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Unique public school is best-kept secret, and needs more students

A school garden with veggies kids can take home? Free music classes after school? Ballroom dancing? Quilt classes? Small classes? Good test scores? Workshop studies? A state-of-the-art computer lab? A working library with a librarian who knows every name of every child and what their reading tastes are!

See some of the projects at Valley View.
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner
A gem of a school in the hills of the Valley.
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner

All this exists in one of the smallest schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District—a public school! It's not a magnet, it's not a charter, but people have driven nearly an hour to get their children to school every day, and others have championed the diversity of the classes offered in this elementary school. It's a School for Advanced Studies, and the school will be 100 years old in 2017.

But Valley View Elementary School is in trouble.

The school that has in the past burgeoned to 250 children for Kindergarten through 6th grade is now down to about 160 students.

"We have been affected by some charter schools taking many of our children, and we may be in danger of losing two of our teachers," says school principal Susan Kim.

Two teachers may not sound like a lot, but if you only have a dozen teachers, that IS a lot.

One of the reasons that Valley View has so many interesting extracurricular activities is a $50,000 annual grant that the school gets specifically for arts-related projects from the California Institute of Contemporary Arts. That grant allows students to take guitar, keyboard, songwriting and percussion classes FOR FREE after school, and one of the songs the students wrote is in the video attached to this story. Take a look.

Tom Reise, of the CICA based in San Diego, says, "We are thrilled with what Valley View has done with the programs. The PTA is very involved in the educational aspects, and since the district has cut most of the art programs, we have given them money to do things like ballroom dancing, photography and music classes that they would never normally get. This is an experiment we are trying with a small, diverse school, and it's amazing what they have done."

There's the school garden where students have learned how to grow fruit and vegetables and then learn how to eat them, and they will be eating vegetables they would never have eaten if served by the parents, some of the teachers say.

The school population has a diverse economic population, with children of families from the million dollar homes in the nearby Hollywood Hills, as well as enough students from other areas of the city. The school population is about one-fourth Latino, one-fourth white, one-fourth black and one-fourth Asian. There's a mix of Swedish and Armenian families that have found the school, and 14 percent are special needs students.

The special needs students prefer the school because it is smaller and the classes are smaller than most public schools, but they also emphasize working with high-achieving students.

Students come from Studio City, Hollywood, Van Nuys, downtown Los Angeles and Los Feliz. Past alum include the David and Keith Carradine families, Danny Bondace's children, as well as Jennifer Love Hewitt, Helen Hunt, Rita Wilson.

"If anyone wants to send their children to a great spot to send their kids, this is the place," says Hillary Williams, who is one of the parents who helps run the Edible Garden in the center of the campus. "We are still enrolling and numbers are very low this year, so low in fact that we are in jeopardy of losing a teacher or more in the next month."

Already the school is kicking off the year with a fascinating curriculum including Rockets and Robots where everyone will see how they work in a series of assemblies in October. Then, there's the annual Pajamarama where everyone comes in their pajamas and brings pillows and sleeping bags and listens to books being read in the auditorium.

School PTA president Callie Nguyen Zelniker says, "Valley View is a unique public school with small class size and diverse student body supported by a dynamic and caring school community. It's not too late for more students to join us for the current school year! Open Enrollment spots are still available in all grades, including Transitional Kindergarten (for children who will turn 5 before December 2)."

Here is a rundown of the programs they tout at the school:

•School for Advanced Studies – Differentiated & enriched curriculum • Accelerated Reader • Arts Prototype Program – Visual Arts, Dance • After School Music Program – Guitar, Keyboard, Percussion, Vocal Ensemble, Songwriting, Music Appreciation • Physical Education • Apple Computer Lab – Including class resources: smart board, Elmo and LCD Projectors, etc. • Ballroom dancing • English and Edible Gardens • Fieldtrips – Integrated into classroom curriculum • Visiting Artists’ Workshops • Science Enrichment Programs • Performance & Interactive Assemblies • Classroom Presentations – Social Studies, Science, Language Arts • School Website • LA’s Best and Youth Services After School Programs - Free of Charge •

Anyone can stop in and visit the school at any time. They have a Back to School night on Tuesday, Aug. 26, but perspective parents can go any time to meet Miss Kim and see the school.

The schools is tucked right in the middle of the Cahuenga Pass just at the entrance to the San Fernando Valley. The address is officially Hollywood, but it's closer to Studio City and across from Universal Studios. The address is 6921 Woodrow Wilson Drive.

Right now, they can use students in all classes. The sixth grade now has six students! But they need a few more good boys and girls.

Find out more about the school at the PTA website:

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