BCS eighth-grader creates webinars on climate crisis

Published: 24 March 2021 Written by Kaitlyn Huang – Town Crier Editorial Intern

Bullis Charter School student Nyla Hayhoe of Los Altos hopes to educate the community on the climate crisis through a webinar series she launched in January that features expert panelists.

The eighth-grader calls it “Dolphins (Always) Know Best,” a nod to the sci-fi series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Not only was she intrigued by the “Hitchhiker’s” series’ theories on how dolphins are the second most intelligent species, she was inspired by a song in it, “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish,” about dolphins and a human’s obliviousness to the deterioration of the Earth.

“The similarities between the fictional plot and now is uncanny,” Nyla said.

Every month, she converses with experts on climate change. Each webinar runs an average of 45 minutes. 

The next one, set for noon March 27, will feature entomologist, climate activist and equality advocate Esther Ngumbi as well as Christine Evans, author of “Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: The True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter.”

Nyla said working with marine biologists during a field trip to Costa Rica in sixth grade inspired her to create the series. Additionally, learning to set passion-driven goals at school and writing a white paper as a national representative in the global youth-led movement Decarbonize Decolonize drove her to begin her own initiative. She said she realized that “not only people globally are doing it, but that we have the ability to instigate change.”

Change that will help more than humans.

“The whole kind of idea was talking about how animals are the ones who are experiencing this right now,” Nyla said of “Dolphins (Always) Know Best.”

She added that dolphins and animals “always know” the environment the best.

“We must look to them to find our empathy and solutions,” Nyla said.


Through her webinars, Nyla said she hopes to “amplify voices and to educate and inspire change.”

“If people, especially youth, are given a space to be curious and ask questions and get knowledgeable answers in return, we’re able to cultivate a passion and knowledge towards sustainable and systemic change,” she said.

Los Altos resident Grace Lam, who has attended the webinars with her family, added that Nyla tailored them to accommodate a younger audience.

“I think this can be quite abstract for them,” Lam said. “So seeing someone that (my children) know who is passionate about it and has come to a place where she can bring together individuals who are experts in their field, and then share that with our school community and beyond has been really exciting.”

Sarah Flynn, program director for The Centre for Global Education, was also impressed with Nyla’s work.

“She’s very good at facilitating,” Flynn said. “They were lively events and interactive, and the speakers – you could tell they felt relaxed and that it was more of a conversation than it was a lecture.”

The Centre for Global Education runs the Decarbonize Decolonize project with TakingITGlobal, a nongovernmental organization that encourages youth involvement in global issues.

According to Nyla, inviting scientists and experts can help “pull that inspiration.”

“That’s something I’d like to capitalize on, because all of my panelists so far and going forward not only are knowledgeable, but they’re able to share an aspect that we don’t think about.”

Lam added, “I think that it has sort of percolated my son’s interest just because of what they shared.”

Marine biologist Nathan Robinson, who participated as an expert panelist in Nyla’s February webinar, said “it was an honor” to have been part of the panel.

“Nyla is an inspirational future leader, and it’s always fantastic to have the opportunity to talk (and) raise awareness about the ecological issues that our planet is facing,” he said.


Once the pandemic is over, Nyla hopes her initiative can expand beyond webinars and include hands-on projects and fundraising events. However, she said the webinars will remain a fundamental part of “Dolphins (Always) Know Best” because they give experts “a platform to share their views,” which prompts viewer curiosity.

“When you are curious, you start thinking about it more often,” she said.

Growing up surrounded by nature instigated Nyla’s passion for the environment. 

“The Jurassic Coast was my playground, and then going to India all the time you (would) see all of the animals,” she said. “I think it’s just growing up in the environment you grew up in, especially because my family’s really involved with the outdoors and nature.”

Nyla emphasized the need to “learn now” about the environment and take action promptly to preserve it because “we don’t have much time left.”

She added that young people have the largest potential to initiate sustainable change.

“Youth just have this really special way of connecting with something,” she said. “And when they connect with something, they’re able to bring that emotional connection towards a tangible solution.”

Read the article in the Los Altos Town Crier

BCS resumes in-person classes for middle school

December 9, 2020 — Bullis Charter School resumed in-person classes for middle schoolers last week, with students across all grade levels now back on campus at least part time.

The school has brought students back in groups by grade level, with sixth- through eighth-graders resuming in-person classes Dec. 2. Families have had the choice of whether to send their kids back or stay fully remote, with roughly two-thirds opting to stick with online learning. Those figures are roughly the same across grade levels, Superintendent Maureen Israel said.

