Saturday, March 23, 2013

St. Louis Language Immersion Schools - The French School

The St. Louis Language Immersion School (SLLIS) is a charter school focusing on a full curriculum based in foreign languages.


Here's some background from the SLLIS website:
St. Louis Language Immersion Schools Inc. is a federal non-profit organization that operates a network of independent charter public schools in St. Louis, MO. In 2009, SLLIS opened the first two schools in its network: The French School and The Spanish School.

In 2012, SLLIS opened The Chinese School. Each school opened with Kindergarten and First Grade students and will grow to Fifth Grade. The French School and The Spanish School are currently candidate schools for the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate. The International School, our secondary campus, will open with 6th grade in 2014. The International School will implement Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP) for all students.

The SLLIS network will grow to include up to 8 elementary schools and a secondary school. All schools in the SLLIS network will implement the International Baccalaureate curricular frameworks in addition to local and national achievement measures. SLLIS has a 5-year charter from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that is overseen by University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Each school in the SLLIS network is funded primarily by DESE and follows DESE’s monthly data collection for student, educator and financial data. University of Missouri-St. Louis conducts a bi-annual review of SLLIS state compliance, academic performance, financial stability and charter fidelity. Although these agencies are officially charged with overseeing our academic progress and fiduciary viability, we believe that the members of our learning community are the people to whom we are most responsible.
The full charter for the school can be read HERE.

This post will focus on the French School, I'll do separate stories on the Chinese and Spanish school because I'm fascinated with this place and think each should be treated independently.  The French school is located at 1881 Pine Street in the Downtown West Neighborhood just across Olive Street from the future St. Louis Police Department headquarters.


The building is a rather nondescript corporate looking five story building that the Chinese School will move to as well in the coming year.  There is no signage at all that I could find that would indicate to the public what is housed in this building.



I hope that the school decides to put up signage on the building to let everyone know that this is an important place and what is going on here.  This would mark SLLIS as part of the neighborhood, and exert a sense of permanence for the school.  That's one of the things I admire about the public schools in the city, the architects marked the schools with prominent signage as to speak to the permanency and importance of the school itself.  I want these schools to be as much a part of the community and city as the public and private schools are.

The Chinese and Spanish Schools are currently located at 4011 Papin Street in the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood; you've probably noticed the school just south of the I-64 and Vandeventer Avenue ramps (I will get to that school in the near future).

When I was in the neighborhood taking pictures of the building, I heard the swell of children's voices playing outside.  This is music to my ears as a parent.  It is a sound like no other, and it's great to hear a group of kids playing on a new playground downtown right behind the school building.


More from the SLLIS website:
Our Mission
To position all children for success in local and global economies through holistic, intellectually inspiring language immersion programs.
Our Vision
In fifteen years the St. Louis Language Immersion Schools network will create change by:
•Strengthening the pipeline of creative, culturally astute leaders prepared for success in post-secondary education institutions
•Increasing St. Louis’ visibility as a preferred community in which to live, work and raise a family by preparing students to prevail in global economic competition

•Promoting intercultural dialogue, altruism and civic pride

Our Core Values

Our core values drive our decision-making for the organization and for each of our schools. They represent our beliefs about who we are and how we operate. Each school may also have individual school values that inform the student experience.
Leadership starts with you: All members of our community are leaders and the diversity of leadership styles is respected throughout the network. Each person is encouraged to communicate their vision, engage in honest discourse and listen to others with the goal of understanding new points of view. How will you lead our community today?
Citizens of the world: We recruit and retain students, educators and advocates who represent the diversity of the region. We are diverse and we are committed to exploring our differences. Despite our differences, we are similar in our desire to create a world in which we are all equally respected.

High expectations for all members of the learning community: We believe that high expectations are reserved not only for student performance, but also for every interaction. Administrators, educators, support staff, families and community partners are held to high standards for their contributions to each school. Students are held to high expectations for their academic performance and personal integrity in both the school and broader global communities.

International awareness: We are mindful in examining and incorporating international best practices into our school design. Similarly, we encourage instructors and students to contextualize local, national and world perspectives when exploring curricular themes.
Wow, that sounds amazing. 


