Neighborhood School Gets a New Future as University Elementary School at La Fiesta

la-fiesta-school.jpegClosed for years due to budget constraints, La Fiesta School has a new future thanks to the innovative work of a local administrator who found inspiration in SSU's Educational Leadership Master's Degree program.

Thanks to a partnership with Sonoma State University's School of Education and the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District (CRPUSD), the Rohnert Park elementary school has been re-imagined as University Elementary School at La Fiesta to educate students in kindergarten and first grade.

The school is re-opening with 42 students. most of whom live in the district. The two teachers leading this educational "start-up" are School of Education graduates Natasha Smith and Kendall Daigle. Smith also possesses an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from SSU.

The school's curriculum will focus on active, hands-on learning, stressing imaginative play and taking into account individual interests and developmental needs. Both teachers say they "value a hands-on, project-based program and look forward to experimenting with inquiry-based learning this year."

Grand Opening of University
Elementary School at La Fiesta, Aug. 21

The grand opening of University Elementary School at La Fiesta in Rohnert Park is set for Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 8 a.m. at 8511 Liman Way.

Speaking at the ribbon cutting will be Dr. Robert Haley, CRPUSD Superintendent, Elizabeth Kaufman, CRPUSD Assistant Superintendent, and Carlos Ayala, Dean of the School of Education at Sonoma State University. Also in attendance will be state assemblyman Mariko Yamada, State Senator Lois Wolk, both Cotati and Rohnert Park City Councils, and CRPUSD's Board of Trustees.

As the inaugural group of students progresses, more grade levels will be added. As an added benefit from the partnership, undergraduates in the newly created Early Childhood Studies major will now have the opportunity to assist in the classroom and complete coursework related to their on-site experiences.

The School of Education, who administers the Early Childhood Studies program, also plans to involve faculty and students in the Multiple Subject Credential program, which prepares teachers for teaching in elementary school. The partnership will offer rich clinical experiences for Sonoma State students, while at the same time enriching and supporting learning for children at University Elementary School.

rappsm.jpgThe new school would never have formed had it not been for local parent, Sonoma State Educational Leadership Master's Degree candidate Sarah Mia Rapp. Rapp earned her Single Subject and Administrative Credentials from the School of Education and recently worked as an Assistant Principal at Piner High School in Santa Rosa.

Rapp's passion for the project has not only help set the tone for the school's programs, but was key to the effort to bring new families to the school. As the project grew, Rapp and others collaborated directly with families in the community, canvasing them about what their child's education should involve. This has led to drawing families back to the district which had lost funds when enrollment started dropping after it began to close schools.

Rapp said that her studies at SSU pushed her thinking about how young children learn, encouraged her to become a leader, share ideas and bring reform to the schools in her community. She imagined a partnership between the university and her local school district which was a true collaboration, where "children grow up to love learning, provide for the needs of every learner, and encourage innovative curriculum, and university students and faculty could support and learn along the way too."

To get the ball rolling, she reached out to Dr. Chiara Bacigalupa, Associate Professor for Early Childhood Studies, and to Dr. Carlos Ayala, Dean of Education to see what was possible, and together they worked with the district to make her vision a reality.

Maricela Ibarra, parent of a University Elementary student, has said, "As a parent I can say that I am very enthusiastic about University Elementary at La Fiesta. This new school and innovative program will give my daughter a chance to deeply explore her learning style and the chance to express it. I am very grateful for this wonderful opportunity".

Speaking on the connection between education and community, Dr. Carlos Cuauhtémoc Ayala, Dean of Sonoma State University's School of Education, said, "the University Elementary School is a prime example of the important collaborative efforts that Sonoma State University School of Education and the local school districts undertake to serve the pre-K-14 students of Sonoma County."

For further information, contact Pam Van Halsema, School of Education, (707) 664-3115.

TOP, The two teachers leading this educational "start-up" are School of Education graduates (left) Natasha Smith and Kendall Daigle. (Photo by Sandy Destiny)

RIGHT, Sarah Rapp spearheaded the idea of a partnership to benefit a local school and early childhood educators at SSU.

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