Local Muralist Tells A Story

Posted on January 1, 2017 by  
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Morgan Bricca

Earlier this year, new color bloomed on two Los Altos campuses – public art projects commissioned by school communities to mark ends and new beginnings.

At Covington School, the graduating class sponsored a mural celebrating reading and the California landscape. At Egan Junior High, the PTA launched a mural to honor Principal Brenda Dyckman’s 23 years of service. Both murals stem from Los Altos resident Morgan Bricca, who has left her mark on schools, civic buildings, shops and local homes around the region. Through her business “Murals by Morgan,” she has created hundreds of site-specific works of art.

Bricca’s son, an Egan student, had already introduced her to the student culture at the junior high. In meeting with Dyckman, she built a growing sense of the “schoolwide reason to have fun,” ranging from dances to dunk tanks and pancake breakfasts.

Bricca set out to create a mural for students that also resonated with the “grownups” calling the shots. She shared five widely different designs with Dyckman, expecting that a Viking ship on a lake might win out. But the principal chose the wildest – a bright splash of color that Dyckman told Bricca “reflected the explosion of emotion in the early teen years.”
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Exceeding Standards On Assessment tests

Posted on September 1, 2016 by  
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California Department of EducationLocal schools continued to score above the state and county averages on the California Department of Education’s assessment test.

The test – California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress – was administered in the spring to gauge students’ progress in learning new, more rigorous academic Common Core standards designed to prepare them for college and careers in the 21st century.

Students in grades 3-8 and high school juniors took the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments in Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy. Smarter Balanced tests comprise two parts.

First, students take a computer adaptive assessment, which bases follow-up questions on a student’s answers in real time and gives a more accurate picture of a student’s progress than a paper-and-pencil test. If a student answers a question correctly, he or she will then get a more difficult question. If the student answers it incorrectly, he or she will get an easier question.

Second, students complete a performance task that challenges their ability to apply their knowledge and skills to problems in a real-world setting.

Combined, the two parts measure depth of understanding, writing, research and problem-solving skills more thoroughly than the multiple-choice, paper-based tests they replaced.

Scores on the assessments fall into one of four achievement levels: Standard Exceeded, Standard Met, Standard Nearly Met or Standard Not Met.

All local schools had higher percentages of students meeting or exceeding standards in English Language Arts than the county (62 percent) and state (49 percent) averages. They also scored higher in Mathematics than state (55 percent) and county (37 percent) students.


MVLA Superintendent Jeff Harding said he is proud of the fact that students still continue to outscore the county and state levels. “We will keep an eye on it and determine the cause (of the lower averages),” he said. “One test in one year does not determine a trend.”

At the elementary and junior high school level, Bullis Charter School continues to earn the highest marks – with 96 percent of students meeting or exceeding English Language Arts standards and 97 percent meeting or exceeding in Mathematics assessments.

Students in the Los Altos School District also earned high scores. “I think our scores continue to be strong, but we are really focused on getting all students at the met and/or exceeded level,” said Superintendent Jeff Baier.

Officials from both districts said they plan to further analyze the test results and will tweak instruction where needed.

“This is only one indicator – more important is the work going on at the school sites,” Baier said. “Each of our schools is really digging into and looking into the success of each student.”

Throughout the county and state, an achievement gap continues to exist between Hispanic/Latino students and white/Asian students – which local school district data also reflect.

In MVLA, there was a 40 percentage-point difference between the number of Latino and white/Asian students who met or exceeded English Language Arts standards. In Mathematics, there was a 55 percentage-point gap.

In the Los Altos School District, there was a 26 percentage-point difference between the performance of Latinos and white/Asian students in English Language Arts and a 38 percentage-point difference in Mathematics.

County averages revealed a 47 percentage-point difference in English Language Arts between Latino and white/Asian students. Math results showed a 57 percentage-point gap.

“The achievement gap is pernicious and persistent, and we all need to work together to find solutions that help all groups rise, while narrowing the gap,” said Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction.