Now, I know there is some debate as to whether or not charter schools are good for the city.  I will not get into that debate.  I see the very simple fact that there are school options in 2013 that didn't exist as options for loving/caring families and parents a mere 5 years ago.  I like options therefore, I'm including charter and private school profiles on my website...all are part of the solution for St. Louis.  No one will get excluded.   An this school and language immersion concept is simply fascinating.

And here's my last personal interjection before I get on to the story from a family at SLLIS...I work in an international position for a global agricultural company.  I firmly believe that the emerging markets in Eastern Europe, Africa, South America and Asia are critical for the future of North America and the world in general.  Building links to those areas has been a blessing for me.  I am so lucky to have travelled, established relationships with, and routinely work with amazing people all around the global.  Bridging cultures through language and food is the best way to connect and form bonds.  I am sad that I never followed through and learned a 2nd language.  My one piece of advice to my 3 children is to learn a second language.  It is a life-long gift and talent.  And, do it while you're young.  We truly are in a global economy and those that can't keep up will be left behind.  Alright, back to the SLLIS.

I was able to connect with the Smith family (Kim, Josh and Avery) to talk about the French School and here is their story:

Where are you guys from?
Josh and I are from rural south central Missouri.
How long have you lived in St. Louis?
13 years
What neighborhood do you reside in?
Tower Grove South
How old are your kid(s)?
Our daughter Avery will be 8 in May.
How long has she attended SLLIS?
Since Kindergarten, 2010/2011.  It was the school's 2nd year in operation.
What other schools did you consider?
We applied at Kennard and Wilkinson, and briefly considered Central Presbyterian in Clayton.  We also toured Shaw and Mullanphy, and were offered a spot at Mallinkrodt.
What was the key decision point for choosing SLLIS?
We met with school founder Rhonda Broussard in a small group of parents to hear about the language immersion concept, and were completely blown away by her vision. 
Ms. Broussard (photo source)
We wanted to be in a school where the staff and parents were equally passionate about the school.  We also wanted a curriculum that would challenge our daughter and keep her engaged.  We liked the idea that she would do the same subjects as a traditional school, but completely in French.  Definitely challenging!  We chose French over Spanish because we felt there would be opportunity for her to learn Spanish later, but French was not as common or easily acquired.
How do you enroll in SLLIS?
Families must attend an enrollment event (school tour, etc) to apply.  Applications are accepted for Kindergarten and first grade in the spring prior to attending in the fall.  There is a lottery system if necessary.
Does your daughter take a bus, walk or drop-off to/from school?
We do drop off and pickup via carpool, but there are buses as well.
Please rank on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) safety, teaching, principal, curriculum, physical resources and overall education:
Safety-8, teaching-10, principal-10, curriculum-10, physical resources-7.5-8, overall education-10
Are there enrichment classes available?
Students have art, music, PE/yoga and library.  English classes begin in 2nd semester of 2nd grade.  There is a Title 1 after school reading program 3 days/week after school.
Are there extra-curricular activities?
Yes.  Our daughter participates in the violin program, soccer, Girl Scouts, and a Lego League.  There is also chess, circus, drumming, magic, speed stacking, journalism and yoga (to name a few)  as well as an after-care program.
What is the makeup of the student body (part of the city from/race/income level)?
Based on the most current information I have, students come from 44 zip codes, 12% from the county.  45% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The latest estimates on racial breakdown (source): 
55% Black
39% White
3% Hispanic/Latino
< 1% Asian
StLouisCityTalk:  "this is fairly close to the overall demographics of St. Louis"

