Last Thursday, Aug. 28 was back to school night at Carmel Del Mar School - as it was at all eight Del Mar Union School District schools. In classrooms across the Carmel Del Mar campus, like Sandra Nelson's fifth grade room, parents sat like giants in miniature chairs at their children's desks, learning what was in store for their young students this year.
Carmel Del Mar fifth graders have a busy year ahead: They're making family trees, learning about the Revolutionary War, writing persuasive essays, starting to work algebra equations and they're required to always be reading, at least 50 minutes a week.
"In fifth grade we really stress reading," Nelson told the parents. " We really want them to think of themselves as readers."
Before moms and dads headed off to their child's individual classrooms that night, they were introduced to the full staff of teachers in the school's outdoor auditorium. Principal David Jones called each one out like the starting lineup at a baseball game, all of the teachers standing on the stage with the colorful Carmel Del Mar dragon on the wall behind them.
"They are positive, enthusiastic and quite tired," Jones said of the teachers who were one day away from closing out the first week back to school.
Carmel Del Mar opened in 1992 as the third school in Del Mar Union School District to open and the first in Carmel Valley. The school remains relatively small with 440 students in kindergarten through sixth grades. Jones has been the principal at the school for the last five years.
"Over the last few years I've seen the academic achievements go up each year," Jones said, attributing the success to the team approach teachers take to making sure students get the essential standards at each grade level.
The teams of teachers, called a professional learning community, assess each student to make sure that they are getting the best education possible.
"We're getting better and better at it," Jones said. "We are very serious about it and it's one of the main reasons more kids are at an advanced or proficient level at CDM."
In addition to educational strength, the school also stresses the importance of being a good person. They have a zero-tolerance anti-bullying program and a "pillars of character" program where a different pillar is focused on each month of the school year. This month's is respect.
"Carmel Del Mar is an excellent school and excellent schools don't just happen," said PTA President Zuliya Khawaja. "The most phenomenal thing about this school besides the wonderful principal and staff is the parent volunteers."
The PTA helps plan events like the Sept. 4 ice cream social and the gift wrap drive which last year raised $9,000 and went directly to the teachers to use in their classrooms.
Carmel Del Mar's Del Mar Education Foundation representative Allison Healy-Poe also stressed the importance of parents giving to the foundation to help provide programs like art, music, PE, science and technology, classes Healy-Poe said are the highlights of the students' days.
"What matters most is what brings them joy," Healy-Poe said.
Last year, CDM parents gave $48,000 to the foundation and Healy-Poe aims to reach their contribution goals again this year. The goal is for each family to make a $600 donation, a little over $10 a week, easy to do if parents sacrificed a couple Starbucks coffees, she said.
The Dad's Club is another way that parents get involved at the school. In addition to six brown bag lunch days when dads come to enjoy lunch date with their children, they also host a father-daughter dance, the only school in the district to have one.
"These girls were illuminated," said Warren Stocker, Dad's Club president of last year's event. "It's so cool for them to get all dressed up and go to a dance with their father."
Sons don't get left out - they usually have a father-son Padres game event in the spring.
Money raised by the Dad's Club last year went toward purchasing a new PE shed that sits on the blacktop for students to get equipment out during recess.
"It's absolutely amazing what that did," Stocker said. "There's so much more activity and play, so many more games."
Carmel Del Mar is also making an effort to go green this year, eliminating the "Wednesday folder." The folder used to be carried home from students to parents filled with important fliers about school happenings. Now the school will be paperless, with all the fliers available instead on the PTA Web site,
"I think it's a wonderful thing for CDM," said Khawaja.