Bullis Reaches Milestone

The very first class of students to make its way from first through eighth grade at Bullis Charter School matriculated last week.

“This is a particularly exciting event for us,” Wanny Hersey, superintendent and principal of BCS, said of the milestone, which was commemorated with a June 7 afternoon ceremony. “Not only has it been an extremely successful class, in terms of academic achievement, but the students were also the ones who helped us pioneer our innovative curriculum.”

Six of the 24 graduating students in the eighth­grade class of 2012 started their academic careers at Bullis, winding their way all the way up through the school’s “comprehensive and integrated” program, Hersey said.

Hearing the students speak at the commencement ceremony was vindicating for Hersey, who said it was great to watch “a very full, well­balanced, articulate group of young people who are able to really recognize the benefits of the special program they were involved with.”

That “special program,” according to the charter school’s mission statement “offers a collaborative, experimental learning environment that emphasizes individual student achievement and inspires children, faculty and staff to reach beyond themselves.” According to Hersey, the school’s faculty and staff aim to create 21st century citizens, ready to excel in a variety of fields ­­ not just one specialized area of expertise. The world today demands that young people entering the workforce be comfortable working on their own or on teams, and understanding right­brained “creatives,” left­brained analytical thinkers, and all types of people in between.

To prepare students to be able to thrive in the modern world, school officials designed a curriculum where all classes ­­ from science to history to art to writing ­­ intersect and overlap. Additionally, students learn from mentors in the fields they are studying. Application developers, biologists, engineers and finance experts all have visited classes at Bullis.

Lynn Steffens, who sent all four of her daughters to Bullis, said the school’s integrated approach clearly made a difference in the development of her children, especially her youngest ­­ the only one to go through her entire primary education at the charter school.

Steffens, who was able to compare her older daughters’ experiences against her youngest, said the integrated program at Bullis took her kids “a lot deeper” than traditional school programs. The overlapping curriculum and size of the school also make for a much more intimate learning experience, where all of the teachers know all of the students, she said.

“When the kids are going through it, over time they really get to know the whole school community,” she said. “It makes a big difference throughout the year. That’s a very hard thing for a traditional school to do regardless of the caliber of the school.”

Perhaps the biggest difference Steffens noted with her youngest child was the positive attitude she had about school. When she asked her older daughters how their day went, all she would get in return was a grunt.

“My youngest gets in the car and says, ‘This is what we’re working on in school and did you know this, mom?'” she said. “She is so engaged in the academics and she is excited to learn more.”

“They just hold themselves to a higher expectation at that school,” Steffens said.

Most of the BCS eighth ­grade graduates will attend high schools in Los Altos, Mountain View or Palo Alto.

Bullis Holds Its First Graduation

After a busy year visiting China, London and Costa Rica, 24 eighth-graders at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos said goodbye yesterday, becoming the first graduating class from the charter school since its founding in 2003. It was an occasion that school leaders had been anticipating for the past nine years.

“You’ve paved the way for thousands of other students who will follow you,” said school board member John Phelps, whose daughter, Sonnet, was among the school’s 24 graduating eighth-graders.

“You are examples of what’s possible in public education,” Phelps added. According to Principal Wanny Hersey, the charter school was formed nine years ago as an alternative to the structured learning environment of standard public schools.

“We didn’t want to do what everybody else was doing,” Hersey said in a speech to eighth-grade students and their parents.

A unique approach

Jim Kermode, eighth-grader Gina Kermode’s father, said that the school took a diverse approach to education — one that “folds in all of the different subjects” into one classroom.

Graduating student Caroline Steffens said she thought the school’s unique approach to learning was one of its greatest strengths and one she would miss when attending high school next year.

“The thing I’m going to miss most about BCS is the learning environment,” Steffens said in a video played to the audience at the ceremony.

Over the course of the year, eighth-grade students had the opportunity to travel to China, to learn about pandas and diverse cultures; London, to learn about Shakespeare and American beginnings; and Costa Rica, to learn about Leatherback sea turtles.

The trip to China was student Ian Davoren’s favorite memory.

“We got to see their homes and their neighborhoods, which were really affected by the earthquake,” Davoren said, referring to the deadly 7.1-magnitude earthquake that hit western China in April.

Despite the fun-filled year, Karna Chelluri said what he would miss the most was his close-knit eighth-grade classmates.

