Solana Highlands School hits the big 3-0

Solana Highlands Elementary School is turning the big 3-0 in 2017 and two teachers have been at the Carmel Valley school since the beginning in 1987: transitional kindergarten teacher Debbie Keller and first grader teacher Tarri Baldwin.

Baldwin said it is hard to believe it’s been 30 years since the school opened and so much has changed as the school has grown. When she started there were only 10 teachers in grades kindergarten through fifth.

“Half of the school was still under construction, we had a classroom on stage and a mini science lab in the upper media center. We didn’t have interior doors so the sound from one class drifted to others down the hall,” Baldwin wrote in a reflection read at the Feb. 9 Solana Beach School District board meeting. “This was my first teaching job and I was so lucky to be hired here back in 1987. I continue to feel blessed every day teaching in such a wonderful school.”

Work is underway on the new garden at Solana Highlands School.
Work is underway on the new garden at Solana Highlands School. (Courtesy)

Baldwin said she also recalls those early days and everyone being really excited about the new school. She wrote that she was excited even though there were two kindergarten classrooms with an “unimaginable” 32 kids each — as a contrast, she was in one kindergarten classroom last week with a more manageable group of five.

“We had a much different population and our curriculum was much less academic,” Keller said. “One thing has remained the same, we have always felt like a family at Solana Highlands and I feel like it always will.”

Principal Matt Frumovitz said the school received a great 30th birthday gift and that was the passing of Prop JJ in November, which will allow for a complete modernization of the campus.

Frumovitz said Caroline Brown, the district’s director of capital programs, is leading the charge and helping the school prepare for construction to begin this summer. The school’s upgrade will include a new entrance lobby, removal of portable classrooms, restroom renovations and the installation of a new student garden, currently under construction.

Solana Highlands is also working to ensure a “smooth transition” for welcoming 180 students from the global education program at Skyline School for the one-year that Skyline will be under construction.

Global Education is an alternative educational program that includes bilingual education, multi-aged classrooms and an in-depth look at world issues such as environment, culture, human rights, government and current events. The district will provide transportation to take students from Solana Beach to Carmel Valley.

“We’re getting ready for our new school, which is apropos after 30 years, but we are still doing a lot of wonderful new things this year,” said Frumovitz.

At Solana Highlands, they have most teachers using a new writing program and teaching “mindfulness” to help students learn how to be self-aware of their feelings and behaviors and to regulate themselves instead of always relaying on an adult to redirect them.

The school is also continuing implementation of Next Generation Science Standards — Neva Ayn Magalnick, the STREAM lab teacher on special assignment, said they are doing their own in-house robotics program, students are learning coding and are participating in the broader STEM community at events such as the Del Mar Maker Fest and March’s San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering Fair at Petco Park.

At the board meeting, third grader Harrison Liew read from his piece about what a day in a life at Solana Highlands School is like for a student. He wrote that after “bursting into his classroom with a smile on his face” he took on a day that included math, English, researching ecosystems in STREAM class, practicing cursive. At break he found a friend on the playground’s Buddy Bench, a place where students sit when they don’t have someone to play with and at recess he ran six laps with the running club. At an assembly, he learned about the character trait of responsibility.

“On my way home I thought about my day at school. I enjoyed the learning opportunities I had, the assembly taught me the value of character, I learned to be a good friend,” Harrison wrote. “When you put this all together you see that Solana Highlands is teaching me to be a good person. I can’t wait for tomorrow.”