Montclaire Grads Travel In The Name Of Peace & Understanding

CISV VillageThree Los Altos students left the comforts of home this summer and returned with a completely different view of the world – not to mention a host of friends from such faraway places as Latvia, the Netherlands and Ecuador.

The students, who had just graduated from fifth grade at Montclaire Elementary School in Los Altos, attended the Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV) program, a volunteer organization with camps around the world that promote peace and cross-cultural understanding.

Students Kaz Posley, who traveled to Italy, and Caroline Kane, who traveled to Washington, D.C., first learned about CISV from classmate Katie Mehuys, who traveled to Prague.

Katie comes from a family rooted in CISV – both her mother and two sisters have participated in programs, and she wanted to experience it as well.

CISV offers a four-week camp for students ages 10-12 from different countries. Each “village” hosts two boys, two girls and an adult leader. The students participate in a mix of educational, cultural and sporting activities that emphasize cooperative global and intercultural living.

“There are kids from other countries who are just like us, and they are not different just because of their culture or their country,” Caroline said. “They are just the same as us. They are similar, they have the same emotions and feelings.”

All three students enjoyed making friends with fellow students from around the world. “Now I realize how special it is to say I have a friend in El Salvador and in Finland and in Sweden,” Kaz said.

Many CISV activities are designed around discovering and discussing what is unique about each student and his or her homeland. Each student hosts a presentation in which he or she shares characteristics and qualities about his or her country. From s’mores to grilled cheese, Amelia Earhart to George Washington and YouTube to the Thriller dance, Kaz, Caroline and Katie enlightened fellow students about life in the U.S.

Kaz said he especially enjoyed learning about the other countries and tasting different types of food. All agreed that the camp was educational – but didn’t feel like schoolwork. “It was kind of like you were learning about other countries without trying to learn, which was kind of cool, because it was more fun than school,” Katie said.

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Public, private schools among state’s best

If parents judged schools and educators judged parents like kids judge YouTube videos, Los Altos would likely rate five stars each.

Besides stellar standardized test scores, the 10 public and seven private schools in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills excel by many measures – resources, facilities, results and satisfaction.

And the support for schools, in hours, in tax support and in voluntary contributions, is also among the highest in the state.

In fact, the demand for the high-quality education offered in Los Altos is so great that while K-12 enrollment declines statewide, it’s increasing in the Los Altos school districts.

The community attracts parents who focus on education. “People look online and look at the scores, then try to decide if they can afford to live in the community,” said a community volunteer and former PTA president.

In Los Altos, the Los Altos elementary district runs six elementary and two junior high schools. Cupertino Union School District operates Montclaire Elementary. The only public high school in Los Altos is Los Altos High, although many students from the city also attend Mountain View High.

The public elementary schools regularly score in the 900s on the state’s Academic Performance Index, the 200-to-1,000 scale used for measuring academic achievement. In fact, four elementary schools score in the top 25 in the state, and both Egan and Blach junior high score in the top 15 middle schools.

Moreover, the schools’ success isn’t the result merely of favorable demographics – wealthy families, educated parents, low mobility and English spoken in the home. Los Altos elementary schools do well even against schools with similar demographics.

An assistant superintendent of the Los Altos School District credits parents who value education and demonstrate their support by getting involved. Almond Elementary School, for example, logs about 30,000 volunteer hours a year. That’s about 160 hours a day over the course of the school year, and nine hours per class daily, he points out.

“There’s a silent message in the modeling that goes on, when students see their parents and other parents involved in the school,” he said. “There’s an understanding that what we’re doing here is important.”

Such involvement extends to high school. Every day, about 20 parents are on campus at Los Altos and Mountain View high schools, helping tutor, selling food at lunch and supporting activities such as athletics, music and robotics. Parent involvement is “one of the things that really differentiates our schools from other schools” and contributes to success, said the superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District.

Even with stellar public schools, private schools thrive in the community.

At Pinewood, classes start with about eight students in kindergarten, and grow to around 14 at other grades. “Because of small class sizes, we have a really nurturing family environment,” Pinewood President said.

At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, play is the foundation of elementary education. At the high school, the curriculum is interdisciplinary, focusing on moral reasoning and intellectual development, said Waldorf’s development director.

The community is generous, a former PTA President said. “They want to support their schools.”

 Note: This is a slightly edited version of a recent article, written by Sharon Noguchi for the San Jose Mercury News.