Above, seventh-grader Jack Wind leads parents on a tour of Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista.

Enrollment at Mark Twain Middle School has increased nearly 20 percent in the past three years, and parents in communities surrounding the Mar Vista campus want to know why.

More than 100 parents from neighboring elementary schools packed this month’s tour of Mark Twain, asking questions about the residential school, its arts academy and world-language magnet, and its English/Spanish and English/Mandarin dual-language programs.

“It is so great to have the chance to hear from parents and students about why they are so happy with this school,” said Rose Christoffersen, whose child is in fifth grade at Broadway Elementary School. “There is so much happening here with learning opportunities, great staff and all the activities. I didn’t know all of this was going on.”

Chaka Forman talks to parents about the benefits of Mark Twain Middle School, which two of his children attend.

Parents were also excited about what they heard from the Mark Twain students, and from the kids’ moms and dads.

“The teachers and staff here really care about you,” said eighth-grader Starr Munoz. “It’s not just about making sure you do your homework and get good grades. They care about you as a person and that you are actually learning. You can talk to them about anything you need.”

The quality of the faculty was one of the major themes mentioned during the tour, as well as the school’s expansive curriculum, positive school climate, safety and diversity.

For sixth-grader Alicia Lippens Gravin, it’s about being close to home.

“I love that I can just ride my bike here from my house,” Alicia said. “When I graduated last year from Coeur D’Alene Elementary, a lot of my friends wanted to go to middle schools that were an hour away. I didn’t understand why. I wanted to stay right here where I live.”

Chaka Forman, the father of a sixth-grader and eight-grader at Twain, said Alicia’s comments were right on point.

“This is about investing in our neighborhood schools,” he said. “Students shouldn’t have to get on a bus or have their parents drive them for an hour or two every morning to go to the schools they really want. They deserve to have a high-quality middle school right here in their own community.

“Choices and options can be a good thing, but at least one of those options should be a high-caliber school in your own neighborhood,” he said. “There is something to be said for being able to spend more time with your kids, to be able to interact regularly with their teachers and just to be proud of the schools in your community.”

Forman credited Mark Twain Principal Althea Ford as a major factor in the school’s success.

“Ever since Dr. Ford came to Mark Twain several years ago, she has had a profound influence on the culture, climate and environment of the campus,” he said. “When she arrived, she got right to work, and we saw these changes the second our students enrolled.”

Since Ford’s arrival at Mark Twain, the school has added about 50 students each school year, with a current enrollment of 670. She insists, however, that she is not the sole reason for the improvements.

“We have a solid team of administrators and absolutely incredible teachers,” she said. “Most important of all, we have a really involved base of parents and community members who believe this can be the best middle school in the city.”

Ford works closely with neighborhood councils and civic organizations to ensure the school’s offerings meet the needs of the community. She said the school’s two dual-language programs are also a draw for many families.

“The dual-language programs in Spanish and Mandarin at our feeder elementary schools are immensely popular with parents,” Ford said. “They really want that learning pipeline to continue into middle and high school, and we’re working hard to provide that.”

Seventh-grader Joaquin Renderos describes Mark Twain’s ‘circle room,’ where students can talk about or seek help for personal challenges. Students say the room contributes to the school’s positive climate.

Tracy Wind has a seventh-grade son, Jack, enrolled at Mark Twain, and two daughters at nearby Grand View Elementary – all enrolled in the Spanish dual-language program.

“Like many parents, we wish we were bilingual,” she said. “In an increasingly global society it’s a must. We would have loved to have had this type of opportunity when we were going to school, and it’s just phenomenal that our children are able to benefit from it.”

Jack Wind led one of the tours for prospective parents, which included stops in the school garden, and the music and arts buildings, where parents learned about the dance programs and the hand bell choir, which performed at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Jack said he especially likes his Spanish immersion classes.

“I like the challenges that it gives me every day,” he said. “We will read about history and culture, and sometimes do the voices and act out the parts. And, it’s 100 percent in Spanish. It keeps me interested in coming to school every day.”

Tonya King and Art Cruz have children at Jack’s former school, Grand View Elementary, and were part of the student’s campus tour group.

“I am a product of the L.A. school district, and this is nothing like the junior high school that I went to,” Cruz said. “We are just blown away by the culture of participation we see here. Everyone is involved, and everywhere you look, there is something to stimulate kids’ minds. And, everyone supports one another. That is just as important as what’s going on in the classroom. We can’t wait for our students to enroll here.”