Rising COVID-19 case counts throughout the county have led to renewed restrictions on many sectors, but schools that were open before Santa Clara County moved into the state’s highest risk tier last month have been allowed to continue operating in person. Because BCS had already begun to bring back grade-level groups, it is allowed to continue.

The middle schoolers who opted into in-person learning are coming back on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while continuing to learn from home the remaining three days. Students are each assigned to a single stable group they remain with throughout the school day.

Many classes are being conducted in person, including specialist subjects such as PE and drama. However, math and foreign language classes are remaining remote, because there are too many different levels that students are split among to be able to maintain stable groups, Israel said.

Students in younger grades had already resumed in-person classes earlier this fall, with fourth- and fifth-graders in a similar part-time model, while kindergarten through third grade students are back five days a week.

Teachers and administrators are working to ensure that students who opted to stay fully remote are at the same place in the curriculum as those who are back in person.

“The aim is to keep all students at the same pace, at the same level, active in the same curriculum,” Israel said.

Thus far, BCS hasn’t seen any students test positive for COVID-19. One staff member recently displayed possible symptoms, but tested negative for the virus. Administrators are closely watching as cases rise throughout the county, Israel said.

If the governor or health officials were to order schools closed, Israel said she believes BCS would be able to use the experience it gained before it reopened to pivot back to fully online learning.

“If we had to go back 100% remote, I feel really confident with the skills of our staff … that they’d be able to make that adjustment very quickly,” she said.

Read the article in the Los Altos Town Crier

BCS Shares Best Practices With Other Schools


Bullis Charter School has been recognized many times for its ingenuity and signature programs for students. Now school officials are using some of that creativity to design a yearlong program to share their best practices with other educators.

Superintendent Wanny Hersey said the school has attracted several visitors – educators from the area and around the world – to observe its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum at work, but they are usually only there for a day or less.

“These people come and we are happy to share, but I wonder if we have any impact,” Hersey said. “What happens when they see this idea? How are they able to replicate it? There is so much more to learn than one can see in a single activity.”

So Hersey joined forces with the Santa Clara County Office of Education to help share the school’s best practices in a more meaningful way – through the program dubbed STEAM: A Practicum on Integrated PBL (Project Based Learning).

Over the summer, Hersey said she charged her staff with creating the practicum to help transform local schools “holistically” through two cohorts – administrators and teachers.

“The best model is something that provides a program that sees (the best practice), tries it out and gets some more support,” she said. “It has to be more long term. It is important to help schools transform, and you need a team of people to do that.”

The goal was to pair an administrator with a teacher so that the two could take what they learned back to their school and district to promote both systematic and curricular change.

The program, which began last month, includes 27 teachers and 14 administrators from Santa Clara County public schools. Hersey said there are educators from the Union Elementary, Evergreen, Cambrian, Berryessa Union, Alum Rock and Santa Clara Unified school districts.

The program requires the two cohorts to visit with the Bullis Charter School team seven times throughout the year – separately and together. Last week, Hersey and her team hosted the administrators, discussing design thinking and viewing two complete STEAM units.

“We’ve been documenting our curriculum so that we can share it,” she said. “We don’t want to let schools think you have to do it all that way, but we want to provide entry points and options for integrating STEAM one step at a time.”

She added that the administrators have to look at things from a broader level. Topics include finances, how to secure funding for programs and lessons, and creating a culture that fosters innovation.

Project-based learning

A key element of the program, according to Hersey, is informing educators of resources they may not have considered using. She said Bullis Charter School and the county are introducing participants to “what is out there and what can be leveraged to improve student learning.”

The teachers will have an opportunity to view the charter school’s project-based learning and STEAM units but will be reviewing them from a different perspective than the administrators.

“We will be building a community with these teacher leaders,” said Jennifer Anderson-Rosse, director of curriculum and special projects at Bullis Charter School. “We will be asking them to try some of what they learned in their classrooms and we will give them access to real people in real time for troubleshooting.”

Teachers will also have the opportunity to interview charter school students and teachers to see what works, Anderson-Rosse said.

A culmination event is planned for May as the school year comes to a close, Hersey said.

For more information, visit bcssteam.weebly.com.

BCS Archery Instruction Hits Target

When Athletic Director Joseph Stark introduced his love of archery to students at Bullis Charter School this year, he hit the bull’s-eye.

“It was a passion of mine,” said Stark, who joined the staff in the fall. “It is something I learned and love, and I know it is accessible to a lot of students, so I thought I should bring it to Bullis.”

Stark taught archery during regular physical education classes, then began to offer it as an afterschool sport.