Is there good parental involvement and accountability?
Parents are asked to volunteer 30 hours per school year in various roles, ranging from classroom help, field trips, after school clubs, hosting interns, attending or volunteering at events, attending meetings, etc.
Top pros?
Our daughter is completely bi-lingual and has been for over a year.  The curriculum (Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate) is fun and challenging for her, and she is encouraged to work ahead, sometimes attending 3rd grade math and reading.  The curriculum is based on units of inquiry, and this year she has studied systems, cultural exchange (with a focus on Native Americans), and human rights.  Second graders just finished oral reports (in French) on a historical figure of their choice who changed the world (popular choices were Gandhi, Helen Keller, John Lennon and Harriet Tubman), as well as a play depicting the Rose Parks story (also in French).  As a whole, I think language immersion is a great model in an urban school, where children arrive with a range of pre-K experiences.  The playing field is immediately leveled when they show up on day 1.  It doesn't matter if they went to preschool, know their ABC's or can read and write, because NONE of them speak French.  They all start at square one.  I think that is a terrific advantage.
Top cons?
Our main concerns stem from when the class is unable to remain faithful to the immersion model, for reasons such as discipline or students who are new to the immersion language.  We have been very impressed, however, with combined efforts of the parents, teachers, administration and board to address these concerns quickly.  We are moderately concerned about facilities as the schools continue to grow, but as of now we have always had fairly adequate space to meet our needs.
Any other thoughts/comments?
We are truly happier than we ever expected to be at a city school.  When Avery wasn't picked in the lottery for Kennard, we were extremely disappointed, but now I am so grateful it turned out the way it did.  I don't think she could be doing any better overall in her education (according to both her standardized testing and what we see and hear at home and from her teachers), plus she has learned to read, write and speak another language. We love every person on staff, have made great friends in other parents, and had so many cultural opportunities that we just couldn't get anywhere else.  We've hosted 4 student teachers from France in our home since Kindergarten (ranging from 1 month to 1 semester at a time), and it is such a great experience. 
Avery can't imaging being in any other school (and gets very upset if we even mention the possibility).  Provided the school charter is continually renewed, we will most certainly be there until graduation.
Charter specific questions:

Who is the sponsor?
UMSL 
What are the fees, if any?
None
What is the long-term stability of the school?
Charter is approved for renewal every 5 years.  The initial charter outlines a 15 year plan, adding a grade every year until the school is K through 12.
Residents of St. Louis, please, please research your options for school in the city before you vacate for the suburbs.  There are many, many viable school options in St. Louis that did not exist before.  The people in the suburbs bag on the city and the schools constantly, but many of these naysayers know absolutely nothing about the schools or the options that exist.  Ignorance is a problem.  Racism is a problem.  Classism is a problem.  We are overcoming many of these problems from within when dedicated and caring families engage and root down in the city and the schools.  We, along with the dedicated educators & administrators, are the ones changing the future

If you are an expecting parent or young family, please call the school, email me, talk to your neighbors, go visit the places...anything to learn about the city schools.  Become educated on your choices before abandoning the city like so many generations of un/misinformed people.

Be part of the solution and not the problem.  Thanks to the Smith family for sharing their story...St. Louis City Talk is on to the next school adventure...stay tuned and informed.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wilkinson Early Childhood Center @ Roe School

Wilkinson Early Childhood Center @ Roe School (WECC), is a magnet school in the St. Louis Public School System (SLPS).  It serves children in grades pre-school to 2nd.  WECC is housed in the Roe Schoolhouse built in 1919 by renowned architect Rockwell M. Milligan and is located at 1921 Prather Street in the Franz Park Neighborhood, otherwise known as "Dogtown".




Wilkinson used to be housed in Wilkinson School, also designed by Milligan in 1927 at 7212 Arsenal in the Ellendale Neighborhood.  They kept the name after moving to the Roe building since Wilkinson was already an established and recognizable name.

Physically speaking, this is an ideal settings for an urban school.  It is directly across the street from Franz Park, a charming little city park for which the neighborhood takes its name with tons of great stuff for the kids to do.  A baseball diamond, soccer field, playground, pavilion, etc. exist for the kids to play before or after school.



The school is even involved in sprucing up the park and adding some sculpture to the corner of the park at Prather and Mitchell.




Franz Park the neighborhoood also hugs the school grounds with residential alleys and streets flanking WECC on 3 of 4 sides.  I admire the way these old schools were built to be beacons of pride for their humble surroundings.  The bar was high for public education back when these schools were built.  Roe is no exception.  It is good to see these buildings still in use...and in the case of WECC...thriving.

