Building a House

By Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.
Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.By Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.      December 24, 2020

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Building a House
Topanga Elementary today where the property offers a 360-degree view and students learn to nurture nature on eight acres that also include undeveloped land and butterfly gardens.
Topanga Elementary Charter School became part of the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1962, when it made some changes to conform with the larger district, but the brick buildings and its natural location on eight acres of land adjacent to the Santa Monica Mountains, makes it unique in the district. The buildings themselves speak to me of how education is much like building a house that is meant to last. First, you grade the land (early education) upon which the foundation (middle school) will sit, then the walls (high school) go up to support the roof (college and beyond), and lifelong learning. Reading the origins of education in Topanga in “The Topanga Story” (Expanded Third Edition) by the Topanga Historical Society, I am fascinated with the determination of early Topanga families to ensure that their children received an education in Topanga where they lived. Beginning with a one-room schoolhouse and expanding over the years to the Topanga School (the building where Froggy’s now sits dormant), and finally to its own site on Topanga School Road, the story is one of ingenuity, perseverance, and community. “The local Topanga School District may have been poor in material resources, but it was wealthy in human resources,” I learned. The school included a cafeteria with freshly prepared food overseen by Molly Human, assisted by PTA member volunteers, fifth and sixth graders, and the 25-cent meals that were subsidized for those who could not afford the cost. Always forward thinking and inclusive, the community of Topanga established a well-baby clinic in the old schoolhouse. It was used widely by many in the community, especially those without access to medical care. This early health care screening often uncovered problems that were then corrected when pediatricians and a local dentist who volunteered weekly, provided follow-up care. GRADING The first five years of a child’s life are undeniably important. These years are the grading before the construction of a child’s education can begin. They have the ability to level the base and having the support for parents and quality early childhood programs is instrumental in providing a base for young children. In Topanga, we are fortunate to have both, allowing strong bonds to be formed through groups of parents who meet in baby groups and stay friends for a lifetime. Children form bonds, too, as they begin to socialize with their preschool friends. Education is a process that begins at birth and continues throughout our lives. FOUNDATION Children of four and five are ready to build the foundation that will support their education. This is the time to expose them to a well-rounded variety of subjects, learning styles and experiences. Children learn how to learn, alone, in groups, in structured and unstructured settings, and it is necessary for children to have learning experiences that provide options for future learning settings. When children are young, it takes adjusting to go from being at home, or in a small preschool setting to a larger classroom and a bigger school where they meet and interact with older children. In order to build a strong foundation, children must be given the opportunity to challenge themselves, to experience teachers with different teaching styles and to experience different curricular areas. A child’s educational foundation is built by many teachers. Academic, art, dance, athletics, theater, music, and for some, religious teachers. Children learn from all kinds of teachers: warm and nurturing, strict and caring, compassionate and giving, those who are experts in their fields, and novice teachers filled with enthusiasm. Children also learn the lessons of sharing, giving, negotiating, and compromising from their classmates. The foundation of education must be level, solid, and unshakable. WALLS The walls go up to serve as supports, meant to last a lifetime, so they have to be straight and secure. We can think of these as the continuing spiral curriculum that education is made of. What at first seems repetitious, is not just learning but delving into subjects and complexity as children mature and are able to build on the foundation of prior knowledge. As subjects are revisited, children are given greater responsibilities for their own knowledge, begin to research topics and form their own opinions. The walls of this education house hold the learning inside, with windows and doors installed to open up and allow new learning to enter as well as to let out the old ideas no longer needed or believed in. ROOF The roof of the house is the structural finale achieved through extended education whether that is higher education or training in a trade, the arts, or sports. Students can pursue it because of the strong foundation holding up the walls of their education. When the roof is settled on top of their structure, the integrity of the house is complete and the valuable items inside are protected. The interior—the knowledge gained and experiences students have along their educational journey—begin with an environment set up by adults, parents or caregivers. As children grow up, they begin to add meaningful keepsakes, ideas, and beliefs to their own educational interior and their ability to do this is based on a level base, a strong foundation, strong walls, and a secure roof on their education. We have witnessed the children in Topanga, babies and toddlers, growing into young children, beginning their education in local preschools and coming to Topanga Elementary to begin more formal education by building a solid foundation secured with the traditional academics of language arts and math integrated with science and social studies. The visual arts, music, theater, and dance personalize the learning experience and open doors for some to a creative path. For some children, language arts leads to writing, and reading becomes a pleasure and a way for further exploration. As children learn about their world, they take more notice of nature, develop a curiosity about animals and the parts of our world that lie beyond their daily world. Having the foundational skills of reading, writing, and math allow them to ask questions and extend their learning. Learning to face challenges and with hard work and assertiveness, asking for the help and support you need, are life skills that children can develop and take with them as they grow. Once the foundation is set, the possibilities are endless and it all starts in modest brick buildings that are Topanga Elementary Charter School. We look forward to returning to our beloved school, our school family filled with children eager to play and engage in hands-on learning. While we are proud of the distance learning we are providing and the progress the children are making, we know that being in a physical space together is the optimal way to learn. We can’t wait to continue laying the foundation for our students in person, and seeing their excited, smiling faces on that first back-to-school day. It will be the best day in a long time.
What is now a dormant Froggy’s restaurant was once Old Topanga Elementary School (circa 1925). Retrieved from LA County Library, Topanga Digital History
Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.
      December 24, 2020

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