underway to start an Italian After School Club at Dana Middle School, so I was enthusiastic that 7th Street kids could flow into Dana with quite a bit of Italian under their belt.
But Zan has bigger dreams – one I would love the community to step forward and help come to fruition.
He wants to build a Language magnet at his school, which makes so much sense in this area that this dream might even happen. If you think about the languages spoken in this town besides English: Spanish, Italian, Croatian and Greek (am I forgetting anything?) where students can actually learn to speak with folks who live here, this is so logical that we just need to do it.
In other phenomenal news for the school, Zan just received approval for his continued request to get the federally funded, SRDLP, in place. In words other than school jargon, this is basically an excellent program (one my son attended) that prepares four-year-olds for kindergarten, better known to most as Pre-K.
“We are so excited about our pre-K program because its going to help prepare our children and it will dovetail nicely into our academic program,” the principal explained.
Having my own son attend this program with the popular, and well-known-and- now-retired Jackie Terry at Bandini Elementary School, I found it to be one of the biggest gifts we ever received through public education.
While I received parenting classes through this program (which while I’d like to think I’m the perfect parent, I learned much better ways to handle things), my son was learning how to behave, how to read, how to discover art, the alphabet, music, books and a myriad of other educational attributes that helped him leap easily into kindergarten.
The program was unexpectedly offered up to 7th Street – after years of requests– and is likely to begin in the middle of the school year-- mid-February, so the school will be looking for students to sign up now. To survive, they need students and since I can stake my reputation on the educational advanatages of this program, I most certainly recommend parents begin signing up now!
Lastly, this made me laugh.
Zan, as usual, was offered the chance for his students to attend Clear Creek, an outdoor educational institution organized by the school district in the Angeles National Forest.
This year, all his teachers were extremely busy to leave the school for one week – especially those teachers already involved in similar outings to Catalina Island.
Rather than lose this chance, the principal decided he would take the kids himself to hike, learn about plants and stars, study weather, rocks and minerals and spend a week camping outdoors.
Being an administrator, it’s not something he’s done for awhile. But as usual, he’s game for trying anything to help his students. My question is just this: Can I go with my family?
Have a starry, heavenly night, Mr. Zan! And keep dreaming big when it comes to your kids.