The school yards have basketball hoops and nice playgrounds.







Roe School is an achitectural masterpiece .  It takes its name from John J. Roe (1809-1870), a self made man of great wealth.  He was a Union man up to and during the Civil War and believed in abolishing slavery.  At one point in time, he was the largest pork producer in the U.S. (source)


The school sits at Prather and Mitchell Avenues:





The curriculum of Wilkinson is based on Constructivist Theory:
Constructivist teaching is based on constructivist learning theory. Constructivist teaching is based on the belief that learning occurs as learners are actively involved in a process of meaning and knowledge construction as opposed to passively receiving information. Learners are the makers of meaning and knowledge. Constructivist teaching fosters critical thinking, and creates motivated and independent learners. This theoretical framework holds that learning always builds upon knowledge that a student already knows; this prior knowledge is called a schema. Because all learning is filtered through pre-existing schemata, constructivists suggest that learning is more effective when a student is actively engaged in the learning process rather than attempting to receive knowledge passively. A wide variety of methods claim to be based on constructivist learning theory. Most of these methods rely on some form of guided discovery where the teacher avoids most direct instruction and attempts to lead the student through questions and activities to discover, discuss, appreciate, and verbalize the new knowledge. (source)
Basically a hands on approach.






I was sitting at a boy scout event with one of my kids and I overheard a couple parents talking about schools.  One mom was talking about how happy they are at Wilkinson. I had never heard of it before and that was when the light bulb went off and I knew right then that I needed to start researching the viable school options that exist in St. Louis.  That mom I overheard talking was Ami Boehlje.  Ami has kids at WECC and was kind enough to share her opinions and experiences on the school.
Ami, is originally from the Detroit, MI region, spent time in Iowa for high school and college and has been in St. Louis for nearly 20 years.  The Boehlje's have lived in the Central West End and now reside in the charming South City neighborhood of Princeton Heights.  They chose the SLPS for their kids and here is their story.

The Boehlje's have 3 children, a 7th grader at McKinley, a 5th grader at Humbolt and a Kindergartener at WECC.

What other schools did you consider before deciding upon WECC?
Their first child went to Kennard, and their second did not initially test in to that program, so they decided to search for other options.  This ended up being a blessing because they looked into Stix (the other Early Childhood Center) and Wilkinson.   
What was the key decision point was for Wilinson?
They immediately fell in love with WECC as it had a great vibe and a tight knit community of families.  The teachers seemed experienced and nurturing and it appeared to be a special place, so they ended up choosing WECC for their 2nd and 3rd kids.  It seemed like an ideal place for young children.
How do you sign up for the school?  
The application process (linked below) is online and admission is based on a lottery which was not a problem for the Boehlje's initially, but there is currently a waiting list as the good word is spreading.  There is a neighborhood preference for admission.  The strict racial quotas that existed as a result of the desegregation lawsuits have expired; but, the administrators do their best to balance the schools by gender and race.
As of 2011, the student body was:
56% male

44% female

61% black

35% white 
3% Asian 
1% Hispanic/Latino

47% eligible for reduced or free lunch
(source)
The Boehlje's are in a carpool, but there is full bus service at WECC as is the case for all SLPS schools. 

When asked to rank the following on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, they assigned the following:

Safety = 10, teachers = 10, principal = 10, curriculum = 10, physical resources = 9, overall educational experience = 9
Safety:  when the kids are dropped off and run into school, there are no safety concerns.  Completely confident in safety, no worries.   
Teachers:  the teachers are very experienced and trained in the constructivist curriculum and can fully engage the students in that philosophy.  They are top notch, caring, nurturing, skilled with a wide range of years of experience.  There are many teachers that have been here for awhile which speaks to the fact that they are happy too.   
Principal:  She is phenomenal.  Even the administration downtown thinks the world of her.  She has been there for 3 years and is an amazing and innovative leader.  Her staff is happy.  She came from a similar environment in another district where she was teaching.  She has been excellent. 
Curriculum:  the constructivist curriculum slogan at the school is "hands on, minds on".  This a one of the key draws of the school.  It is a very engaging curriculum that is student driven, allowing the kids to learn and grow intellectually as opposed to focusing simply on testing well.  For instance, when there is a lesson on penguins, they teach about environmental habitat, math lessons focusing on penguins, ornithology, etc. They try to tie it all together.  Another plus for the curriculum is that it works.  Back when it was being implemented 100%, Wilkinson's test scores were 2nd only to Kennard. The district has since decided to mandate the same curriculum in all schools. However, they still adhere to the same basic philosophy. The district has now adopted it as the prevailing method in early childhood.

