Tradition and innovation meet at Dunbar
When I started out as principal at Dunbar in 2009, I knew I was coming to a place of longstanding educational traditions. And I knew I would have to find a way to honor many ongoing traditions while moving the school toward innovation in the 21st century.
Dunbar School was the first of a four-district public school system established by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in 1857. Mary Linder was Dunbar’s first teacher. She had an initial enrollment of 21 students and a budget of $500. Alex Dunbar provided the building for his five sons and other boys and girls from Kenwood to attend school.
Dunbar joined with Glen Ellen, Strawberry, Enterprise and Trinity Schools in 1922 to become Dunbar Union School, with Miss Hellman as principal. Alice Griffin assumed her role a year later. Maxwell Cunninghame served as principal for 32 years, guiding Dunbar from a four-room school to a campus with 12 classrooms, a multipurpose room and an administration wing.
Today, Dunbar approaches teaching and learning from the perspective of the whole child. Gardening, art and drama are infused into the student learning experience. These traditions continue today with such established programs as integrated garden classes, “Art at Lunch” and our fifth grade play.
In addition, Dunbar is pursuing innovation in education through new initiatives, including our “Catching Kids Caring” program, multi-age teams, the use of technology and hands-on science/garden programs.
Dunbar is in the first year of implementation of a multi-age program in our second- and third-grades. We have three teachers – Renea Magnani, Karen O’Hara and Megan Gauci.
All second and third grade students are part of this team. Students have a “home room” comprised of second- and third-graders. They “regroup” for language arts and math in leveled teams for core activities.
Students learn organizational skills and routines, as well as independent learning habits to support their academic achievement. We are excited about the transition to Common Core in our district as Common Core complements and enhances our work in our integrated, multi-age teams. By teaching to Common Core standards, we will gain flexibility in adjusting and integrating our curriculum and instruction to the needs of our students.
At Dunbar, we promote reading and the traditional “Read Across America,” with a fun, engaging celebration of reading that invites the community into our classrooms to enjoy an afternoon with students and teachers as we “stop, drop everything, and read.” This reading program begins a full month before our March 8 event. Every student receives a reading log for “Cat-in-the-Hat” Day.
Students in our leadership group track the number of minutes read by each student each day (via signed reading logs), and convert the minutes to miles. The Cat’s journey is tracked on a large USA map. Based on the number of miles, classes receive email updates from the Cat letting us know where the miles traveled have taken him, what interesting landmarks he is visiting, and so forth. This provides spontaneous lessons in geography, math, culture and other integrated topics as we watch the Cat traverse the country, heading to Dunbar for our reading party.
On March 8 this year, Dunbar will host a read-in from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. We do a pajama day with popcorn and stop everything to read that afternoon. Volunteer readers go into each classroom and read for 10 to 20 minutes with a class. Everyone at Dunbar is involved. Our hostess for the read-in is MaryJane Arner (MJ to most of us) in our mentor center.
Volunteer readers check in with MJ, pick out books to read (unless they have brought a favorite from home) and head out. It is wonderful to see students and adults having fun reading and listening to stories, eating popcorn and watching for “the Cat.” If you would like to join us, please call our Dunbar office at 935-6070.
Other upcoming events:
Feb. 14 – “Remembering Kathy”: Dunbar School will be honoring our long-time teacher Kathy Krempely who passed away on Valentine’s Day last year while on her way to work, her car filled with valentines and goodies for the students in her class. We will dedicate our Talent Show (also on Feb. 14) to her and have other special activities throughout the day.
STAR Night: Dunbar will be hosting “STAR Night” for Dunbar families on April 5. It is a family game and information night during which we play math and science-based board games, enjoy snacks and parents may attend a brief information session – in English or Spanish – on STAR testing and the transition to Common Core. It is fun for the family and informative for parents. We encourage all our families to attend.
Cinco de Mayo fiesta: Each year the Dunbar School ELAC hosts a Cinco de Mayo lunchtime activity for students and families. This year, our celebration will be under the oaks on the Dunbar field, next to the garden, on May 2. We hope lots of families and community will join in.
Fifth-Grade Play: Fifth-grade students are already rehearsing for the 21st annual production of the Fifth Grade Melodrama. This year’s play, “A Bad Day at Gopher’s Breath,” is based on an original script by Al Ver Schure and Lee Ver Schure and is adapted for Dunbar School by Squire Fridell. It will be presented on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 24, 25 and 26. This is Dunbar fifth-graders’ culminating school experience and they depend on us for an audience. We hope the whole community will come out to watch the show.
These are just a few of the events planned for Dunbar this spring. We hope the public will join us on our campus for these events and more information about us is available at our website – dunbarschool.org.
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Melanie Blake is the principal at Dunbar Elementary School.