“Our afterschool athletics program is built around the community interest at our school,” he said. “Archery has been at the top of that list for a long time.”

Participation has been solid, according to Stark, with approximately 60 students enrolled in the afterschool program and 20 regularly attending.

The charter school designed its archery program with National Archery in the Schools (NASP) standards in mind, emphasizing safety and proper technique.

“It’s the second-safest sport behind pingpong,” Stark said. “It may not seem like it, because you are using bows and arrows, but we emphasize safety and steps to succeed.”

Stark trained students to participate in the NASP California Archery Tournament, which requires them to shoot 15 arrows from a distance of 10 meters and 15 from 15 meters. More than 20 students competed in the tournament, individually and as a team. Bullis Charter School eighth-grader Skyler Rosenberg placed third overall with a score of 281.

Archery became one of Skyler’s passions after Stark launched the sport at school. Skyler enrolled in the afterschool program and pursues it outside of class as well.

“I think archery is special because it is one of the sports that is really accessible to everyone,” Stark said. “You are not really held back by any disability – you don’t have to be the most athletically gifted in the world. A lot of it is about patience, focus and concentration.”

Skills learned through archery can be used in everyday life, he added.

“You go out every day and try to better yourself,” Stark said. “There are a lot of kids who understand that. They set their own goals and you see the excitement when they actually reach one.”

Stark said he is fortunate to work at a school that allows him to share his interests with the students.

“You can really see how my passion is reflected in the students’ growth throughout the year – I am lucky to have that,” he said.

Bullis Charter School is First “Future Ready” Local Public School

Teachers Implement Digital Learning Plans Aligned with Best Practices

Members of the Bullis Charter School (BCS) leadership team recently attended the Future Ready Regional Summit in Mountain View, CA to learn how to improve teaching and learning through the effective use of technology. BCS is now certified as a “Future Ready” school – the first local public school to earn this designation.

“We’re so proud to be recognized as a Future Ready school. Technology is woven into every aspect of our curriculum here at BCS because we want our students to be prepared to live and work in a high tech world while also learning how to be safe and responsible digital citizens.”

BCS furthered its commitment to becoming future ready by engaging in a series of workshops that offered expert support to build upon their existing digital learning plan that aligns with instructional best practices. BCS shares the vision with Future Ready schools to prepare students for success in college, a career, and citizenship.

“The Future Ready Regional Summits is a forum where local leaders can share knowledge with their peers, engage leaders from outside their region and better equip themselves with skills and tools necessary to provide students with what they need to be successful in life,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The summits are an important step toward realizing the goals of President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, which is to connect 99 percent of students to high-speed Internet and empower teachers with the technology they need to transform teaching and learning.

“Future ready is about helping district leaders leverage technology to empower teachers, engage students, and close persistent equity gaps by creating a learning environment where all students have access to the tools and expertise they need to be prepared for the future,” said Richard Culatta, director of the Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology (OET).

Since its inception in 2004, BCS has utilized technology with both students and staff to help each individual reach his/her full potential. By partnering with Future Ready schools, BCS is taking the next step in ensuring that all students in grades K-8 benefit from digital learning as part of the core curriculum.

For more information about the OET, including resources for students, parents and educators, visit http://tech.ed.gov. #FutureReady

To download a PDF copy of this press release, click here.

Bullis Charter School Recognized for Digital Citizenship Program

One of Only Three Schools in the State to Meet Criteria for Certification

Common Sense, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids and families thrive in a world of digital media and technology, has recognized Bullis Charter School (BCS) as a Common Sense Digital Citizenship: Certified School for educating its students to be safe, smart, and ethical digital citizens.

BCS has demonstrated its commitment to taking a whole-community approach to preparing its students to use the immense power of digital media to explore, create, connect, and learn, while limiting the perils that exist in the online realm, such as plagiarism, loss of privacy, and cyberbullying.

“We applaud the faculty and staff at BCS for embracing digital citizenship as an important part of their students’ education,” said Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs for Common Sense Education. “BCS deserves high praise for giving its students the foundational skills they need
to compete and succeed in the 21st-century workplace and participate ethically in society at large.”

BCS has been using Common Sense Education’s innovative and research-based digital-citizenship and literacy resources, which were created in collaboration with Dr. Howard Gardner of the GoodPlay Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in every class in grades K-8. The resources teach students, educators, and parents tangible skills related to Internet safety, protecting online reputations and personal privacy, managing online relationships, and respecting creative copyright.