LAEF Fulfills $3.5 Million Grant

Posted on June 16, 2016 by  
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Covington School STEM teacherThe Los Altos Educational Foundation recently met its fundraising goal of $3.5 million for the 2015-2016 school year.

For more than 30 years, the nonprofit foundation has solicited donations from parents and local residents to provide funding for enrichment programs and smaller class sizes for all nine schools in the Los Altos School District.

The foundation’s annual contribution benefits every transitional kindergarten through eighth-grade student through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; physical education; libraries; art; music; and computer science. The foundation also pays for class-size reduction in grades K-3 and 7-8, and a wider choice of junior-high electives. The foundation accepted donations throughout the school year to fulfill the grant, which was factored into the district’s budgeted 2015-2016 revenue to fund programs, teachers and staff.

The foundation increased this year’s grant to fund an additional certified PE teacher so that every elementary school has a dedicated instructor and a computer science teacher, which enabled the district to expand coding into junior high.

“We are proud to have met our higher goal in response to both our parents and LASD’s desire to offer more PE and develop a computer science program for TK-8,” said Susan Longyear, foundation board president. “I would like to thank all of our donors, from parents and grandparents to our community members and realtors. Giving to LAEF is our way of investing in what we value most: providing the well-rounded educational experience we want for our children.”

The foundation is finalizing its grant for the next school year, guided by input from its annual parent survey and strategic discussions with district leadership. It will announce its educational priorities and fundraising goal in early August.

“We anticipate another successful year, supported by a community that believes strong public schools are the foundation of a thriving community,” said Amy Peabody, the foundation’s executive director.

For more information, visit: laefonline.org


Students Participate in 56th Junior Olympics

Posted on May 4, 2016 by  
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Santa Rita School fourth-graderLos Altos School District fourth- through sixth-graders competed in the district’s 56th annual Junior Olympics Saturday at Mountain View High School.

The annual inter-school track and field meet featured students from the district’s seven elementary schools participating in an array of events.

More than 1,600 students from Almond, Covington, Gardner Bullis, Loyola, Oak Avenue, Santa Rita and Springer schools took part.

Nine students set records at this year’s event, including Boden Sirey, Angelica Chou, Kara Chou, Hannah Cushing, Jake Skaggs, Jackson Steffen, Sophie Murdock, Luke DeVine and Nadal Pushnof. The fourth-grade girls and boys 400-meter relay teams also set records.


Music Unites Schools In Concert

Posted on April 13, 2016 by  
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LASD Choral ShowcaseMore than 200 students packed the Blach Intermediate School gym last week to unite the Los Altos School District community in song.

Blach hosted the fourth annual LASD Choral Showcase, featuring choral groups from Blach, Egan Junior High, Covington, Springer and Bullis Charter schools.

The conductors from the three junior highs – David Belles of Bullis Charter School, Mary Hamilton of Egan and Gail Wade of Blach – met at the beginning of the school year to select works the groups would sing together.

During the event, each choral group performed its own selections and then joined en masse, with directors each leading a different musical piece.

“All the kids, not only do they get to work with new students, they get to experience new conductors,” Wade said. “It is really great for them to test out their musicality. I always learn something when working with other conductors.”

Wade said she was pleased with the enthusiasm of everyone involved, from the students to the conductors to the parents.

“They are trying to create something beautiful, and everyone pulls their own weight,” she said. “Every single voice is important, and they all have a certain amount of musical education – there is a common language everyone speaks. They all feel engaged as part of a group.”

The choral groups that performed included the Blach Busters and Blachappella from Blach, the Covington Choir, the Egan Choir and Viking Voices, the Springer Singers and Bullis Charter School’s Sonore (grades 4-5) and Melodia (grades 6-8).

In addition to each choral group’s individual performance, the junior high groups combined choirs to perform two pieces, and two works showcased all of the students.




Coding For Junior High Students

Posted on April 2, 2016 by  
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Egan eighth-gradersCoding is getting more advanced for two classes of junior high students in the Los Altos School District.

In January, Blach Intermediate and Egan Junior High schools began offering an elective computer science course.

