Bullis Charter student speaks at conference on climate change

Bullis Charter School eighth-grader Keshav Shah attends the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference in Canada with teacher Michelle Sanfilippo in early March.

Bullis Charter School eighth-grader Keshav Shah and a group of fellow student representatives received a standing ovation for the paper they presented at the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, held March 5-7 in Edmonton, Alberta.

Sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the conference was designed to assess academic and practice-based knowledge related to cities and climate change.

At the conference, Keshav met with 14 other student representatives from Ghana, Kenya, India, China, Slovenia, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Indonesia and Peru. He was the only student representing the U.S.

Keshav and approximately 30 of his Bullis Charter School classmates have participated in the school’s #Decarbonize: Decolonize club since last summer. The purpose of the club is to connect youth around the world to conduct research and develop policy recommendations and action on climate change.

Bullis Charter School sixth-grade teacher Michelle Sanfilippo traveled with Keshav to Edmonton for the conference.

The student delegation secured a two-hour presentation slot at the conference, where Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Alberta Lt. Gov. Lois Mitchell sat in the front row.

Keshav and his peers discussed how poor, indigenous populations must be included in the climate change conversation. They advocated for incorporating climate change curriculum in all subjects worldwide and suggested project-based learning as a tool to achieve their goal. The projects would have real-life applications and would connect students with their local communities.

The students said school facilities should align with what students are learning in class about climate change by integrating solar panels, green walls and eco-friendly materials. They also emphasized the importance of social media, noting its ubiquitous power to connect youth and spread their ideas about climate change.

After their presentation, the students participated with scientists, politicians and city architects in a roundtable discussion.

Iveson was so impressed with the voices of the youth that in his closing ceremony speech, he shared their paper with the entire conference.

Keshav said the highlight of his trip to Edmonton was working with students from all over the world.

“This experience inspired me to continue working to combat climate change,” he said. “I know of the different ways climate change is affecting people across the globe. I can use this information to continue my interactions with this issue. I will be presenting my white paper at other conferences as well.”

Bullis Charter students hit a high note

Bullis Charter School students sing at the Winter Choral Concert at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto.

Bullis Charter School students in grades K-8 and across five different choir ensembles performed at various concerts and festivals over the holiday season.

The fourth- and fifth-grade advanced choir, Sonore, performed John Williams’ “Somewhere in My Memory” at the downtown Los Altos Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony Dec. 1. The following week, 270 students from the school’s elective choirs sang at the Winter Choral Concert at  First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto. In addition to Sonore, Treble Voices (first- through third-graders), G Clef (fourth- and fifth-graders), Cambiata (sixth- through eighth-graders) and Melodia (the sixth- through eighth-grade advanced choir) performed a variety of winter choral music with the theme “What Sweeter Music.”

Students in grades K-8 also joined teachers and parents in a holiday sing-along. Choir director David Belles said students have the opportunity to have a real choir experience throughout their entire time at the Bullis Charter School, studying high-quality choral repertoire, receiving authentic vocal instruction and participating in many different types of choral performances.

“Participating successfully in these activities, some of which may be outside their comfort zone, allows our students to stretch themselves in new and unique ways that might otherwise remain outside their experience,” he said.

BCS fourth-graders chat with Chelsea Clinton

Bullis Charter School fourth-grader Aidan Free introduces Chelsea Clinton to classmates.

Fourth-graders at Bullis Charter School had the opportunity to Skype with author, activist and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton Nov. 16.

Fourth-grader Aidan Free was looking for ways to support victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, so he gave a speech about fundraising at a school assembly and researched disaster relief with his family. Through the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, they discovered that Clinton was willing to donate a 30-minute Skype call and a personalized copy of her book She Persisted to the winning bidder.

Aidan committed all of his saved allowance, and when the winning bid exceeded that, his parents donated the difference.

He invited his classmates to participate in the Skype session, and fourth-grade teachers Jeri Chi and Emily Drake seized the opportunity to prepare their students.

“We read Chelsea’s book ‘She Persisted,’ and discussed the positive impact these women had on equal rights,” Chi said. “We also did some research about the Clinton Foundation. We wanted the call to focus on Chelsea’s work as an activist, as well as to empower our students and for them to see the work Chelsea has done to make a positive impact on the world.”

Students prepared 12 questions on a variety of topics, which led to a discussion with Clinton about her work in global health, her life as a teenager in the White House, whether she plans to run for office and her proudest achievement – motherhood.

When asked what kids can do to fix the problems in the world, Clinton advised them to think deeply about what they care about and to start small. She concluded by telling the students that they each had the power to make a difference, adding, “We have to keep going. It’s just too important.”

BCS middle school hosts Back to School Night

Bullis Charter School parents participate in hands-on activities at Back to School Night.

