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DOWNTOWN AREA : Pride at Solano Helps Earn It State Honor


At Solano Avenue Elementary School, things are done right. Parents chip in, teachers stick around for years, children learn, and the surrounding community claims it for their own. The campus is a thing of pride--no graffiti or trash problems here.

It's a story you don't often hear about a public school, but at Solano, despite its tiny size and the poverty surrounding it, those facts earned it a place among the 221 schools honored recently as a 1995 California Distinguished School.

The statewide award acknowledges "successful teaching and learning, and exceptionally strong parent and community involvement."

"We have a lot of parental support, we have a very strong staff, a wonderful administrator and we have families that have been in the community for generations," said Diane Jebejian, a sixth-grade teacher who has taught at the school for 17 years.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Hernandez appeared at the school last week to present a City Council proclamation acknowledging their award.

Los Angeles Unified School District board member Victoria Castro was also present.

"We're ecstatic," said Principal John Stoll.

"It's the first time we've won the award."

Stoll said that at the 230-student school, which sits in Solano Canyon just below Dodger Stadium, tasks taken on just seem to get done well.

Parents recently raised $11,000 by selling $7 McDonald's coupon books. The sale, launched to raise money for more computers, impressed restaurant officials so much they are trying to arrange a personal appearance by Ronald McDonald.

The enthusiasm for the sale was typical of the school's parents, Stoll said. Although many parents work and the school draws from a low-income area, parents take time to offer support.

"Our parents are 100% behind the school," said Stoll, whose students are largely of Asian and Latino descent. "They make sure their children do their homework and make sure they come to school ready to work."

The school's staff also excels, Stoll said. Although nearly half the students begin school speaking limited English (students who usually speak Cantonese or Spanish at home), the school consistently scores well on state proficiency tests, Stoll said.

Jebejian said the school's small size allows teachers to work together to track individual student progress.

Teachers also tend to stay for years, and the community often sends generation after generation of children to the school.

"It's like an extended family," Jebejian said.

"And I don' think you find that in many areas of our city. We don't have the transiency that you find in many of our schools."

The school also gets a boost from its corporate neighbors the Los Angeles Dodgers, which adopted the school in 1980.

Each year, the school is visited by employees in the Dodgers front office, who teach the students about their careers.

Last week, 14 sixth-graders traveled to the Dodgers' corporate office to learn firsthand about various jobs.

Peggy Hohenstein, a teacher at the school for 28 years, was recently honored by the Dodgers as a "hometown hero."

For the past two years the school's choir has sung the national anthem before a ballgame, and they are treated to a free game on "Solano Night."

The school is also supported by volunteers from the Central City Optimist Club and the U.S. attorney's office.

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