A Summer Boost For Kids

Fighting off the summer brain drain can be tough for families that can’t afford expensive summer camps, but two parents from Bullis Charter School are looking to turn that around with a free summer camp for at-risk elementary school kids in the community.

Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp is a free, week-long day camp for disadvantaged youth in the Mountain View and Los Altos communities. Hosted at the Bullis Charter School campus, it runs through the week of July 28 and has 50 campers going into second, third and fourth grades this year — nearly double last year’s number — including kids from free and reduced lunch programs and families that rely on food assistance from the Community Services Agency.

On Tuesday, dozens of kids donning yellow camp T-shirts crowded around tables full of brown sugar, carrots and eggs for a muffin-making activity.

“This is the first time cooking for some of these kids,” said Martha McClatchie, one of the two camp directors.

Before the campers make muffins, they have an indoor lesson about how to measure ingredients, and the difference between teaspoons, tablespoons and cups. Parents take home the batter and bake the muffins overnight, and kids can see their results the next day. Depending on how things go, kids might get their muffins back a little deflated, or the carrots might be too chunky, but McClatchie said kids are proud to bring their muffins home to show off to their families.

The camp has a broad curriculum that goes well beyond muffin-making, covering math, science and literature. On Monday, volunteers from Explorabox, a nonprofit science education group, came in to teach kids about electricity in a program called “Watt’s up with electricity?” In one activity, the campers rub balloons against a carpeted surface and hold them above their head to watch how static electricity pulls their hair skyward.

The kids were also taught about motors, solar energy, and mechanisms like the Van de Graaff generator — not a light curriculum. McClatchie said her hope is that through these lessons, some of the information will stick.

“They might hear about the Van de Graaff generator and say, ‘Hey, I know what that is,'” she said.

McClatchie, along with Grace Yang, started the camp last year to provide a summer camp option for disadvantaged youth — specifically English language learners — in the community. McClatchie said kids learning English lose a lot of progress during the summer months, especially in homes where English is not commonly spoken. Camp counselors read out loud to groups of students, which McClatchie said helps avoid what she calls the “summer slide” for those students.

She said they coordinated with Craig Goldman, superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District, to reach out to at-risk children who could use the free summer camp the most. She said a number of kids were referred to them from Beyond the Bell — an after-school program that provides help with homework and academic activities. About 70 percent of the campers are from Mountain View.

Teachers from Castro Elementary School and Bullis Charter School donate their time to teach classes at the camp, along with 16 counselors from nearby middle and high schools, according to Yang. The camp also has a number of Spanish translators on-site, specifically when kids are being picked up or dropped off so they can communicate with parents, family members and caregivers.

Local food vendors also donate free lunch and snacks for the camp, including Whole Foods, The Counter, Spot Pizza, ChoiceLunch and Smitten Ice Cream. On Tuesday, the camp took a field trip to Smitten to learn how ice cream can be made very cold using liquid nitrogen.

Along with food vendors, a number of other groups have supported the program through whatever services they can provide. Educacy, a nonprofit education advocacy group, has been a fiscal sponsor and KidzJet, a transportation company, provided the camp with a good deal on vans to transport the campers.

McClatchie said all these groups have come together to help make the camp a fun and meaningful experience for kids who wouldn’t normally have access to summer camps.

“There’s a lot of people who understand that this is an important thing to do.”

BCS Hosts Junior Olympics for Area Charter Schools

The fourth biennial Bullis Charter School Invitational Junior Olympics drew a crowd of nearly 1,000 student-athletes and spectators June 1 at Foothill College.

The event is the only athletic competition of its kind in the area for students who attend charter schools. In addition to Bullis Charter School, participating schools included Charter School of Morgan Hill, Livermore Valley Charter School, Voices College-Bound Language Academy, Rocketship Discovery Prep and Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary School.

“I can’t believe how amazing this event is,” said Sandra Lopez, parent of a student at Voices College-Bound Language Academy. “This is such a wonderful opportunity for all the children to experience something of this caliber – it feels like the real Olympics.”

