Almanac

News - August 26, 2009

Everest charter high school gets off to a running start

• Freshmen to spend first two weeks on Stanford campus.

by Dave Boyce

For the 108 freshmen at the new Everest (charter) Public High School — the school's inaugural class if getting to know a bit about everybody in the school is not the first priority, it's pretty close to whatever is.

Freshman orientation on Aug. 19 and 20 included a scavenger hunt for information from faculty and staff members. Students in teams of three or four spent half an hour the second day of orientation cruising the school at 305 Main St. in Redwood City, lists of questions in hand and name tags affixed to, well, wherever.

The students were trying to discover which teacher or staff member was married in Las Vegas, which is a devoted fan of the 49ers, and the name of Executive Director Jon Deane's dog.

For all such questions, there's only one way to find out: ask the adults in the room. And answers will absolutely not be forthcoming unless the whole team is there to hear them.

Mr. Deane fielded at least 20 youthful inquiries about his dog, many of which were not asked in the presence of the entire team and so were left unanswered. When everyone was there, out came his cell phone and up popped a photo of Sophie for everyone to appreciate. His favorite vegetable, a reporter and one student team learned, is the red pepper.

Each time Mr. Deane answers a question, students learn something personal about him. For his part, he was trying to recall each student's name. It's all about getting to know each other.

His bet for that day: If a student bested him in the number of names learned, he would buy everyone ice cream. If a student learned everyone's name, Mr. Deane would spring for pizza all around.

He got to keep his wallet in his pocket. No one beat his tally of 66 names, though one student did get 55, and another is working toward knowing them all, he said later in a phone interview.

"If one student here knows every student's name, I'd say we're well on the way to a community," Mr. Deane said.

Later that night, Everest parents got a surprise: the first two weeks of classes will be held on the campus of Stanford University.

"A really powerful experience"

As ninth grade goes, can it get any better than this? The first two weeks of Everest's freshman classes this year will be held in a classroom in the Quad at Stanford University, Everest co-founder Diane Tavenner said in a telephone interview following the orientation.

The Stanford experience, she said, will include guest speakers from the university, campus tours and regular class work, including a key task facing this first class of freshmen: developing a culture and vision for Everest.

These freshmen, she said, will start high school with a view of where they're headed: college.

"We're constantly trying to imagine and invent and think of better ways to prepare our students for college," Ms. Tavenner said. "This was a really excellent opportunity to do something impactful and profound.

"Our goal is that they leave those first two weeks with a very clear vision of themselves in college," she added. "Having Stanford University believe in you, that you can go to college, that's a really powerful experience."

Everest staff informed parents of the Stanford plans after the orientation. "We literally had parents in tears," Mr. Deane said.

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