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.

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.

BCS Parents Host Camp for Students In Need

Thirty second- and third-graders who wouldn’t typically have the opportunity to attend a summer camp participated last week in an enrichment program hosted by a group of Bullis Charter School parents.

The students, English-Language Learning and Free and Reduced Lunch students from the Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman school districts, attended the tuition-free Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp.

The charter school parents who founded the camp collaborated with teachers from Castro School in Mountain View and Los Altos School District parents to reach the students they wished to serve.

“We wanted to provide kids a little bit of a refresher before schools started, especially the kids who really don’t have access to a school experience,” said Grace Yang, a charter school parent who helped manage the camp.

Charter school parents oversaw the Summer Bridge Camp, and teachers from the charter school and Castro taught the classes. Bullis Charter School junior-highers volunteered as counselors in training. The organizers rented classrooms from the Los Altos School District.

It’s not affiliated in any way with the district or Bullis Charter School, Yang said of the camp.

“I think the beautiful thing is we have vendors from the town supporting us, we have LASD parents who love it and said, ‘Let me help you,’” she said.

The 7- and 8-year-old campers spent each morning focusing on grade-level math skills, English language arts and reading.

In the afternoons, the campers participated in hands-on science projects to cultivate interest in science and math. The students disassembled disk drives and watched in real time how a drive physically conducts a memory search. They built and launched homemade duct-tape rockets and constructed electronic circuits from lemons and wires.

The final day of the camp culminated in three Stanford University electrical engineering graduate students conducting experiments using polymers, structural matter and clocks.

“There is such a need for programs like this in our area,” said Grace Chavez, a teacher at Castro and instructor at the camp. “It is crucial that we reinforce grade-level concepts in English throughout the summer – many of our students speak primarily Spanish at home during the summer. I also know firsthand that just one inspirational science project or experience can spark a lifelong pursuit of science or math.”

The accredited teachers volunteered their time to develop the curriculum and teach at the weeklong camp. Local merchants donated lunches and supplies, including Lulu’s, The Boardwalk, Spot Pizza, The Counter, Whole Foods and Linden Tree Books. Donations from Bullis Charter School parents covered the cost of materials and the rental of two Bullis Charter School classrooms from the Los Altos School District.

Yang said she was pleased to see so many people from the community coming together to contribute.

“I thought this camp would be a great way to get parents from both sides working together,” she said. “It’s been great because LASD parents have been very helpful and supportive.”

For more information, visit bullisboosterscamp.org.

BCS Choirs Earn High Marks at CMEA Music Festival

Bullis Charter School’s four choirs earned honors for their performances at the annual California Music Education Association’s Bay Area Music Festival at Saratoga High School May 11.

The choirs, comprising more than 145 students, have practiced twice a week before or after school since September.

The Treble Voices Choir (grades 1-3) received a unanimous Superior score, the highest possible. The G-Clef (grades 4-5) and Sonore choirs (students in grades 4-6 who practice during their lunch hour) also earned a Superior score, and the Cambiata Choir (grades 6-8) an Excellent.

“Our choirs operate under the philosophy that anyone who wants to sing can sing and sing well,” said David Belles, the charter school’s music specialist and choral director. “I have yet to meet a student who cannot sing. The hard work, drive and dedication of each member of these ensembles are what keep this program flourishing.”

The California Music Education Association promotes music education in schools, sponsors festivals and other musical activities, and provides information, training and an exchange of ideas for music educators.

“My children get very little exposure to the arts outside of school,” said Denise Denney, whose three children attend Bullis Charter School. “Rehearsing at school at 7:30 a.m. twice a week taught them real dedication.”

Denney said competing in the music festival and hearing the performances of other choirs gave students a “tremendous appreciation for music.”

We wouldn’t have been able to teach them that unique appreciation on our own,” she added.

BCS Adds ‘FabLab’ to Curriculum Next Year

Bullis Charter School is scheduled to introduce a “FabLab,” or Fabrication Laboratory, next year that allows students access to the newest trends in technology.

The lab, which will be located on the charter school’s portion of the Blach Intermediate School campus, will be outfitted with easy-to-use, age-appropriate tools that promote scientific modeling and simulations and equipment for robotics, sensing and digital fabrication.

Innovation through technology has been the cornerstone of the charter school’s mission since its inception more than nine years ago, according to Superintendent/Principal Wanny Hersey.

“Silicon Valley is the technological hub of our planet,” she said. “As the Valley redefines itself every few years with new technologies, so must we as educators to bring the most innovative and thought-provoking curriculum to our students to be citizens.”

David Malpica, who led Stanford University’s Transformative Learning Technologies Lab and served as resident expert in 3-D graphics and 3-D printing for education, will oversee the program. Malpica earned a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on learning, design and technology. He studied under Paulo Blikstein, who in 2009 developed the idea of “FabLabs” in schools as a way to put cutting-edge technology for design and construction in the hands of middle and high school students.

“As an example, imagine exploring the human body through 3-D and holographs,” Malpica said. “Instead of studying the human body in books, students will have the opportunity to experience firsthand biological functions like never before. Additionally, this technology can be used to explore, create and interface with other disciplines like art, history, math, reading and music.”

Bullis Charter School teachers are currently working alongside Malpica to develop units that integrate the tools in ways that engage students and hone their 21st-century skills via real-world application.

“Access to these tools also gives those students who might not normally engage with paper-and-pencil learning a unique opportunity to re-engage in the learning process,” said Rebecca Young, fifth-grade teacher at Bullis Charter School.

“I’m thrilled that my children are going to have so many different opportunities to learn about and explore our world,” said Vicki Lee, mother of three charter school students. “I’m so grateful that the teachers and administrators continually put their students, our children, first and think outside the box to help them grow.”

The charter school strives to incorporate innovative technologies into its curriculum, including project-based learning and design thinking.

“We are poised to seize this tremendous opportunity with a dedicated space for innovation,” said Ken Moore, chairman of the charter school’s board of directors. “We envision each student spending meaningful time in this new laboratory. We look forward to sharing more plans as our teachers and administrators work to develop curricula.”