“Keep your eye on the ball, Howard!” Ms. Berry hollers, pointing to a colorful picture of Howard the bunny.
Wide-eyed, Ms. Berry’s kindergarten Rocketeers giggle on the multi-colored classroom rug.
“On the playground, Howard’s teammates try to help him,” she reads, following each word carefully with her fingertip. “Boink! But Howard doesn’t listen.”
It’s only the second day at Rocketship Redwood City Prep, but Ms. Berry’s Rocketeers are enthralled by Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen. The five-year-olds, clad in purple, are far more attentive than the book’s distracted protagonist.
“I’ve dreamed of being a teacher since I could talk. I was born in Redwood City and have grown up around educators,” says Lauren Berry. After teaching at Alma Academy for the last two years, Berry joined Redwood City Prep’s founding team last spring.
“My two aunts have both taught in Redwood City and in 1957 my grandparents moved here to found a school. I can’t help but pinch myself as I call my grandparents and share my experience as a founding teacher.”
Redwood City Prep is Rocketship’s tenth Bay Area school and the first in Redwood City. After nearly three years of diligent advocacy and community organizing by Redwood City parents who demanded better school options for their community, three hundred students and parents have joined the Rocketship family this week.
In June, the Redwood City School Board, responding to parent voice, unanimously approved charter petitions for both Rocketship and KIPP to open schools in the 2014 – 15 school year.
“At her old school, my eldest daughter just wasn’t learning,” Alvertina Ortega explained to me after school on Tuesday. We talked while she waited for a get-to-know-you meeting with Ms. Berry.
“I want both my kids to keep learning after high school in a university. Sometimes kids lose interest and don’t even finish high school. I want better than that for my daughters.”
Ortega is the mother of two new Rocketeers, her five-year-old Yareli and eight-year-old Carina. She believes Rocketship will instill a love of learning that will set her girls up for academic success in the long term.
“I am already more involved at this school. I feel more important as a parent now. The teachers here really communicate with me,” she said with a smile.
This year, Redwood City Prep’s facilities are unique because there are classrooms spread across two campuses: Hoover and Taft Elementary Schools. It’s a co-facility, so Rocketeers currently share the space with their peers at Hoover and Taft.
“This is a new challenge for Rocketship, but we weren’t going to lower the bar,” says Casey Rowe, a long-time Rocketeer and the founding principal of Redwood City Prep.
“Because of our amazing teachers and families – who have all worked really hard – this feels like any other Rocketship school. It will be great when we have our own facility, but a building is not what makes a school great. Regardless of space, we’ll deliver for our kids and families.”