Darcie Green, member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education Board, kicked off the event by welcoming the crowd during the opening ceremony, which featured a performance of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the entrance of all student-athletes onto the track and a choreographed rhythmic gymnastics routine starring students from first through eighth grades. Students carried a ceremonial Olympic torch, which traveled to all of the competing schools in the weeks leading up to the event.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to bring charter schools together for an event that promotes athletics and sportsmanship,” said Wanny Hersey, superintendent and principal of Bullis Charter School. “It is important for us to work together with our fellow charters not just in improving academic education for children, but in developing the whole child through events like this that incorporate goal-setting, resiliency and strong character.”

The daylong competition included traditional track and field events plus an egg and spoon race, a beanbag toss, a soccer-kick battle and a basketball shootout. Four local Olympians handed out medals to the event winners – including gold medalist Keshia Baker, who won the 4×400-meter relay at the 2012 Summer Games in London.

“I love that I get to come out here and support something that I enjoy doing and to see students and parents participating in activities that encourage a healthy lifestyle,” Baker said. “It’s important that it doesn’t end here, but that families go home and keep running, jogging and being active.”

BCS Celebrates 10 Years, State Recognition

More than 1,000 supporters gathered at Bullis Charter School May 22 to mark the school’s 10th anniversary.

Guests included alumni, founding families, current families, incoming families, charter school board members, representatives from the California Charter School Association and local elected officials.

The evening included a picnic dinner, photo booths, tile painting, an art show featuring the work of every student and a Maker- Space showcase.

Principal and Superintendent Wanny Hersey addressed the crowd briefly before they joined in singing “Happy Birthday” and cut the anniversary cake.

Following the cake presentation, a group of teachers, parents and students surprised the audience with a flash-mob dance to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

“It was very special for us to see over a thousand people from our local community come together to celebrate how far Bullis Charter School has come over the last 10 years,” said Vivian Lufkin, a charter school parent who helped organize the celebration. “As a community, we tend to move quickly from one thing to another, and it was important for us all to take a moment to celebrate what we have created here – a truly remarkable educational experience for the children in Los Altos.”

Distinguished School

Its 10th anniversary wasn’t the only achievement the charter school group celebrated. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recently named Bullis Charter School a California Distinguished School.

The school’s signature Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) curriculum and personalized learning in the form of Focused Learning Goals qualified it as a Distinguished School. The charter school is one of only 14 schools recognized for an Exemplary Program in Visual and Performing Arts Education.

“I am really proud of how diverse our recognitions are for the Distinguished School award – it is a tremendous honor for us and shows the breadth and depth of what we offer at Bullis Charter School,” Hersey said. “Not only are we being recognized for our robust Visual and Performing Arts program, but also for our STEAM curriculum and Focused Learning Goals. It is a testament to the strength of our staff members and school culture that we are able to thrive in these different areas of instruction.”

The California Distinguished Schools Program recognizes schools whose signature practices demonstrate a commitment and an innovative approach to improving student achievement. The practices are shared with public schools across the state to improve education for all students. Torlakson added the Exemplary Program in Arts Education Award in 2013 as part of his initiative to redesign statewide learning.

“Bullis Charter School has a very diverse Visual and Performing Arts program with extremely high performance standards and outstanding administrative support and program design,” said Jack Mitchell, educational programs consultant for the state Department of Education, after he observed music, choir, drama and art classes at the charter school. “During my visit, I saw confident, self-assured students thriving in an environment of extremely high artistic expectations.”

Rhonda Beasley, coordinator for English language arts and literacy at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, also evaluated the STEAM and Focused Learning Goals programs at Bullis Charter School.

“When the authors of the new Common Core State Standards came together to create this whole new movement of really changing the education world for the better, I think this is what they had in mind – for all kids, for every kid in every corner of this country,” she said.

Volunteers Help Seniors With Tech Tools

More than 60 local seniors improved their abilities to use personal computing devices at “Tech Day for Older Adults” at the Los Altos Senior Center May 17.