Bullis Charter School parents who attended the middle school Back to School Night Sept. 5 participated in a new format designed to engage them as partners in their students’ learning.

Teachers Ted Grinewich-Yonashiro, Alli Kustin and Liem Tran-Zwijsen worked through the summer to reimagine the event, which provided a hands-on learning experience for parents. According to Grinewich-Yonashiro, their goals were “to give the parents an opportunity to experience some of the unique activities that their children engage in on a typical day at BCS, develop a way to make the information presented at Back to School Night available to parents throughout the year and make sure the night highlighted what is special about the BCS middle school.”

Teachers created grade-specific videos of the information typically presented at Back to School Night and provided viewing access prior to the evening. Viewing them in advance enabled parents to experience through direct participation the learning opportunities available to their children.

Parents were given a question – “How might we create something that will help our children stay organized?” – and worked in small groups to identify problems that challenge middle school students, such as time management, prioritization of assignments and physical organization of materials.

Parents then brainstormed solutions by creating a 3-D prototype of a device that will help meet the organizational needs of middle schoolers. According to Bullis officials, each group rose to the challenge, designing solutions such as a task tracker with a built-in reward system, an organizational calendar that reminds students what to pack each day (PE clothes, sports gear, books, etc.) and an app that prioritizes students’ to-do lists based on due dates, time available and weight of grade.

BCS students share their voices at Mandarin Speech Contest

Bullis Charter School students take home top honors for their fluency in Mandarin Chinese at the state speech competition last month.

Bullis Charter School students participated in record numbers at the state Mandarin Speech Contest April 22, organized by the Chinese Language Teachers Association of California.

Of the 31 Bullis Charter School students competing, eight placed first in their categories, with four placing second and 10 receiving honorable mentions. This was the school’s eighth year competing in the contest, which includes categories for students from first grade through college.

Participants write their own two- or three- minute speeches and memorize them. Judges evaluate competitors on the accuracy of their Mandarin pronunciation and tones, fluency, speech delivery and content.

While seventh-grader Anushka Srinivasan had studied Mandarin at Bullis Charter School for seven years, she only decided to participate in the speech contest after her family hosted an exchange student from the school’s sister school in China earlier this year.

“When I saw that she understood my Mandarin conversations, I felt more confident,” Anushka said in a press release.

Bullis Charter School Mandarin teacher Qinglin Yang and her team of five teachers worked with Anushka and other students during after-school office hours to prepare them for the contest.

“The speech contest provides each student with a chance to excel in public speaking, to improve their Mandarin skills and to gain a sense of achievement through their hard work and practice,” Yang said.

Third-grader Colin Chin, who has studied Mandarin since kindergarten, competed for the third time this year. After struggling with nerves during his first two competitions, this year he placed second in his age category.

“I finally overcame my nerves,” Colin said, “and I didn’t care if I got a trophy or not, because I knew I finally did it.”

Fourth-grader Philip Oberheart had a broader goal for the speech contest.

“In case I am the CEO of a company and do business with China, it will help me communicate with the people in China, convince them of my ideas, and help my social skills,” he said.

In addition to Anushka and Philip, first-place winners included Ariana Poonen, Timothy Moon, Miles Sijstermans, Lillian Liu, Linnea Sheen Forslin and Allison Mitloff.

In addition to Colin, second-place winners included Kaitlin Cho, Edan Cui and Jennifer Cruden.

Students taking home honorable mentions included Ishaan Nambiar, Caroline Yu, Mia Sijstermans, Eshwar Vinnakota, Annabel Zhao, Maya Dutta, Aveline Lapetina, Elizabeth Cruden, Ava McClatchie and Annabelle Fu.

Olympic athlete visits Bullis Charter School

U.S. Olympian Ashton Eaton encourages Bullis Charter School students

The excitement was palpable when U.S. Olympian Ashton Eaton visited Bullis Charter School earlier this month.

Eaton is a decathlete and two-time Olympic champion, winning gold at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympic Games. He is often referred to as the “World’s Greatest Athlete” for his dominance in the 10-event decathlon and his world records in both the decathlon and indoor heptathlon.

Eaton visited Bullis Charter School to share his story of hard work and success and in turn inspire students to pursue their own dreams.

“Tenacity, perseverance and determination are values we work to instill in our students,” said Wanny Hersey, founding superintendent. “And Ashton embodies them all to the highest degree.”

Eaton spoke to students at K-5 assemblies on both the North and South campuses and at a special middle school assembly. He described how he developed a passion for his sport while playing in his own backyard as a child, literally jumping over a stick and measuring success through small, incremental steps. Eaton discussed the importance of healthy eating and how learning to take care of his body furthered his success in his sport. He also emphasized the importance of gratitude and graciousness. Eaton said he could fill the entire assembly room with the people who have supported him and helped him reach his goals.

