Ocean Beach Elementary Is the Heart of a Changing Community

by on December 11, 2018 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach

OB Rag Talks to Principal Marco Drapeau

By Brett Warnke

Grades are good.  Fundraising numbers are impressive.  And OB Elementary is filled with smiling children, many brandishing ukuleles.  But as San Diego’s rents soar, how might OBE change, too?

Ocean Beach Elementary is one of those schools you wished you’d attended.  It’s one of the cliches of the community that we are filled with yogis, hippies and surfers.  While (mildly) true, it is also true that OBE is one of California’s Distinguished Schools and has had 3 years of consecutive gains on its SBAC testing.  Beside its grounds is a flourishing school garden. On the crest behind it are the broadly windowed Point Loma homes. And in front of its bright ceramic tiles, is the deep blue horizon of the Pacific Ocean.

What does OBE look like?

With ideal operating numbers around 410-420 students OBE’s student population numbers have been dropping:  470 students attended the school six years ago. There are 410 today. The staff has remained steady at 17-19 teachers.

“I’m starting to feel a change,” Principal Marco Drapeau said.

“I’ve been here six years. But now I’m having the same conversation, dozens of times with parents who say to me,  ‘We love the school. We love the teachers. But we can’t afford the neighborhood anymore.’”

As coastal rents steadily rise, parents are forced to weigh a cost-benefit analysis:  Should I continue to pay increasing rent for small conditions?  Or should I leave the culture of OB but get more for equal or less money each month?

Friday mornings at OBE: free coffee for parenrs from the Playgrounds Coffee cart. This tradition was started by a family looking to connect other OBE families with one another. Such a great community building event.

With the statewide failure of rent control, eager vacation rental companies successfully chipping away at OB’s population each year, low public attendance at planning board meetings, and little organized renter opposition to maintaining the fine balance of the fragile coastal community, the future of OB as it current community exists is uncertain.  But whomever are the winners and losers of the future shifts, rising rents will have and are having effects.

A public school like OBE has three main locations of money:  Title 1 funds, Local Control Funding formula, and the site’s discretionary fund.  Schools have some choices over their Title I funds, which they receive based on student need, each student being (for better or worse) worth a certain number of dollars.  As the income of student families rises, Title 1 money drops. This past year, OBE has $7,000 fewer dollars because of family demographic changes.

Some of the great art work done by OBE 4th graders. Thanks to their partners SD Arts for Learning for providing art instruction for the school.

What’s going well at OBE?

At the level of academics, the school’s site team is improving using SBAC and other data to effectively tailor assessments and assignments to fit student needs.  Rather than being tedious or redundant, teachers can see their class’s strengths and target weaknesses and adapt common core instruction to fit student needs. Wellness, mindfulness, STEAM, and nutritional programs collaborating with Lead the Way and Lego offer students mind and body strategies and prepare them for a future likely filled with even more rapid changes.

On the bright side, the school still has a grant for free breakfast and lunch for each student, each day.  Fundraisers like the Jog-a-thon, organized in house by tireless local volunteers, have raised funds for the school’s state-recognized, school-wide art program.  Art grants match funds up to $18,000 for these programs. And a music program at the early grade levels is growing each year. And OBE is an Exemplary Arts in Education school, according to the California Department of Education in addition to being in the first year of a five-year rollout of a STEAM curriculum.

OBE at the La Jolla Playhouse to hear actors read through a new play. The full production will make a stop at OBE this spring. This is the fourth year they’ve participated.

What does OBE need?

“We need help building up our collection of books in our library,” Principal Drapeau said.  “We have begun to add more titles this year thanks to the support of the community and PTA. Donations can be made to Anne Gurnee at the school.”

The school also wants local patrons to attend the Fall Festival, Science Night, and Spring Carnival.

OBE is now proudly offering filtered drinking water! The new Flowater machine will allow students to stay hydrated and reduce the number of plastic bottles in our landfills.

How might changes in OB change OBE?

The mixed student population in OBE, as in the parts of the country where it still exists, is an extremely fragile phenomenon.  A walk through La Jolla’s or San Ysidiro’s public schools will show you the socio-economic stratification occurring in much of San Diego County.

OBE’s demographics range from parent professionals, bass guitar rockers, and even some homeless families, to students with disabilities and early surfers.  Pricing out a class of people would have ramifications on the student body, as well as the future outlook of the young people who attend.

“It’s crucial that kids, at an early age, meet every type of family,” Principal Drapeau said.

“Kids need to play at a family’s estate in Point Loma as well as a concrete courtyard at an apartment complex.  Kids need to see people with different beliefs and form relationships and understanding.

With the changes we’re seeing in society–we don’t know what is coming even six months down the road — we need to prepare these kids for differences, toleration, and to teach them what to do when they don’t know what to do.”

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