Santa Maria Sun / School Scene
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 7
Bonita School welcomes Sun editor as 'Principal for a Day'
By JOE PAYNE
The Sun joined the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Industry Education Council’s Principal for a Day event, dispatching Managing Editor Joe Payne for a morning on the campus of Bonita School in Santa Maria.
Bonita School Principal Aaron Shrogin hosted Payne at the elementary school for more than two hours and into the afternoon at the Chamber’s luncheon held at the Santa Maria Elks Club. In the morning, Shrogin explained the history of the school before the tour.
The school sits on the side of Highway 166 just about halfway between Guadalupe and Santa Maria, surrounded by farm fields. The land there was donated for use as a school by farming families in the early 1900s, he said.
“As far as I know it was the first school in the valley, primarily a farm school, and it was K-12 originally, then K-8, and we’re currently a kinder through sixth grade,” Shrogin said.
Bonita School made up its own district, Shrogin explained, but joined Santa Maria’s school district in the 1980s. Part of the land-use stipulation requires that Bonita remain the name of the school and the district, hence the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.
Currently, the school services an attendance of nearly 600 students. Shrogin said that 90 percent of the students at Bonita School are English learners, that 98 percent of the students’ families have incomes below the poverty line, and 85 percent of the students have parents working in the local agriculture industry. Among the English learners—the majority of which are native Spanish speakers—10 to 15 percent of the students are native speakers of indigenous languages of Mexico.
The majority of the students are bused in, he said, and some live in the farm valley between Santa Maria and Guadalupe.
“There are a lot of things about Bonita I’m proud of. We have a great school and instructional program, but one of the things I’m most proud of is the culture and the climate,” Shrogin said. “It’s a nice place to go to school. The teachers are nice, the students are nice, and the kids are for the most part very respectful.”
The first stop that day was to the cafeteria, where the Santa Maria Philharmonic Society’s Music Van program was visiting. Philharmonic board member and volunteer Diane Borad-Mirken led the presentation, which included scores of orchestra instruments that students eagerly got to pluck, strike, or blow through.
The tour moved on to the school’s kindergarten classrooms, which are part of the original school building, Shrogin said, walking into one of the classrooms. There were two teachers at work with small groups in the middle of the room, and another group along the wall immersed in some tablet computers.
A small boy noticed the disturbance and beamed at the sight of Shrogin.
“Hi Principal Shrogin!” he said, waving.
The boy’s peers joined in the greeting, and Shrogin shook their hands in salutation.
“Our kids are remarkably appreciative and generous, not just with each other, but with our staff as well,” Shrogin said. “And the kids always know me.”
While some students come and go within a year or two, Shrogin has had plenty of students learn there all the way from kindergarten through the sixth grade, he said.
A lot has been done to keep the kids at Bonita School on the cutting edge of education, including computers or tablets in every classroom. After kindergarten, students begin working with Chromebooks—laptops that store information on the internet rather than a hard drive.
“The concept of a stationary computer lab is kind of antiquated,” Shrogin said. “So we have mobile carts of Chromebooks and WiFi is available everywhere on campus, so the kids will come out to the quad sometimes and work on their computers.”
Another high-tech feature was in a fifth grade classroom, where the students were on a virtual field trip to Hearst Castle. A park ranger spoke with the students over a live video chat, moving about the Hearst Castle grounds while quizzing the students on various aspects of the art there.
The virtual field trip was one of several, Shrogin explained, that happen before the kids take a physical field trip to Hearst Castle in May. The virtual visits allow the kids to have context for their field trip, Shrogin said.
But old-fashioned learning happens at Bonita School too. The library is constantly lending out books, and classes spend plenty of time reading, Shrogin said.
One class of kids received a visit from volunteer Caroline Gurkweitz during the tour. Gurkweitz began reading out loud to the class when she was an AmeriCorps volunteer, but kept reading to them even after her time with the organization ended.
The class had actually prepared colorful thank you cards for Gurkweitz, who accepted them with the promise that she would keep them in a “special, safe place.”
“The kids here just really have hearts of gold, they’re very sweet,” she said. “It’s very rewarding and lots of fun too.”
Later that afternoon, at the luncheon at the Elks Lodge, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Board Chair Ed Carcarey impressed the importance of the Principal for a Day event as “the best public and private partnership we can do.”
Other guest principals included local business owners and city government officials, including Mayor Alice Patino and City Councilman Mike Cordero.
“It gives me the opportunity to see a demographic in these kids that gives me confidence that we’re going far,” Cordero said. “Seeing these kids operate, their successes, the dialogue they use—it’s so impressive to see these young minds at work, the attention they show to their teachers, how engaged they are in their education, and I like that.”
There was a performance by the Righetti High School Madrigals vocal group at the beginning of the program, and a demonstration by Orcutt Academy High School’s Spartatroniks robotics team closed the event. There was also the Computer Connections giveaway, which gifted several computers to local students of merit who also had the need for the Dell desktops.
Santa Maria-Bonita School District Superintendent Luke Ontiveros was at the luncheon as well, and spoke on the importance of the Principal for a Day event every year as a bridge between local education, government, and business in the valley.
“I think this event just really opens up people’s eyes to how interrelated we are to every aspect of the community,” Ontiveros said. “I always say that the value of the school system isn’t measured by when the kids are in school, it’s what happens when they leave school and the impact they have in the community.
“It’s to really understand that it’s an interdependent relationship,” he added. “Schools need communities, but communities need the schools as well if they’re going to grow at the same rate together to build that future. The kids in our classrooms will be leading these events in the near future.”
School Scene was written by Managing Editor Joe Payne this week. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, email, or mail.
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