“If you’re a winner, you have to understand you did not get there on your own,” he said.

At the end of each assembly, applause erupted when Eaton pulled his gold medal from his pocket and placed it around his neck.

Eaton spent the remainder of his time at Bullis Charter School teaching a seventh-grade PE class and reviewing and judging an eighth-grade “School of the Future” design competition. The activities provided students the opportunity for interaction with the Olympian.

In the PE class, Eaton demonstrated a variety of physical strategies to improve running speed and wowed the students with his javelin-throwing technique. He then divided the students into groups and put them through several decathlon training exercises, offering encouragement and high-fives along the way.

“I never thought of myself as someone who had the ability to be a good long jumper, but after listening to the world’s greatest athlete speak to our class, and in particular his positive words for me after watching my long jump, I am now inspired to push myself in the long jump,” said seventh-grader Anushka Srinivasan.

Bullis Charter welcomes new principal

Cynthia Brictson, new Bullis Charter School principal, greets a student at the start of school earlier this month.

Bullis Charter School recently hired Cynthia Brictson as its new principal/director of instructional services.

She replaces Jocelyn Lee, who resigned to become director of the Oshman Family JCC Leslie Family Preschool, which her children attend.

Brictson comes to Los Altos from Atlanta, where she served as deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction and regional superintendent for DeKalb County Schools.

“We are so thrilled that Ms. Brictson has joined the BCS family and will be an integral part of our leadership team,” said Wanny Hersey, Bullis Charter School founding superintendent. “She is incredibly passionate about technology, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) and forward-thinking approaches to curriculum and will join us in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in public education.”

Brictson has been entrenched in many aspects of public education, including staff development, technology integration and implementation of STEAM and data-driven approaches to student learning. During her time in Georgia, she supported the STEM certification of nine public schools. She is an Apple Innovative Educator, serves on the board of advisers for the STEM World School in India and is a member of the Chief Academic Advisory Council for the Center for Digital Education.

Prior to joining Bullis Charter School, Brictson served as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Georgia, as director of teaching and learning for West Metro Education School District in Minnesota, as coordinator of curriculum and instruction and graduation standards staff development for K-12 in the St. Louis Park School District in Minnesota and as principal at Smith Elementary School, recognized as a Title I Distinguished School three years in a row.

Brictson said she is “deeply passionate” about project-based learning and “excited” to work alongside students as they solve real-world problems and gain the tools they need to be successful. She is getting to know the students, parents and staff and will be a regular presence at both the north and south Bullis Charter School campuses.

“It is with great excitement that I join Bullis Charter School, an innovation leader in public education, as their new principal,” she said. “Working for a school that is committed to inspiring students to reach their full potential and become lifelong learners is an honor.”

Bullis Charter School prepares new teachers for long careers

Bullis Charter School associate teacher Elle Pan gives feedback on the shark-shaped plane a student drew in class. The school’s Associate Teacher Program prepares teachers to meet the demands of the 21st-century classroom.

Bullis Charter School doesn’t just hire new teachers – through its Associate Teacher Program, administrators ensure that every new instructor is properly prepared and the perfect fit.

“The Associate Teacher Program is a certified position, with the primary objective of helping reduce the teacher-student ratio in order to execute the personalized learning program we have at Bullis,” Superintendent Wanny Hersey said.

But lowering the teacher-student ratio is just one of the benefits of the program, according to Hersey.

Researching the idea of a teacher-residency program, officials from the Bank Street College of Education’s Sustainable Funding Project recently visited Bullis Charter School to witness the Associate Teacher Program in action.

The Sustainable Funding Project was created to address ways to guarantee that all aspiring teachers matriculate through affordable, high-quality programs that enable them to enter the profession prepared for the demands of 21st-century classrooms.

Hersey first learned of the Sustainable Funding Project after program director Karen DeMoss co-authored a New York Times article titled “Train Teachers Like Doctors.”

“Our goal is to spread the intention to have teacher preparation include a yearlong co-teaching residency placement and for that to become the norm,” DeMoss said.

After Hersey contacted DeMoss to discuss the charter school’s Associate Teacher Program, DeMoss and colleague Brigid Fallon visited the school.

“I’ve visited hundreds of schools doing all sorts of research, and Bullis has this sort of shared vision for continuous improvement – among the strongest I’ve ever seen,” DeMoss said. “They attribute that to the Associate Teacher Program; there is so much continued learning that goes along with that program.”

During their two-day visit, DeMoss and Fallon observed Bullis Charter School’s program for all new instructors – whether they are just out of their certification program, returning to teaching after a few years off or new to the school.

