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Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

GUEST OPINION: TCGIS

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

Twin Cities German Immersion School – a public school, committed to its students, teachers, and the Como neighborhood

By Julie Alkatout and Dianne Bell, Board Members,  Twin Cities German Immersion School
It is an exciting time for the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS), as we enter our 14th year as a public charter school in St. Paul, and make plans for a significant campus improvement project. After renting our first two locations in St. Paul, we were thrilled to invest in the future of TCGIS with the purchase of our current Como site in 2013. At that time, the vacant 1950s era school building and decommissioned church were vastly underutilized and undermaintained.

We breathed new life into the property by remodeling the classroom building, bringing it up to code for modern school use, and physically connecting it to the former church. We adaptively reused the former sanctuary as our gymnasium and the former basement fellowship hall as our school cafeteria. Now we have the opportunity to provide our students and staff with a purpose-built educational facility to meet programming needs with more classrooms, small group learning spaces, dividable regulation-sized gymnasium, and above-ground light-filled cafeteria.

With the success of our public school, we have a waitlist for enrollment and less than typical attrition for a language immersion school, with full class ranks maintaining through 8th grade. Along with the demand for our K-8 school comes the demand for homes in the surrounding neighborhood. When relocating, our families and staff often choose to live closer to TCGIS. Two families have purchased, remodeled, and increased the value of once foreclosed properties within one block of our campus.

Teachers and families have elected to relocate to St. Paul from other states and even other countries specifically to be part of TCGIS. We also have families that already lived in the neighborhood and were incentivized to stay when their children enrolled at TCGIS through the standard lottery process of a public school. Currently, over 50 District 10 children attend TCGIS, and approximately half of our students live in the city of St. Paul.

Our school strives to be an integrated and active member of the Como community and the city of St. Paul. Since 2016, we have been collaborating with St. Paul Central High School, to feed TCGIS graduates from any city directly into St. Paul’s Central High School, where the students can continue developing their hard-earned German language fluency through an advanced German program available only at Central. In 2018, half of our graduates elected to take this route.

In addition, we improved the TCGIS school grounds by converting expansive pavement to greener playground. We installed beautiful rain gardens as pollinator habitats and underground water collection systems to manage stormwater and prevent polluted runoff from entering Lake Como, an effort that earned TCGIS a nomination for the Capitol Region Watershed District’s Watershed Partner of the Year Award last month​.

Our parent-teacher organization put on an Oktoberfest 5K Fun Run around Lake Como and invited everyone to participate. Our teachers schedule volunteer days for the students to make an impact by picking up trash around Lake Como and the neighborhood. The school playground serves as a community meeting place for neighborhood families and kids. National Night Out for the neighborhood has been hosted at the TCGIS playground. Our energetic school becomes very quiet throughout summer, weekends, and anytime school is not in session, which cumulatively equates to over half the year. We think the neighborhood benefits from a vibrant and stable public school that is committed to the neighborhood.

We truly strive to be a good neighbor and have taken action to improve our impact on the neighborhood during the busy traffic times of a school day. When TCGIS first moved into the neighborhood in 2013, the school didn’t have a busing program. TCGIS now collaborates with nearby Great River School to provide busing to both schools. The inaugural bus program offered two routes, which has grown to the five school bus routes currently available. These five buses transport one-third of our students to and from school and many students walk, bike or carpool, greatly reducing the number of TCGIS vehicles driving into the neighborhood. Our supportive parent-teacher organization hosts regional picnics at the start of each school year to help TCGIS families make connections and arrange carpools.

Setting us up for safety during school release time, we often see our school’s principal and director of curriculum outside wearing safety vests and directing cars in the pickup line. With the goal of improving operational efficiency, the administration implemented the PikMyKid app to allow parents to announce their arrival to staff pick-up coordinators. In October, TCGIS hosted a meeting to discuss traffic safety with a City of St. Paul civil engineer and brainstorm ideas for improving operations.

For the building project permit process, we prioritized and commissioned an independent traffic impact study at a cost of over $12,000 to the school. The preliminary results from this study were shared with the City’s civil engineer and the study’s recommendation to modify the signal light timing at Lexington/Como during school peak times has already been implemented.

Our proposed site plan with the replacement of the small east parking lot with a larger playground will also have a positive impact on traffic safety. Removing this parking lot and driveway takes away the hazard of one interaction zone between vehicles and pedestrians.

The resulting longer stretch of continuous curb will create a safer line of buses or cars during drop-off and pick-up. In November, the administration began assigning additional staff to assist as crossing guards, to encourage pedestrians to use a dedicated crossing zone at Como and Oxford safely by stopping oncoming traffic for the pedestrians.

To address historical parking complaints from residents on Van Slyke, the administration asked staff not to park along Van Slyke to leave spots open for residents. Staff honor that request and there is always ample parking available. In response to the traffic study’s recommendation to minimize parking along Como Ave., the administration now has requested staff and parents refrain from parking on Como Ave. as well. In addition to all these efforts, we are continuing the conversation with the city regarding the Safe Routes to School Program. TCGIS administration is eager to collaborate, make improvements, and get results.

We look forward to our new school facility and the continued vibrancy and success of TCGIS—one of Como’s public schools. We value our place in the Como neighborhood and ask for your understanding and support throughout this campus improvement process.

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