THOUSAND OAKS : Kids Learn as They Earn a Special Meal

It was a day for a classroom without doors and learning without books.

A group of 75 Thousand Oaks schoolchildren gathered at Conejo Creek Park on Tuesday to weave baskets, dip candles and play Chumash games.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Nov. 23, 1995 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 23, 1995 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 4 No Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong description--A story Wednesday incorrectly characterized the students enrolled in the Open Alternative Pilot Program at Conejo Creek Elementary School. The program, which stresses parental involvement, is open to all students seeking a less formal approach to education, said Principal Larry Birdsell.

Before concluding the morning’s activities, 10-year-old Matthew La Fleur put the final touches on his waxen work of art, an unusually shaped candle that resembled a dark blue corn dog.

“I just kept on dipping it in different colors,” he said.


The day at the park, billed as a harvest festival, culminated weeks of preparations for Matthew and the other children in Conejo elementary school’s Open Alternative Pilot Program.

They peeled 50 pounds of potatoes for mashed potatoes and prepared sacks full of apples that were made into 20 pies. And during the course of the preparations, they studied fractions, using the cut pieces of fruit and vegetables to give the lesson some meaning.

“They think they’re having fun instead of learning,” said parent Roni Smith, who took the morning off from her job in computer support services at Amgen to help with the festival.

The alternative program is a schoolroom home for children who have had problems with concentration, self-esteem or other difficulties in more traditional classroom settings.

“It’s been a hard road,” said teacher Gail Small. But she said the efforts of the teachers and the involvement of parents have paid off. “We have one boy who couldn’t get along in two other classes already since September. Now, he’s thriving here.”

Before the group dug into the five turkeys donated by local grocers, the numerous salads and side dishes parents brought and all the trimmings the students prepared, it was time for a few minutes of reflection.

The children, many sitting on a parent’s lap or snuggled under a teacher’s arm, formed a giant ring, known as the Magic Circle.

Parent volunteer Darcy Lober, strumming her guitar, led the group through a round of “We Gather Together” before the teachers, students and parents took turns standing to express their appreciation.

“I am really happy because all the parents are here to share in our feast,” said Desiree Perkins, 5, who then sank back into her dad’s lap and collected a kiss.

When it was her turn to stand, teacher Lori Peters’ voice cracked with emotion. “I’m so happy to have everyone here,” she said.