After one look at the pristine pools packed with toys, and it?s no surprise why La Petite Baleen?s four San Francisco?area swim facilities are so popular with kids. What may be surprising, however, is that the flourishing network of schools started humbly in the backyard pool of John Kolbisen and Irene Madrid.
In 1979, the public school teachers were brainstorming ways to integrate their passion for educating kids with their love of the water. Starting with their own three children, some neighborhood kids, and their logo?Waverly the Whale, John and Irene began teaching swim lessons with a rather progressive philosophy: They approached swimming not just as an extracurricular activity, but as a means to boost self-confidence, build friendships, and learn to overcome fears.
More than 30 years later, La Petite Baleen has become a renowned family of schools, partnered with the U.S. Swim School Association and the Swim for Life Foundation. Part of the success has to do with how children are grouped. In weekly sessions, pods of tots of similar age, skill level, and personality evolve at a similar pace?earning individual achievement ribbons as they do. Kids make friends in the group, and the recurring scheduling means that they can stay enrolled with their new buddies indefinitely or until they grow their own dorsal fins. Each location?s indoor pools are kept at an inviting 90 degrees, in an attempt to make even the most timid student to feel comfortable in the water. Perhaps most importantly, the teachers participate in ongoing training designed to encourage empathetic, yet firm teaching methods.
Presenter of the San Francisco International Film Festival—the longest-running film festival in the Americas—San Francisco Film Society feeds the cinematic passions of fans, filmmakers, and students, showcasing more than 300 films every year. The Film Enthusiast membership entitles movie mavens to a plethora of perks worth rubbing in the noses of adversarial cinephiles who won’t stop boasting about how much popcorn they can eat in one sitting. Members also get the skinny on San Francisco International Film Festival special events and screenings, running April 21-May 5.
Taking its name from a Sean O'Casey play, The Plough and the Stars wears its Hibernian heritage on its sleeve as it captivates visitors with an atmosphere of Irish whiskeys, heady beers, and live music. The owners and most of the staff hail from the Emerald Isle, charming their guests with authentic accents and a mastery of pouring Guinness the Irish way—easing the black ambrosia into a glass as they recite On Raglan Road while drinking a cup of water. Patrons sip perfectly mixed irish coffees as they watch Celtic set dancing on Thursdays or raise their glasses of draft Kilkenny and Smithwick's to live bluegrass, blues, and traditional Irish tunes almost every day of the week.
Shan-Yee Poon Ballet School has cultivated grace and talent in its students for 25 years, but its namesake instructor?s relationship with dance goes back even further. Artistic director Shan-Yee Poon graduated from the Royal Ballet School in London and spent four years as a principal dancer at the State Theater in West Germany before relocating to San Francisco in 1984, where she landed a soloist spot at the San Francisco Opera Ballet. She and her team of professional instructors imbue the next generation of dancers with a strong foundation for ballet. They also offer comprehensive instruction in jazz, tap, hip-hop, contemporary, acrobatics, tumbling for tots, boys' ballet, ballet/tap combo, and dance movement for toddlers and parents. They welcome children, teens, and adults into a warm classroom setting at three striking studios, one of which has vaulted ceilings, intricate architectural details, and stained-glass windows. Though instructors demand the best from their pupils, they use loving encouragement as their main teaching technique.
House of Air is not a house?it's a repurposed airplane hangar, and inside is The Matrix. Forty-two trampolines make up this main court, which is part wall and features two skatepark-inspired bowls at its north end. On any given day, the Matrix busies itself by proving that gravity can be exploited. Jumpers ages 7 and up launch from the floors and angled corners high into the air, some of them wearing rented GoPro cameras (available at the park) that record each breathtaking flip and dizzying spin.
Despite its size, the Matrix is just one of several areas inside the hangar. There's also the Colosseum, an arena for trampoline dodgeball games; the Training Ground, where jumpers from novice to professional practice their skills and wall-walks during Open Air sessions; and the new Kids Court, a recently completed trampoline zone separated from the rest and dedicated to three- to six-year-old children. This wonderland of trampolines caters to visitors of all stripes. Some might want to take an Air Conditioning class, while others throw jumping parties. Those who want to learn impressive tricks can even take private lessons from a staff of professional coaches, whose specialties range from snowboarding to competitive gymnastics.