The free service project was co-hosted by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s David Druker Center for Health Systems Innovation linkAges TimeBank and the Los Altos Recreation Department. Partners included the Egan Junior High School PTA, the Bullis Charter School Booster Club, the Center for Age Friendly Excellence and the Stanford Alumni Association.

An estimated 80 volunteers taught seniors how to chat with friends and family via Skype and FaceTime; create a Facebook account; use laptops, tablets and smartphones; and participate in the linkAges TimeBank, a free service exchange network for all ages.

The event included residents of a range of ages, from teens to 80s.

“This is an amazing showcase of how technology is cementing the generations,” said Janet Corrigan, a Stanford alumna and attorney with Intel Corp. “Each generation has something to offer.”

Egan Junior High and Bullis Charter School students appreciated the interaction with seniors.

“At first, I was a little shy working with someone I didn’t know,” said Bullis Charter School sixth-grader Sebastian Vargas. “But I enjoyed teaching (a senior) how to FaceTime with his grandson on the East Coast. It was also cool to hear about what life was like when he was a kid.”

Kim Albright, Egan PTA president, praised the partnerships formed to host the event.

“We are glad to partner with the Bullis Boosters Club and linkAges TimeBank to facilitate this unique opportunity to serve and interact with a different generation of adults … right here in our own community,” she said.

A team from the Druker Center provided information on the components of linkAges, a multigenerational network that supports aging in the community. Members of the linkAges TimeBank were on hand to put into practice their community-building skills with seniors.

Alan Baker helped a senior optimize network connectivity and performed a general computer tuneup.

“TimeBanking is a great community builder in places where you didn’t know there was a community,” he said.

According to organizers, “Tech Day for Older Adults” embodied the concept of linkAges – linking ages for intergenerational teaching, learning and building community.

“These multigenerational exchanges and networks help to build a better future and change lives,” said Los Altos resident Anabel Pelham, professor of gerontology at San Francisco State University and founding director of the Center for Age-Friendly Excellence.

Developing Tomorrow’s Talent

People today generally agree that the goal of education is to convey knowledge. But if all the world’s knowledge is instantaneously available online via a mobile device, how does that affect what we need to teach in schools and through other educational channels?

Education is becoming less about acquiring knowledge and more about how to analyze, evaluate, validate and use the unlimited information that is available to us. We will need to teach more critical thinking, collaboration and social skills. Perhaps we will not teach answers, but how to ask the right questions.

Technology’s effect on education over the past decade has been transformative. As the Internet of Everything gains traction, that effect will continue to expand. The networked connections among people, processes, data and things will change not only how and where education is delivered, but will also prompt educators to reconsider what students need to learn, and why. As technology and networking become increasingly critical to businesses of all types across all industries, there is growing demand for individuals with specialized technology skills.

As an example, the top 10 jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004 (e.g.: Social Media/Online Manager, Sustainability Manager, SEO Optimization Specialist, etc.). These changes mean that students are currently learning information and processes that may well be outdated by the time they enter the workforce. How can the education and private sectors prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist?

Looking into innovative methods for advancing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education, Los Altos’ Bullis Charter School came to my attention. Bullis is helping students build an interest and comfort level with technology, innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration through personalized education and focused learning goals for every K-8 student. The curriculum is centered on building the critical skills of problem solving, creativity and critical thinking.

Teachers at Bullis employ project-based learning assignments that marry instruction with hands-on learning and individual, as well as team, efforts to create an immersive and whole-brain experience that will serve these students well as they face an uncertain, ever-changing technology landscape. This early and steady exposure to STEAM subjects encourages more students to consider careers in these critical fields.

Bullis Charter School’s individualized, innovative approach to learning represents one way in which current educational standards must be transformed in order to meet the challenges of filling technology jobs. Below is a video of my conversations with Bullis’ principal Wanny Hersey, as well as teachers and students — watch and let us know your thoughts on transforming educational content and methodologies.

BCS Choir Earns ‘Superior’ At Festival

Bullis Charter School choir students participated in the annual California Music Educators Association festival earlier this month, receiving “Unanimous Superior” rankings – the highest score possible.

