Local Parents Organize Summer Camp Experience for Those in Need

A group of Bullis Charter School parents established the Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp to provide a summer camp experience for underserved local students.

The camp, in its second year, offers a free, weeklong program for second- through fourth-graders from the Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman school districts.

Charter school parents Martha McClatchie and Grace Yang co-founded the camp, which ran last week at the charter school on the Egan Junior High School campus.

“We do outreach to populations that wouldn’t normally get to attend summer camp,” said McClatchie, who is also a candidate for the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees. “We really believe that in the summer, kids need something going on in their lives.”

And the timing of the camp is intentional, Yang added.

“Having the camp when we have it – two weeks before school starts – and just getting kids back in that mindset brings a real confidence when they come back to school in two weeks,” she said.

Yang and McClatchie stressed that the camp takes a village to host. The pair estimated that there are as many volunteers as there are campers – 50 – devoting hundreds of volunteer hours.

The campers enjoy a small-group experience, with a ratio of approximately 6:1 in the classroom.

Assisting are 14 volunteer counselors from local high schools and a number of volunteers from Explorabox and i3, who oversee science and math activities.

Explorabox, a nonprofit organization based in Los Altos, produces science-in-a-box kits that encourage students to participate in hands-on activities. Explorabox donated its boxes and volunteers to the camp.

i3, a group of Stanford University mechanical engineering students, volunteered to conduct science experiments and math games with campers.

A thirst for learning

In addition to the daily language arts, math and science activities the camp offers, students took a field trip to Deer Hollow Farm, where they identified plants and animals and connected them with their camp curriculum.

“I love watching the kids’ reactions and watching them learn right in front of my face,” said Mary Porter, a senior who volunteers with the camp. “This is an outstanding camp for the kids. If you watch their faces during the day, you see their faces change because they get hot and tired – but they are always so excited to see what comes next.”

Yang said student engagement is part of what makes the Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp unique.

“All of our kids are so well behaved and so eager to learn, and that is unusual to see in many camps,” she said. “They are thirsty to learn, and they just need the opportunities.”

The camp is a true volunteer effort, McClatchie said. The only paid staff members are the two teachers, one from Castro School and another from the charter school.

Local organizations, including Linden Tree Books, Whole Foods Market, The Counter, LuLu’s, Spot Pizza, Choice Lunch, Smitten Ice Cream, Explorabox and the Kiwanis Club of Los Altos, donated supplies, lunches and money to offset camp expenses.

In the future, McClatchie and Yang said they want to create a “camp-in-a-box” model to share with other school districts.

“All you need is a group of dedicated parents to get started,” McClatchie said.

For more information, visit bullisboosterscamp.org.

Teaching Today for 21st Century Skills

It is estimated that over the next 10 years there will be two million unfilled ICT-related jobs globally, correlating with a projected talent gap of 8.2 percent by 2022. The 2014 Cisco Annual Security Report indicates a shortage of more than a million security professionals across the globe in 2014. In light of these projections, collaboration and dedication to meeting the critical demand for high-skill workers through strategic programs and collaborations for current and future generations will be needed.

Wanny Hersey, Principal of Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, has specific ideas about how to serve students in light of current and emerging technologies. She and her teachers have worked and thought hard to create an educational culture that prepares students for success in a world that will look quite different than it currently does. Students are learning critical skills that span how to be creative in problem solving, how to work together and how to understand the value of the learning process. Through project based learning, not only are students learning practical skills, but they are learning what questions to ask so they can create things that are solving the problems of the future.

An emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and creative skills will need to be central to curricula if we hope to fill critical talent shortages. Innovative, personalized approaches to education, such as the idea introduced at the Bullis School of “Focused Learning Goals” for every K-8 student based on each student’s unique needs, will be critical. As Wanny says, “Children learn at different rates.” They may also display mastery of a topic in different ways, so assessment of students must become individualized as well.

To help students feel comfortable with technology, Bullis has developed technology-focused Project Based Learning Units for each grade level, as well as design projects that require an age-appropriate level of technology proficiency. Eighth-graders also participate in longer projects each year that focus on STEAM subjects. The students must be able to explain their projects to a group and answer questions as well. As teacher Jessica Lura notes, “If you can’t explain it, you didn’t learn it.” This is one of the innovative methods Bullis uses to ensure immersion and mastery of a topic, and one that I hope other educational institutions will adopt soon.

STEAM education is not merely for students interested in pursuing careers in these fields. All jobs will be impacted by these changes, even non-high tech roles, regardless of industry. Robotics, automation, Big Data, analytics and security (both physical and cyber security) will become part of all of our daily lives. Workers of all stripes will need to be trained, skilled and experienced with technology.

Bullis Charter School provides a model of the kinds of individualized, whole-child learning approaches that will equip students with the skills our connected world requires. Watch the video below of my conversations with Wanny and Jessica and share your ideas on transforming the educational process to better prepare the workforce of tomorrow.