Physical resources:  The school has central HVAC, which was the main reason they moved from Wilkinson to Roe School.  There are computers in the classroom as well as a computer lab.  Maryville University partners with WECC in many ways which has advantages including continuing education for teachers and they run their student teaching program through WECC.  Also, with a city park directly across the street, the kids get to walk over there and get their hands dirty...for instance, if there is a unit on trees, they all walk over and do the lessons in the park.  The school also utilizes the "older kids" to engage with the little ones.  For instance, the 2nd graders recently invited the little ones up to their class and assigned reading buddies and read stories to the little kids.  
 Are there enrichment courses available? 
The daily schedule has the kids in a homeroom setting with the regular teacher, there are ancillary classes as well including art, music, P.E., a newly re-decorated library and computer lab. 

Are there extra-curricular activities? 
There is a cub scout and daisy troop.  The teachers started "club time" once a week at school.  And, the YMCA offers before and after care at the school.
What are the kids like? 
The kids are great.  They come from all over the city from all different backgrounds.  They all get along very well.
Is there good parental involvement and accountability? 
Parental involvement is fantastic! Parents have rallied many times to advocate for what our children need. We have been successful in having: lead paint remediated, the playground equipment moved from the old building, and a fence installed to separate the parking lot from the playground. The establishment of Humboldt grew out of a parent movement for our children to benefit from more of the good things happening at Wilkinson (and Stix ECC). And, a group of our parents developed plans for an outdoor learning space. A landscape architect drew formal plans for us. Our plans have been adopted by the district, and will be implemented over the summer, at Wilkinson and multiple other buildings educating the youngest students. This project is being funded by a grant, secured by the director of early childhood education.
Please tell me about the cons of Wilkinson.

There are none, this school has it all: a dynamic and visionary principal, experienced and nurturing teaching staff, and engaged and informed parents, all dedicated to our very special learning environment and school community.
As you can see, the Boehlje's are very positive about their experience and would definitely recommend WECC to other families.  It is a safe, viable option for public education in the city.   In fact, they were so happy with Wilkinson that, after their 2nd son tested into Kennard (1 of 2 gifted programs) they decided to stay at WECC and work with the SLPS to get a continuum school established for the Early Childhood Centers.  They were successful and now Humbolt School is the feeder for Stix and WECC in grades 3 through 5.  Busch School is the feeder for grades 6 through 8, I do not think Busch is using the constructivist method, but the principal says his test scores are 2nd only to McKinley.  This is fantastic news, as students are guaranteed a spot at the downstream schools and get to continue in the constructivist style through 5th grade with, largely, the same group of kids and friends/families.  These schools are filling up fast.

To all expecting parents and young families out there who love city living, please consider all your options, educate yourself, talk to people and parents and visit schools before vacating the city for suburban districts when your children reach school age.  Highly educated and loving parents are raising families in St. Louis and are choosing to have their children attend schools in the city.  These families are helping raise the bar for education options in St. Louis and you can be part of that solution and not part of the problem of mass middle class exodus.

Want to see more testimonials on this special place, click HERE.

To apply for Wilkinson Pre-Kindergarten through 2nd grade enrollment in 2013/14, click here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Compton-Drew Investigative Learning Center

Compton-Drew Investigative Learning Center is a middle magnet school within the St. Louis Public School System, serving children grades 6 through 8. The school has been located at 5130 Oakland Avenue in the Kings Oak Neighborhood since 1996. 

Most in the region probably recognize the school from its octagonal blond brick and aqua sheet metal construction facing Oakland Avenue directly west of the Science Center and across I-64 from Forest Park.



