The end of the rainbow

The end of the rainbowThe end of the rainbowThe end of the rainbow

A welcoming school where differences are celebrated

Lakeshore Alternative Elementary School
Students at Lakeshore Alternative Elementary represent a cross-section of San Francisco's diverse population.

When volunteer David Rodas entered a kindergarten classroom one day, he didn’t know he’d be teaching a small lesson in diversity and acceptance. Rodas, who is a product advisor at the Microsoft Store, loves helping children with their art projects. “They were supposed to draw a rainbow and add cotton ball clouds,” he recalls. “One kid was drawing a unique rainbow with different colors … [T]he kid next to him said, ‘That’s not how a rainbow looks!’” The young artist looked sad and stopped participating. 

Rodas asked the child what was wrong, and was told the story. “I let him know that his rainbow was awesome for being unique, just like everyone in the room,” he says. “I then spoke to both kids, and let them know that often people in life would be different, just as their rainbows were different. However, just because they were different it did not mean they could be mean. The other kid then said ‘sorry’ and they both began drawing again.” Microsoft Store employees volunteer regularly at Lakeshore Alternative Elementary School, which is one of the most diverse schools in San Francisco.

“It’s not just about the diversity in race or religion; it’s also differences in our special ed students, and how all students learn differently.”

— Sheera Sadja, Instructional Reform Facilitator Lakeshore Alternative Elementary School
Microsoft Store employee Ty Ivory works with a student in a Special Day classroom at Lakeshore Alternative Elementary School in San Francisco.

A living cityscape
Lakeshore’s campus is within a block of Lake Merced on the west side of town. Though in a relatively affluent neighborhood, the school reflects the true diversity of San Francisco. The racial and ethnic demographics of its K-5 students are almost identical to the city’s overall population, and they come from a great variety of socioeconomic and family structures and backgrounds. Lakeshore is also home to many children with special education needs.

The main explanation for the school’s diversity can be found in its name, which includes the word alternative. Most campuses are considered neighborhood schools, drawing students almost exclusively from those living in the vicinity. Families from all over San Francisco rank their school preferences when registering a child for kindergarten, so may select Lakeshore as an option or be assigned to it. As a result, busloads of students come from around the city to Lakeshore’s campus, which features seven gardens and many playgrounds.

Throughout the school year, there are special lessons, potlucks, celebrations, and assemblies to acknowledge important cultural landmarks in the populations represented at the school. “I know teachers really try and help students recognize the diversity around them,” observes Sheera Sadja, the instructional reform facilitator at Lakeshore. “It’s not just about the diversity in race or religion; it’s also differences in our special ed students, and how all students learn differently.”

Lakeshore offers full inclusion for almost all of its special education students, which allows them to learn in a general education classroom, albeit with some extra support. The school was a pilot location for the full inclusion model. Microsoft employees often volunteer in the school’s two Special Day classes, which are populated by students who function better in a smaller group and with more teacher and adult support.

Its diversity isn’t the only thing that makes Lakeshore special. The school takes all the opportunities the school district offers to expand students’ experiences, like poetry, ballet, and music appreciation and performance.

But some of the most-appreciated enhanced learning programs at Lakeshore are funded by the hard work of the members of the PTA. Family donations and fundraising events cover the costs for the school’s signature Science and Gardening, Motor Perception, and Studio Art programs.

Community development specialist Jen Limos and other Microsoft Store employees volunteer regularly at area schools and nonprofit organizations.

All in for the kids
“It really is helpful to have people around to connect with the kids and work with the kids. All students just love the attention they get. … Somebody to read with them or help them a little bit with their math or anything, so we don’t turn down volunteers here!” Lakeshore students benefit from the presence of volunteers—including student teachers—from the nearby Lowell High School and San Francisco State University campuses.

If you’d like to help Lakeshore students, you’re invited to volunteer and/or make a donation. There’s much more information available at lakeshoreelementary.org.