Each of the school’s five choirs, spanning grades 1-8, performed three pieces, adjudicated by three different judges. The choirs, which included beginning and intermediate levels, earned the highest rankings possible from each judge.

Sonore (comprising students in grades 4-6) and Mattiniere (grades 7 and 8), the intermediate-level groups, were tested on their sight-reading abilities. The choirs had to sing a two- to three-part song they had never seen before. Both choruses garnered “Superior” grades.

BCS Nominated for Blue Ribbon Designation

The California Department of Education recently nominated Bullis Charter School for National Blue Ribbon School distinction, recognition bestowed on only 35 of the nearly 11,000 schools in the state.

The nomination comes as the charter school celebrates its 10th anniversary. Since its founding a decade ago, the school has consistently ranked as the highest-performing public school in Los Altos, and among the top three elementary charter schools in the state.

“This nomination is a tremendous honor for our school, and it validates the strength of our programs, the dedication of our educators and the tireless support of our parent community,” said Wanny Hersey, superintendent/principal of Bullis Charter School. “For 10 years, our mission has been to provide a well-rounded education for every student who walks through our door – one that is tailored to meet individual academic needs while also inspiring passions and instilling a life-long love of learning. This nomination reaffirms our commitment to showing what is possible in public education.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon program recognizes schools – public and private elementary, middle and high schools – annually in an ongoing effort to illuminate best practices in education across the country. If Bullis Charter School receives the award, it will join the nearly 7,000 other school organizations given National Blue Ribbon status since the program’s inception more than 30 years ago.

Bullis Charter School was recognized as a California Distinguished School in 2008 and is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Bullis Charter Eighth-Graders Display Their Architectural Skills

Eighth-grade students at Bullis Charter School presented 3-D architectural designs to a panel of judges Jan. 31 for the nationwide 2014 School of the Future Design Competition.

The Council of Educational Facility Planners International, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Institute of Architects and more than 20 additional organizations co-sponsor the annual competition, open to middle schoolers.

Bullis Charter School students used the Design Thinking process and technologies available in the the school’s FabLab to design environmentally responsive school sites during their Architectural Design and Engineering intersession, part of the core curriculum at the charter school.

Roxanne Lanzot, an eighth-grade science and math teacher with a background in architecture, led the project.

“The entire process mirrored what happens in the architecture and design industry,” she said. “From developing a program of requirements to designing on Google SketchUp to printing building models on the laser cutter, students worked in real dimensions and had to scale each piece before printing.”

Lanzot added that students learned a “tremendous amount” about sustainable structures and healthy buildings, which began with data collection and observation at their current school site.

Students were tasked with designing a school or classroom that facilitates a high-performance learning environment, incorporates sustainable features, engages the community and is responsive to the environment. The school models included features such as skyways instead of traditional walking paths, green roofs, organic gardens, community facilities (pools, dance studios, technology labs and art rooms), geothermal heating, quartzite walls, solar-panel shades and a geodesic dome structure.

The panel of judges included Torrey Wolff, campus space planner at Stanford University, and Suett Wong, interior designer at GoGo Creations. All the student entrants made presentations before the panel selected the design that will continue to the regional round of the competition.

“Every student had a phenomenal beginning understanding of the different environmentally responsive design options,” Wolff said. “It was clear to me that the students realized the importance of supporting the larger environment they live in. Their school designs showed that these students were really thinking about how an institution relates to its broader community, a major factor in any architecture and design project.”

Wong said she was “amazed” at the amount of in-depth learning students gained from the project in a short amount of time.

“For these young students to take this project from an idea to a scale model was really impressive,” she said. “I am so proud of everything they did.”

Full STEAM Ahead: BCS Program Integrates Art and Science Disciplines

Bullis Charter School’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) initiative, a staple at the 10-year-old school, integrates art into the sciences.

“Our art specialist has worked closely across grade levels and across disciplines to design integrated units of study since he began working here nine years ago,” said Superintendent/Principal Wanny Hersey.