“We’re honored to be recognized as a Common Sense Digital Citizenship: Certified School,” said Wanny Hersey, Superintendent/Principal at BCS. “By preparing our students to use technology safely and responsibly, we are providing them unlimited opportunities to maximize and personalize their learning.”

To learn more about the criteria Bullis Charter School met to become certified as a Common Sense Certified School, visit http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/certification.

To download a PDF copy of this press release, click here.

BCS Students Attend Turtle Camp to Learn Conservation

Fourth- and fifth-graders at Bullis Charter School stepped into the role of teacher last week when they taught kindergarten and first-grade students how they can help save leatherback sea turtles.

The school developed the event, called Turtle Camp, after receiving a $4,000 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ocean (NOAA) Guardian Grant awarded to schools that demonstrate a commitment to protect and conserve local and global waterways.

Jessica Lura, director of strategic initiatives and partnerships at Bullis Charter School, worked with students in her co-curricular class “The Blue Crew,” an elective class focusing on reducing marine debris, to design the Turtle Camp for younger students.

“The NOAA grant allowed us to expand upon our school’s mission to teach our students about the interconnectedness of people and their environments,” Lura said. “It is important for students as young as kindergarten to understand that they have a direct impact on our local waterways, and that small actions can have a big impact on our oceans and marine life – in this case, the survival of the leatherback sea turtles.”

Leatherback sea turtle protection and conservation are part of an Environmental Science unit that all grade levels participate in at Bullis Charter School. Lura and her students wanted to build on their knowledge of leatherback sea turtles and explore the negative effects of marine debris on the health of the oceans.

Fourth- and fifth-graders led the younger students through four activity centers, all focused on different aspects of protecting the oceans. The first station included a world map and an explanation of the gyre in the Pacific Ocean and culminated with students signing a pledge to recycle and use reusable water bottles.

“It was exciting to teach the younger students because it gave them a good chance to learn about how all of their actions affect the ocean,” said Sophy Mintz, a fifth-grader at the charter school. “We wanted them to learn about how harmful even one piece of trash can be in the ocean, and we used interactive activities like a skit at the end of our presentation to help them remember the information.”

Another station included a mini-lesson on how local waterways connect to the ocean. Kindergartners used ocean props and costumes to act out a skit demonstrating how a piece of plastic could eventually harm a leatherback sea turtle.

Students also had a chance to draw and write short notes on ways to help preserve the oceans and marine life. The notes will be mailed to their sister school in Costa Rica later this spring.

BCS Teacher Works With Online Lesson Plan Resource

Bullis Charter School has a new tool in its arsenal this year as it tackles the implementation of Common Core curriculum standards.

Seventh-grade teacher Lisa Stone was one of 200 chosen from among 4,000 applicants for the “Dream Team” assembled by the educational startup LearnZillion. Stone and the other members of the Dream Team worked to create online lesson plans for teachers that are Common Core-aligned.

LearnZillion, an online resource for teachers, offers a growing set of math and English resources for grades 2-12, developed by experienced teachers and connected directly with Common Core State Standards.

Stone spent the summer collaborating with four other teachers and a coach to dissect a Close Reading lesson for seventh-graders.

Her team was given a text selection and tasked with creating a five-day lesson plan around the text that would meet Common Core standards.

“Common Core now says that you need to put text in front of students that is really too hard for them to understand,” she said.

The final product instructs teachers on how to examine a piece of literature, identify what is complex about it and explain what to focus on with the students – step-by-step and at a determined pace.

The resource is valuable for teachers because it not only provides them with the lesson, but also offers real-time professional development, Stone said.

“It really teaches how to engage in metacognition,” she said. “It models for teachers how to teach these types of habits of mind.”

The lesson plans include instructional videos that teachers can use in the classroom or as part of their lesson preparation. The videos for each lesson are free and available to teachers, students and parents.

LearnZillion’s premium service provides details on how to build a unit around the Common Core concept. The end product of The Dream Team’s work is a textbooklike resource for schools and their districts that addresses the requirements of Common Core.

Common Core spells out the benchmarks and concepts that students need to learn, but leaves how to get there up to teachers. That’s where LearnZillion steps in.

“The focus of LearnZillion is on the metacognition – what are the building blocks you need to build up to the requirements of Common Core,” Stone said.

Because Stone served on LearnZillion’s Dream Team of teachers over the summer, Bullis Charter School benefits from the website’s premium service – equipping teachers with many different Common Core lessons to select and implement this school year.

“I think it is part of my job to help teachers become the best they can be,” she said. “Part of the reason why I chose to do this was because I need to go outside of my school and scale my impact.”

For more information, visit LearnZillion.com.

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.