The course, which instructor and district computer science integration specialist Sheena Vaidyanathan said is a pilot program, is designed to provide students with more in-depth and challenging coding exercises.

All district students receive Computer Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (CSTEM) instruction once a week, which includes coding and computer science lessons. The new elective course meets daily.

“They are coming in every day,” Vaidyanathan said of her coding students. “The bar is set higher on how much I am expecting them to finish or complete. In CSTEM we are exposing them and getting them excited, and in the elective we are going a lot deeper.”

That deeper knowledge starts in the type of coding program the students are using – Python, a text-based coding language.

Last week the students prepared for presentations on their first collaborative coding assignment. Assembled in groups of three, each student wrote code to create a graphic – trees, a road, buildings, etc. Students then combined all three of their graphics into one element.

To take it one step further, she taught students a new function, enabling students in the class at Blach to manipulate their graphics.

In the course, Vaidyanathan teaches different coding basics and the class expands on the coding building blocks. Students are assigned a series of tasks and programming assignments to complete, using code from scratch.

Egan eighth-grader Boris Palant said the computer science course challenges him. “There is a lot of thinking involved,” he said. “You don’t always have all the commands – you have to remember what they are. I like that we have a lot of projects. It challenges you to remember and use the coding you have done before.”

Vaidyanathan said the tasks are clearly outlined and include a time limit as well as grading and assessment. She noted that she is designing the class to prepare students for higher-level computer science courses in high school.

The addition of computer science classes is one of the Los Altos Educational Foundation’s goals for the district, and foundation funds supported creation of the course.

For more information, visit: laefonline.net


Egan Students & Carbon Paw Prints

Posted on December 13, 2015 by  
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Egan Junior High School eighth-gradersTwo local junior high school students are trying to teach dog owners a few new tricks as they set about to prove that what residents feed their dogs can have a lasting impact on the environment.

That is the message two Egan Junior High School students are hoping to spread through a public survey.

Via their Personal Environmental Action Plan (PEAP) project, eighth-graders Riana Sanjeevan and Lily Szalay aim to help pet owners reduce their dogs’ carbon paw prints.

A dog’s carbon paw print equals the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the environment as a result of its maintenance, according to Riana and Lily’s project.

“We found an article that detailed carbon paw prints and how they affect the environment,” said Riana, explaining what inspired them to take on the topic for the yearlong science project.

This is not the first time the girls have conducted a project on dogs; in sixth grade, they did a science project on which dog food dogs like best. Lily owns two yellow Labradors.

The students – currently in the data collection and awareness phase of their project – are asking residents with pets to take their survey to become better informed and possibly make changes to improve the environment.

After the research portion of their PEAP project, the girls discovered that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the production of enough lamb and beef contained in the amount of dog food the typical dog consumes each day is equivalent to driving the average car between 200 and 300 miles. Yet for chicken production, the impact is closer to 50 miles.


Inter-generational Bonding

Posted on November 24, 2015 by  
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Grand-FriendsSanta Rita School in Los Altos expanded its call to the community in September with the inaugural “Grand-Friends Day,” summoning a new generation back to school.

Students and their parents invited their elders to visit, learn and see if they’d be interested in returning to the classroom as volunteers.

“It is ‘grand-friends’ rather than just grandparents, because you have aunts and uncles, grand-aunts and grand-uncles, and neighbors you’ve adopted who play that role, and those are important relationships – and that matters,” explained event organizer Kanesha Baynard.

A Santa Rita parent, Baynard launched the program this year after experiencing a similar tradition of school volunteering and grand-involvement several years ago while living in Colorado. Her mother-in-law lived with the family as a “granny nanny,” convincing Baynard of the power of having hands-on support across generations – even if you move and lose access to the “granny nanny.”

“When you look at the community here, there are a lot of international grandparents and families living together,” she said.

Grandparents have already been volunteering in roles such as library book shelving and story time at Santa Rita. After gathering volunteer interest forms from “grand” participants at the September event, the school is organizing how to stay in touch with interested grands looking for upcoming opportunities to be involved.


