Spotlight on Elysian Heights Elementary

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Elysian Heights Elementary serves the communities of Echo Park and Elysian Heights. It is located on the corner of Echo Park Avenue and Baxter Street, just north of beautiful Elysian Park.  Elysian Heights has a rich history and was home to  artists, writers, architects, filmmakers, political radicals and counterculture luminaries, whose children attended Elysian Heights Elementary during the 1930s, 1940’s and 1950’s.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with the principal at Elysian, Mr. Emilio Garza, who is in his 3rd year as principal. Mr. Garza is very well educated and tenured but also fresh, youthful, and passionate about his work.  He’s the kind of principal that knows every kids name and their story and I can tell he’s invested in each and every one of them.

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Mr. Garza, principal at Elysian Heights

Elysian is a small school with an enrollment of 240 kids presently throughout TK-6th grades. The target enrollment is 290 and they welcome open enrollment applications. Their current class ratios are: TK-16:1, K-3rd 24:1, and 4-6th 30:1.

Mr Garza’s is implementing a progressive approach to teaching based on Universal Concepts, which he became well versed in through his experiences with International Baccalaureate Schools. Concept-based instruction is driven by “big ideas” rather than subject-specific content. By leading students to consider the context in which they will use their understanding, concept-based learning brings “real world” meaning to content knowledge and skills. Students become critical thinkers which is essential to their ability to creatively solve problems in the 21st century.

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He admits that it’s been a challenge to get all the teachers on board with a new way of educating the kids and eliminate the ‘drill and kill’ approach used in the past. His eyes lit up as he shared an experience of a kindergarten teacher running into his office to share a big ahah moment she’d recently experienced with her student using the universal concepts approach.

The overarching emphasis for the school is Health and Wellness, underpinning the belief that students who are healthy and happy are in the best position to learn. Students investigate various topics under this theme including physical and emotional wellness. Mr. Garza has created several events incorporating the health and wellness theme including Taste of Elysian, where kids learn how to create new health snacks and try new foods; the Fitness Fair, where kids explore new creative ways to move their bodies; and the Elysian Heights Annual 5k, a weekend exercise and fund raising event.

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There are a wide array of extracurricular activities available to students at Elysian including: art, dance, drama, music, and gardening (they have a beautiful garden space). They also offer no-cost after school programs by LA’s Best and Extended Youth Services as well as enrichment classes like ballet, karate, kick boxing and Lego robotics.

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The garden at Elysian is beautiful and productive. The kids sell the produce that they grow and harvest to parents.

Parental involvement is on the rise. My good friend just became the president of the school site council. She’s a badass high powered career woman and besides serving breakfast in her kid’s classrooms she is helping the school develop systems to enhance their communications and marketing and build upon the current parental involvement. She pulled her kids out of a very fancy private school a year ago and permitted them into Elysian. The kids are thriving and she and her husband feel more connected to their community.

Elysian Heights is a perfect example of school that might write off if were you to just look at their school rating (5). But you’d be missing a great opportunity to become involved in a lovely, intimate, community school that welcomes new families and new ideas. I encourage you to visit the school and see for yourself if it is a fit for your family. They have an upcoming event for their 100th anniversary!

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