About Community School

Denali Montessori Community Schools Program

Enriching before and after school classes for Denali students grades K-6.

For more information, please go to ‚Äčdenaliptsa.org

A Brief History of Community School Classes at Denali

In the spring of 1998, the Anchorage School District decided that Denali’s school day

should begin at 9:00 AM, instead of 8:45 AM. This small decision opened the door to the

creation of Denali’s morning community school program in the fall of 1998.

Denali parents had always sought ways to expose their children to second languages.

While there has never been enough ASD funding to provide language teachers,

knowledgeable parents have from time to time offered their children’s classes some

instruction. For example, Amelia Walsh taught Italian to two classes, and Lydia Pinkston

taught Spanish in Mrs. Miller’s kindergarten class. After school classes in Spanish and

Russian were also attempted, but ultimately faltered. In this parent’s opinion, students

find it difficult to settle down to concentrate after a long day of school.

The change in start times was a significant problem to those parents who brought their

kids to school and needed to be at work by 9:00 AM. However, it opened enough of a

time slot in the morning that we could schedule classes. After a parent survey, Stephanie

Cole and Margie Mac Neille began to put together a morning language program. By

August 1999, parents Bonnie Bernholz, Martha Sandel and Margie Mac Neille were

meeting to plan the details and try to develop a Spanish curriculum that fit in with

Montessori principles. Martha, then a graduate student, agreed to teach a class; this

commitment was the cornerstone of the whole program. Two parents, Barbara Kraft and

Lynn Gallant, wanted French instruction for their students and so became Deans of the

French program.

In the fall of 1998, we began classes: 2 Spanish classes, a French class, a Wednesday

music class and Learning Lab. Over the years, the numbers and levels of classes have

ebbed and flowed. We have moved from 1 to 4 levels of Spanish, including a class just

for kindergartners; the two French classes have coalesced into one for all levels. Once the

computer lab was set up, Karen Glavinic began her very popular morning and afternoon

computer labs. Other classes we have offered include adult yoga, afternoon math club,

Japanese, chess club, and color guard. For the years we were in the old Denali building,

Lizz Daniel and her mother Pat Austin ran Learning Lab, a morning drop-in program in

the library. This was a very valuable safety net for the whole school. Language kids could

go to Learning Lab if a teacher was delayed or absent; disciplined kids could be safely

supervised; kids who were hanging around outside at 8:15 in the freezing cold could be

brought in to a warm friendly environment. We charged $1 a visit, a quarter for free

lunch kids, and got the PTA to help cover the costs

We had unwavering and invaluable support from Denali’s principal, Karen Rigg, and

Steve Moss, the Fairview Community School coordinator. Fairview Community School

was our institutional umbrella and did our payroll and taxes (thank you, Marilyn Doore.)

More importantly, Steve was a constant presence, encouraging students, cheering up or

firing teachers as appropriate, dealing with parents, running blizzards of copies, and

finding space for our classes. His support was particularly helpful in 2002-2003, when

the program was transplanted to Fairview School while Denali was rebuilt. Students were

dropped off at Fairview for classes 5 mornings a week and after class boarded a bus for

Kennedy School. Since school didn’t start until 9:30 at Kennedy, this setup allowed both

students and parents to use the time before school wisely. Steve’s help was lost to us

when the District eliminated the Community Schools program in 2004. ACEA, and the

dauntless Lora Jorgensen, gave us the go-ahead to run the program in the 2004-2005

school year before ACEA was even ready to run its own classes. Our parents were the

guinea pigs for on-line registration. We had the additional wrinkle of adding students

from Chugach Elementary, taking classes at Denali just as our students had at Fairview,

before they get on the bus to Kennedy.

Finding teachers has always been a challenge. We have advertised, posted notices, and

pestered other language teachers. However, our teachers came to us by luck. Marta

Amaya found us in the Denali hall the week before classes began in 1998. Percell St.

Thomas was a teacher’s child’s dance instructor. Cristina Calloni happened upon us when

she registered her granddaughter. Maria Herrera was an emergency sub whom Dave

Harbour (then a parent and a sub) met when he visited her boss’s office. A stable group

of teachers has evolved, but we have had periods of scrambling and patching instruction

together. This was particularly true in the French program until the incomparable

Stephanie Largent joined us (someone found her in the Crazy Croissant.)

Some decisions we made early on have shaped the program in ways that may not make

sense any more. The underlying philosophy of the program has been to expose children

at any early age to native speakers of Spanish or French, offering instruction in an

enjoyable and low-key way, consistent with Montessori teachings. However, we had no

way to offer Montessori instruction, or even a proposed curriculum, to the teachers we

scrambled to find. In the early years, teachers were given materials on TPRS (Total

Physical Response-Storytelling) which some used and some did not. Our teachers have

each had specific plans of instruction in mind, however. We paid well by Community

School standards because we had such a difficult time finding teachers for the morning

slots. Payment has been by the day, paid monthly, because we have used a lot of

substitutes and because some of our teachers have not been in a position to wait until

semester’s end for their stipends.

We scheduled classes for half an hour a day, finishing at 8:45, so students could go out to

join their classmates in line and so the classroom teachers could have a brief period alone

in their classrooms. We began with a 4 day schedule for several reasons: to allow kids to

take another class (like Computer) one day a week; to allow families who did not need

before-school care one day a week to sleep in; and then to accommodate Maria Herrera,

who had to be at work early on Wednesdays. Classes started the second week of school in

the fall, to allow a shakedown week and to allow late registration. Once the District

delayed kindergartners one more week, we put off Spanish K until the third week, so that

kindergartners would not have their first moment of school in Spanish class. We set fees

right at break-even, and one year had to send out an emergency appeal to cover payroll.

We offered half-price scholarships only to kids who were eligible for free or reduced

lunch, so we didn’t have to ask about income. We originally had 3 sessions, but re-

registration that often was crazy, so we matched the school semester pattern.

Around 2005, we began to expand the Denali Community Schools Program by offering

additional classes such as computer lab, yoga, cooking, etc. and by offering classes in the

afternoon as well. Later Pokemon, Legos, and other classes were added, varying each

year due to teacher availability and interest. The decision point on classes was to see if

they could draw enough students to break even ~ which is about 6 to 8 students.

Around 2009, the Denali PTA bylaw were amended to show the Denali Community

Schools Program Committee to be a standing committee of the Denali PTA. See

Committees, Section 4, p. 11. “The ‘Denali PTA Community School program’

committee shall be a standing committee of this PTA. This committee shall meet no less

than three times a year.”

In 2010, the program reached a milestone by having one of its “Denali graduates,” high

school senior, Wade Banta, teach the advanced Spanish class. Now in 2012, two Denali

graduates (high schoolers) are teaching classes in the program. This really bring the

program full circle in many ways.

The important part of the program’s history is that year in and year out lots of children

have learned another language. They have picked up listening and speaking skills during

the period before puberty when their brains are open to language learning. They have

moved into middle school and then high school with the advantages of early learning. In

fact, the District is now placing Denali students in advanced classes in middle and high

school. Our students are comfortable with another language, no matter what their level of

proficiency is, and this will serve them well. Added benefits include providing working

families with safe, inexpensive learning opportunities for their children at Denali before

and after school. This also can be seen as making use of the existing school facility to

provide a benefit to the community over a wider timeframe than the traditional school

day. And, lastly, the program raises money for the Denali PTA.