Almond Fifth Graders Set Sail

Posted on July 14, 2015 by  
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Almond 5th GradersAlmond School fifth-graders boarded their handmade boats at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View last month to learn firsthand whether the vessels they designed and built proved seaworthy.

The event was part of a project-based learning unit, “To Sail, or Not to Sail? … It’s an Exploration!” The unit – focused on the role boats played in early exploration – encouraged students to design and build boats using money they raised through capital ventures.

To raise funds to build their boats, students learned how to start and manage a business using BizWorld, an entrepreneurship program. Ohlund said students formed companies and acted as entrepreneurs to design, manufacture, market and sell their products. Students created and sold products ranging from duct-tape wallets to pom-pom yarn animals and handmade soap and jewelry. All profits went toward purchasing materials to build each team’s cardboard boat.

Ed Han, co-founder of Tiny Prints, visited students to discuss his experiences as an entrepreneur and advise them on how to launch a successful venture.

The project incorporated content and learning from all disciplines. In social studies, students learned about early explorers of the New World and their sailing tools. In reading, they read “Pedro’s Journal.” In math, they learned about geometry, design and volume. In science, they studied volume, buoyancy, water displacement and density.

Students created prototypes of their boats and conducted floating experiments to test their hypotheses. Eventually, using limited supplies, teamwork and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math knowledge, students designed and constructed boats to sail themselves.

Almond’s fifth-grade teaching team – Laura Ohlund, Joe Chan and Samantha Nguyen – looks for “new and innovative ways to engage our students in learning and to find meaningful 21st-century experiences,” Nguyen said.

The teachers expressed appreciation for the support they received from Principal Erika Benadom and the Los Altos School District – who encouraged them to pursue new ideas – and from the many parents who helped with transporting boats from Almond to Shoreline Lake.


LAEF Increases Grant For 2015-2016

Posted on June 29, 2015 by  
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LAEF STEM LabsOfficials from the Los Altos Educational Foundation reported earlier this month that they plan to raise a record-setting $3.5 million for the Los Altos School District next year.

The foundation raised $3.3 million last year to fund enrichment programs and smaller class sizes for all nine schools in the Los Altos School District. The foundation’s grant is built into the district budget annually to pay for targeted staff and programming.

Designed to benefit every K-8 student in the district, the foundation’s grant helps fund Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); computer science; libraries; art; music; physical education; class-size reductions in grades K-3 and 7-8; and junior-high electives.

The foundation conducts a survey each year to determine parents’ priorities for their contributions. Survey participation was up this year, with approximately 1,800 parents providing input.

The boost in participation was attributable in part to the foundation’s distributing the online survey in Mandarin and Spanish for the first time. Foundation Executive Director Amy Peabody said approximately 10 parents submitted feedback in Mandarin and 40 in Spanish. As far as Peabody could tell, this was the first time the foundation had received input from these parent groups.

The foundation bases the following year’s grant on the survey results. This year’s results revealed that parents wanted additional PE programming at the schools and an expansion to the district’s sixth-grade computer science curriculum, Peabody said.

The $200,000 bump in the grant will fund an additional PE instructor, ensuring the presence of a PE teacher at each elementary campus and increasing weekly physical education to twice a week for all K-6 students. The money will also fund the expansion of the district’s computer science program into the junior highs, with an eye to offering coding instruction to all grades in the district in the future, Peabody said.

“We are grateful to our engaged and caring community for supporting excellent public schools,” said Susan Longyear, president of the foundation board.

Peabody said that in addition to parent contributions, the foundation receives $500,000 annually in corporate matching funds and donations from alumni, community groups and the foundation’s Honor Roll of Realtors.

The foundation is one of three contributors to local education, according to Peabody. She explained the synergy among the district, the PTAs and the foundation.

“Take the STEM lab, for instance,” she said. “The district created the lab, we help by paying for the STEM teacher and the PTA helps by buying the technology and tools used in the lab. It takes all three pieces.”

For more information, visit laefonline.org.


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