This year, according to Hersey, the charter school has taken STEAM to a new level with the addition of the FabLab and MakerSpace, which offer all students access to the latest technologies and the opportunity to learn from experts in their fields.

On the school’s second site – the Bullis Center for Innovation – Hersey and her staff have implemented a STEAM program designed to support and enhance the traditional grade-level curriculum.

In the sixth grade, for example, students studied early man in social studies, which laid the groundwork for their first design-thinking challenge of the year – creating a topographical map that shows the ideal setting for survival in prehistoric times. After much collaboration among grade-level teachers, the art specialist and the FabLab director, students applied their historical knowledge using their newly acquired 3-D rendering software skills to create prototypes designed to scale by incorporating math standards in the planning stages.

The exploration of early man continued in art, where students studied and re-created cave paintings and stone art, with a goal to deepen their understanding of the historical period.

After completing the design challenge, students wrote a historical fiction narrative about early man.

Sixth-grade teacher Dan Gross said the results impressed him.

“I was blown away by how well the students mastered the content,” he said. “Paper and pencil learning can only go so deep, but this design challenge allowed all students to be engaged in their own learning, and they got to do that in a way that prepares them for life in the 21st century.”

Charter School Teacher Creates National Hands of Hope for Sandy Hook Lesson

To commemorate the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Bullis Charter School teacher Jessica Lura developed a lesson for students to enable discussion of the tragedy.

Lura serves on the board of teachers for UClass.org, a website that specializes in sharing Common Core lesson plans across the Internet. Because she has taught first- through eighth-graders, UClass leaders asked her to design a lesson appropriate for a range of age groups.

“It is such a difficult subject to talk about because it is a balance between wanting to honor what happened without freaking out the students,” Lura said.

The lesson, intended for fourth-graders and up, addresses the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook in Newton, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead. The lesson includes a short film clip of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) addressing Congress on gun violence.

Then the conversation shifts to what students can do.

“I think it’s really important for students to feel like they have some ownership over the tragedies, because otherwise they feel helpless,” Lura said. “I really wanted to make sure my students came out of this saying, ‘It’s a tragedy, but we really want to move forward’ and get something out of it.”

After investigating other responses to the Sandy Hook shootings, Lura introduced Hands of Hope for Sandy Hook, a project that includes students making hand-shaped cutouts with their hopes for the future regarding the control of violence in the U.S. written on them.

“The hands are a visual symbol that says (to the victims of the tragedy), ‘We are with you, we sympathize and we are going to do something to change it,’” Lura said.

Each student wrote what was most important to him or her, such as: “I hope for a safer future.” “I hope people who are mentally ill receive the help they need.” “I hope for stricter gun laws.” “I hope for a safer United States,” etc.

Agents of change

“Unfortunately, school violence is a part of our lives today, and it’s really important for students to know that they can be agents of change,” Lura said. “It’s important for them to know how to be smart about gun violence and being smart about being a citizen today – part of that includes hard discussions about what is happening and what are we going to do to change it.”

An extension for older students includes looking at ways students can effect change regarding violence locally.

Bullis Charter School fourth- through eighth-graders participated in creating Hands of Hope, which has spread across the U.S. The goal was to get at least 5,000 Hands of Hope created by the recent anniversary of the tragedy.

Nicole Hockley, mother of Dylan, a kindergartner who died at Sandy Hook last year, has viewed the messages students submitted through the UClass website.

“Nearly one year after my 6-year-old son Dylan and 19 of his classmates lost their lives, it is important for students not only to remember the tragedy that occurred in Newtown that day, but also to express their hopes for safer schools and communities,” said Hockley, founding member of Sandy Hook Promise. “Our students deserve to learn and grow in an environment free of the threats that many American children sadly face.”

Giffords, a victim of gun violence herself, also has viewed the students’ messages.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage and new ideas,” Giffords said. “We are proud to bring students together to honor the lives lost in the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and encourage them to envision an America that is both free and safe.”

To view the full lesson, visit uclass.org/handsofhope.