“Having just 24 kids in your class, you get to know all of them,” Chelluri said. “And I’m really going to miss them.”

Right before they received their diplomas, the students serenaded parents and school officials with the song “I’ll Always Remember You,” by Miley Cyrus.

On to high school

And, although it was sad for students to say good- bye to a familiar campus and the friends they made while on it, they were also glad to be taking the leap to high school.

“We’re just very excited,” said Jim Kermode, whose daughter, Gina, had just received her diploma. Kermode said that his daughter will attend Los Altos High School next year.

As the students move on to different campuses, Principal Hersey hoped that they would carry Bullis’ values with them.

“My dream for you is that you will always continue to live life with passion and wonder, every single day,” Hersey said.

Bullis Graduates Its First 8th Grade Class Thursday

Caroline Steffens, 14, sits with her classmate, Gina Kermode,13, and looks around at the pale yellow portable buildings, the playing fields just beyond them, the garden behind her.

This is their house, Bullis Charter School. It’s all so familiar to the reigning 8th graders. And it’s all going to change soon.

“I’ve been on this campus my entire life, I always think about that,” she said. That’s nine years for Caroline, who started as a kindergartener when Santa Rita School was temporarily housed at this location, and the charter school was being planned. It’s been eight years, for Gina, who came the year after. Both agree, it’s been a great place to grow.

On Thursday, Caroline and Gina will join 22 of their classmates at BCS and become its first 8th grade graduating class, completing a dream for the program held since the school doors opened in 2004.

Their first-grade class had only 20 students that inaugural year, six of whom are graduating with the 8th grade class. The entire K-6 school had 170 children then.

They’ve seen a lot of changes, they said. Good changes.

“We have more people, new play structures, more lawn,” said Caroline.

“With experience, the curriculum gets better and better, said Gina. “I like that it’s small enough that you know everyone but not too small. It’s the right size.”

This week, with graduation on their minds, they took a moment to reflect on their experiences.

The teacher-student relationships. The ability to give feedback and see adjustments made to improve their learning. The opportunities.

“I think of all the opportunities that were given me,” Caroline said. “I definitely learned about passions I want to pursue.”

And they’ve learned a lot about themselves and their learning. They have become used to giving feedback—to their teachers, to their peers—and seeing adjustments made, or making them themselves in their group work.

“Group work and project work is big at our school,” Gina said “It’s important to work as a team. Project work is important, too, to learn how to meet deadlines.”

In the small groups they work in, they’ve learned to hold each other accountable if there is slack off, and find other tasks to assign.

They like that teachers make adjustments if the individual is having difficulty learning a certain way. Caroline was having difficulty in history last year, and benefited from her teacher giving her tools that gave her other ways to understand the concepts. In science class, Gina said, students got a special paper to work with for notes. “I said, this is not going to work for me,” she said. On the other hand, it worked really well for Caroline, making her notes more organized. The teacher’s response was to ask other kids whether they experienced the same problem, and made it an option to use the new paper.

The teacher-student relationships have been key, said Caroline. It’s allowed her to learn so much better. And teachers care, both girls agreed, giggling about how their teacher even taught them a little ditty about the quadratic formula they could sing to themselves during the STAR test to help cue them through their nervousness.

And they’ve been given opportunities to create and take charge in a big way. During intercession last year, they were given the Bus Barn

Theater to use, and asked to put on “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream.” By themselves. Casting, sets, rehearsals, everything.

“You support these educators and give them resources they need and they fly—and the kids fly,” said Bullis principal Wanny Hersey.

“This is a group of students who are supportive of each other … they learn how to set goals, how to reflect and adjust, they learn that failure is an opportunity.

“That’s what I see.”

When the year first started, Gina said she was thinking far ahead. “In the beginning I thought, ‘The faster I get out of here the better,” she said. Now, she’s feeling excited and nervous and nostalgic.

“It’s really like a family, I really started to notice that this year,” she said. “I’m going to miss how everyone is so close.”

The coming year brings high school, a move from “the small fishbowl” to “the big lake,” they agreed. Trepidations aside, they’re ready. Graduation, no doubt, will be cool.

“I’ve been proud of all the things I’ve done here,” Caroline said. “There’s not one thing I wished I’d done. I have no regrets.”