By Nick Diamantides
Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, City Councilman Robert Garcia, Assembly Member Bonnie Lowenthal and Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Chris Steinhauser all showed up at a birthday party last Thursday (March 11). It was the 10th anniversary celebration for the New City School, located at 1637 Long Beach Boulevard. About 150 people, including parents and supporters showed up for the event.
The New City School is a nonprofit organization that operates three bilingual, public charter schools in Long Beach. According to the organization’s mission statement, the schools exist to “provide a thoughtful, healthy, intimate environment in which community building is valued over competition.” The statement adds. “Through a curriculum enriched by the arts, technology, and the natural environment, we will teach students to develop into independent, critical thinkers who demonstrate expertise in reasoning and problem solving, English and Spanish literacy, creative expression, and historical perspective.”
New City School traces its roots to 1999 when two public school teachers, Ted Hamory and Stephanie Lee, began working to gather support for a new school in downtown Long Beach. They led a group of parents and educators who were concerned about the state of public education and who also wanted to provide a high-quality, free and public educational alternative. The New City School opened its doors in August of 2000 to 80 students in grades K–3 with the goal of becoming a model for urban K–8 learning in the 21st century.
Hamory and Lee, who are husband and wife, now serve as the organization’s co-executive directors.
The New City School-Pine Avenue campus, which opened in 2000, is a gem in what used to be an otherwise neglected part of the city. The school’s enormous urban rehabilitation project transformed a blighted, dangerous, boarded-up eyesore into 8,000 square feet of light-filled learning space for 190 students. The three-story building, originally built as a medical clinic in 1948, now has a large playground, 10 distinct classrooms, a beautiful organic garden, and grounds that are landscaped with native California plants and trees.
Classrooms offer developmentally appropriate, child-centered curricula to students who learn in classrooms composed of two to three grade levels. The ratio of children to teachers is 20:1 in grades K–3, and school administrators have pledged to keep classes as small as possible in all grades, as dictated by physical and spatial limitations. The school also provides teacher assistants in the elementary classes so that the child-to-adult ratio can be maintained at approximately 10:1 or better in primary grades.
Even the lunch program at the three campuses is a cut above most public school lunch offerings. “We provide healthy, delicious all-natural foods,” said Ziba Kaboli, school partnership manager for San Francisco-based Revolution Foods, the company that provides lunches to the students under contract with the school. “Our food is minimally processed, and we provide a fruit and vegetable with every meal.”
During the celebration, students presented honorary certificates to Foster, Knabe, Garcia, Lowenthal, Steinhauser and Home Depot, which is the school’s corporate sponsor. While receiving their certificates, the officials each answered a question posed by one of the school’s students.
Foster was asked what advice he would give to students. “Make sure that you learn either a trade or skill,” he replied. “And when you are confronted with problems or issues tackle them immediately because if you don’t they will control you and you will run out of options.”
Knabe was asked what he thought about arts education in Long Beach schools. “I am a strong supporter of the arts,” Knabe said. “It’s an important part of any curriculum. To me, arts are forever whether you do it professionally, for your own enjoyment or for family. Arts are an important part of everyone’s life.”
Garcia was asked what were some of the things he learned in school that helped him prepare for politics. He replied that learning to speak English and Spanish has been a very important part of being able to know the needs of the community and to represent the people in his district.
Lowenthal was asked if she always did her homework while she was in school. “I believe I always did,” she said. “I did so, because that was what my parents expected of me, and they placed a very high emphasis on education.”
Steinhauser was asked what his dream was for all the students attending Long Beach schools. “My dream is for every child in this community to be able to do whatever they choose to do in life,” he said, explaining that a quality education is the key to success.
New City School’s two other campuses are at 1230 Pine Avenue and 236 East 3rd St. The combined campuses, which are all charter schools in the LBUSD, offer classes from kindergarten to 12th grade and give certified high school diplomas to graduates. The schools are funded with state grants and private donations and do not charge tuition fees.