There is one associate teacher for every three homeroom classrooms, enabling the associates to work with three mentor teachers and exposing them to different grade levels and subjects.

“They help support the curriculum,” Hersey said. “They work in areas that either they need more experience in or they want to improve in.”

Hersey explained that the associate teachers have multiple chances to improve. They might teach a science lesson in one classroom, receive feedback from the teacher of that class and then have the opportunity to refine that same lesson for one of their other classes.

Another benefit is that associate teachers can easily substitute in classrooms when a teacher is absent. Hersey said the school currently has three teachers out on leave, and having the associate teachers serve as long-term subs creates a seamless transition with no lost learning time.


Nate Rinaker, who teaches second grade at the school, said when he was an associate teacher, he got to know two grade levels and worked with teachers with different teaching styles.

“The relationship as an associate teacher has continued,” he said. “I still go back and run ideas by my mentor teachers.”

Rinaker said he loves working with associate teachers now because he likes to “be the one who gives back.”

“It goes both ways,” he said. “I have a responsibility to give associate teachers feedback, but I am open to feedback myself.”

Students also appreciate the associate teachers, according to Rinaker.

“Most of the associate teachers work across more than one grade level, and as the kids go up in the grade they will likely see that familiar face again,” he said.

Rinaker added that the program boosts confidence, and the “more gradual” step to becoming a teacher will most likely prolong the associate teachers’ careers.

For more information on the Sustainable Funding Project, visit bankstreet.edu/innovation-policy-research.

For more information on Bullis Charter School, visit bullischarterschool.com.

Bullis Charter continues to share best practices with other educators

Bullis Charter School officials share information on the school’s educational programs with other educators. Visitors on a recent tour listen as students discuss what they are doing in class.

In an effort to share its model of learning, Bullis Charter School has hosted educators from California, Texas, Japan and China this year.

The educators visited Bullis Charter School for a better understanding of how its integrated academic program is put into practice and how they can replicate it at their own schools.

The visits highlighted Bullis Charter School’s personalized learning, design thinking, FabLab and MakerSpace. Tours enable teachers, administrators and other education specialists to discuss the curriculum with charter school staff and ask questions.

Taisuke Hosokawa, professor at Tokyo Gakugei University, visited Bullis Charter School in the fall to see the FabLab and MakerSpace in action. His 12-person group of professors and graduate students were also interested in how the school’s ethos of global citizenship and emphasis on world languages play out in the classroom.

The FabLab, geared toward upper-grade students, houses technologies that teachers integrate in students’ project-based learning units. The MakerSpace, aimed at students in the lower grades, promotes design and assists students in developing prototypes for solutions to real-world problems.

Hosokawa said the tour was inspiring for his country’s reform efforts because “education is based on innovative philosophy and (Bullis Charter School) puts it into practice.”

Wanny Hersey, founding superintendent of the charter school, said the tours are a larger part of the school’s commitment to innovate and develop new teaching methods and best practices that can be adopted by other schools in locally and globally.

Los Altos Hills Mayor John Harpootlian, who recently organized a school tour for local private school administrators, echoed the same sentiment.

“When it comes to the education of our children, it is not a competition – we all have the same goal,” he said. “The BCS VIP tours make clear the desire to share what works with the community. We all have the opportunity to benefit.”

Bullis Charter School recently hosted an extended stay for four teachers from Chengdu Experimental Primary School and Chengdu Chengfei Primary School – a technology school network in China.

“As much as possible and in as many ways as possible, we want to share our insights and innovations to ensure that same level of academic excellence we provide our students can be replicated in different schools,” Hersey said. “Our mission to push the boundaries of public education doesn’t stop at the borders of Los Altos or Santa Clara – it extends worldwide.”

BCS continues county outreach

Teachers become the students again with Bullis Charter School’s STEAM Project-Based Learning practicum.

After a successful first year, the Santa Clara County Office of Education and Bullis Charter School kicked off the second Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math Integrated Project-Based Learning practicum for educators last week.

The inaugural practicum drew participation from more than 40 educators in Santa Clara County schools, exceeding expectations. The demand for the project led to an expansion with this year’s workshops, seminars and symposium.

Under guidance from Bullis Charter School and the Office of Education, school educators learn about the STEAM educational model through interactive videos, one-on-one training sessions, seminars and tours of the charter school. The program aims to empower and equip participants with the tools to improve teacher quality and enrichment opportunities for students. The practicum showcases the highlights of public education when schools come together to share best practices and learn from one another.

The first session of this year’s practicum, the Tinkering Workshop, took place Sept. 15 at the Exploratorium. The yearlong series culminates April 21 and May 11 with a STEAM Pre-Symposium at the Santa Clara County Office of Education in San Jose.

For more information, visit bcssteam.weebly.com.