The school takes its name from two men of science, Doctor Arthur Holly Compton, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and former chancellor of Washington University:


And, Doctor Charles Richard Drew, an African-American surgeon from Washington, D.C. who developed techniques for processing and storing blood plasma for use in transfusions:



Compton-Drew is a magnet school within the St. Louis Public School System. A guide to magnet schools if provided by the SLPS here.

What is a magnet you may ask?
Students ordinarily go to the public school nearest them. Magnet schools are public schools without school boundaries. Each has something unique to offer that you won't find in traditional schools, whether it's a particular focus on technology or the arts, or a stimulating curriculum designed especially for gifted students. St. Louis Magnet School programs welcome eligible students from St. Louis County to help increase diversity in the public school system. Because of high demand, admission is based on a lottery system.

Here is the mission statement and school philosophy for Compton-Drew:
The Compton-Drew ILC Middle School will foster a learning community through collaboration of teacher facilitated and student directed life-long learning. Our community will celebrate diversity through inclusionary representations of all societal elements. We will engage our young citizens for active lives in a democratic society, fostering leadership and respect for individual cultural values.  We believe it is the responsibility of Compton-Drew ILC staff, faculty, parents, students, and the community to implement a program that embodies the concept that education is a growth process by which people make choices that promote learning to think and act more effectively. (source)
Compton-Drew extends to the south across Berthold Avenue where there is a sports field for the students:

 rear entryway

 sports field


Since the school is relatively new, the recently passed Proposition S funds went toward building safety & security upgrades, IP clocks, ADA signage and classroom lighting upgrades.


To learn a little more about Compton-Drew, I interviewed John and Katie Wessling, parents of two children who have attended the SLPS.

John, is a product of St. Louis and Katie grew up in Springfield, Illinois and moved to St. Charles, Missouri as a teen and moved to St. Louis in 1995.  The Wessling's live in the South City neighborhood of Princeton Heights.  They chose the SLPS for their kids and here is their story.

They have 2 children, 10 and 13.  The 13 year old attends Compton-Drew.  The 10 year old is at Humbolt Academy of Higher Learning.  In their earlier years, they both attended Wilkinson and one attended Dewey.  The other schools they shopping while considering their options included Stix, Buder, Mullanphy, Busch, Kennard, McKinley, St. Frances Cabrini.


What was the key decision point was for Compton-Drew?
Katie is a product of public schools and never thought her children would go anywhere else.  John, having been a child when deseg took effect and seeing the disruption it caused, required more information before feeling comfortable with public schools, but ultimately did.  In terms of choosing Compton-Drew, the key point that attracted us at the time was that it was a Tier 2 school (meaning the school day went from 8-3 PM); although, this has since changed and the school day now runs from 7-2 PM.  We toured the school and were impressed with the quality of well-behaved kids, lots of extracurricular opportunity, and a rock star principal who keeps everything running as smoothly as the largest middle school in the city can be expected to run.
How do you sign up for the school?  Admission is based on a lottery, and a racial balance is attempted to try and match the overall makeup of the city (nearly 50/50 black/white); so, depending on who is applying for admission, the gender and racial balance can fluctuate year over year.


As of 2011, the student body was:
53.4% male

46.6% female

70.7% black

22.0% white

5.4% Hispanic/Latino

1.4% Asian

0.5% American Indian

74.7% eligible for reduced or free lunch
Total enrollment was 427 students (source)
The Wessling's drop off, but there is full bus service at Compton-Drew. 



When asked to rank the following on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, they assigned the following:

Safety = 9, teachers = 9, principal = 10, curriculum = 9, physical resources = 9, overall educational experience = 9
I won't go to 10 on most of these because there is always room for improvement; but, I have to give our principal a 10.  I don't know how she makes this school run so well while dealing with the dysfunction of the overall district, but she truly does.  If every school in this district had a principal like Ms. Reid, this would be a completely different district.  As far as curriculum and teaching, we have been so impressed by the lengths the school has gone to to address the needs of students like our daughter who does not need remedial help (which they offer as well) but who need to be challenged beyond the average.  The 8th graders who are ready have access to an algebra course taught by a teacher with high school certification, so they can move to the next level in high school, just as the kids at McKinley are able to do. While at the middle school level there is no gifted pull-out like the elementaries have, her teachers have universally noticed when she is getting bored and have given her extra research projects or other activities to allow her to continue to learn even if the rest of the class is still focusing on something she's already gotten down.  Last year, the school also provided special enrichment classes for kids who scored in the advanced MAP categories and those kids got to take classes in philosophy and Latin.  While those opportunities come and go as the teachers with the necessary skills come and go (a big downfall with using TFA, there is no way to build a sustaining program), the fact that it is on the radar means a lot to me.  I think it is also relevant that even though the school as a whole did not make Annual Yearly Progress, my daughter's class taken just at grade level did, last year. That shows me that the teachers are capable of teaching to the level we expect for our kids, and there are other factors besides teaching that may well be responsible for the kids who aren't reaching that same level.

Are there enrichment courses available? 
The daily schedule has the kids in 2 ancillaries per semester, chosen from: art, vocal music, band, P.E., computers and Spanish. Also, because of the school's location is next to Forest Park and the Science Center, the kids are able to take advantage of the resources there without having to get field trips arranged and paid for since they can just walk over.  The teachers make use of the Science Center and Museums to supplement the curriculum whenever possible.
Are there extra-curricular activities? 
There is a full array of sports activities. There is also a bike club that yearly takes a bike ride down the Katy Trail to Jefferson City, MO.  Washington University does the Alberti architecture program; the Science Center as our magnet partner does frequent programs with the kids.  Somehow, I think because it is a large school so there is more money coming in, they also take many more field trips than we have experienced with any of the other schools we've attended.  The kids are taken to various locations to do service projects as well as educational field trips.  The band teacher is really good about getting those students to cultural performances--in fact once I didn't sign the permission form because my daughter had gone on so many band trips in a couple month time frame I decided she needed to stay in class that day.

What are the kids like? 
They are middle schoolers, so they are all temporarily insane.  But they are, overall, a great bunch of kids who act appropriately; and are, for the most part, nice to each other.  My daughter has never once not wanted to go to school over social issues.  They are respectful when I am in the building.  There are some issues, of course, but I don't think it goes beyond anything that most schools with kids of this age go through.  There is stupid stuff written on the bathroom stalls which the school paints over as quickly as it can.  There are some kids who get in trouble.  But my daughter has made great friends there and doesn't want to leave for high school next year.  
Is there good parental involvement and accountability? 
Parental involvement is there but it is not readily visible in the building.  What I mean by that is that kids are showing up, in uniform.  School fundraisers have high involvement and we make a good amount. When we have programs or evening activities, families come out.  Families don't tend to show up for PTO meetings or Title 1 meetings, the "business" part of parental involvement.  I attribute a lot of this to the struggle many magnets have which is that since families come from all over the city it isn't always easy or possible for parents to get to the school in the evenings depending on how far they have to come or whether they depend on public transportation.  Staff is always interested in having parents involved, however, so the door is open.
Just as a final comment, I have had absolutely no second guessing about our decision to send our daughter here.  Middle school is a scary step, and this has been so much easier than I thought it would be.  While nothing is perfect, the minor issues we have had along the way have not been anything that overall has marred our time here and I cannot imagine we would have had an easier road anywhere else.

Please tell me about the cons of Compton-Drew.
The school hours were changed from 8-3 PM to 7-2 PM, that is the only part of the school that we would change.  The other thing I wish is that the school had more racial diversity. That can be remedied easily if more Caucasian families will realize this jewel in their midst and take advantage of it.
As you can see, the Wessling's are overall very positive about their experience and would definitely recommend Compton-Drew to other families.  It is a safe, viable option for public education in the city. 

To all expecting parents and young families out there who love city living, please consider all your options, educate yourself, talk to people and parents and visit schools before vacating the city for suburban districts when your children reach school age.

To apply for Compton-Drew Investigative Learning Center enrollment in 2013/14, click here.