Schools - September 1, 2010

New year brings changes to high schools

by Dave Boyce

There is significant newness to be found in programs and plans for the 2010-11 school year at Woodside and Menlo-Atherton high schools, and more electives at Summit Preparatory and Everest high schools, both of which are small charter schools.

Green at Woodside

With record high temperatures in Russia, catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, devastating mud slides and floods in China, and persistent heat waves seemingly everywhere but California, it's been a summer for renewed interest in climate change.

It is timely then that at Woodside High, what's new for the school year concerns the state of the planet that these kids will inherit.

For ninth-graders, the renamed "global science" class considers a notion from astronomer and science-for-everyone advocate Carl Sagan: "Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking." The point of the new name and new focus, said instructional vice principal Diane Mazzei, is to help students "deal with 21st century topics that have relevance to their lives."

Woodside is also applying for a grant to improve the conditions of so-called safe routes for kids who want to bike, walk or skateboard to school, Ms. Mazzei said.

Woodside's Green Academy, in its second year, aims to provide graduates with skills useful for engineering, science and urban planning majors in college as well as for entry-level jobs in the green economy. The academy has three new offerings:

• The Green Careers and Professions class looks at occupations in landscape design, alternative energy, and geographic information systems (GIS), a mapping technology in wide use in commercial and public enterprises.

• The Environmental Analysis through Chemistry class, borrowed from Menlo-Atherton High School, uses basic principles of chemistry to study soil fertility, plant nutrition, air and water quality, and climate change, said science teacher Ann Akey.

• For juniors, the academy offers a mentor program with local businesses, said history teacher Marin Aldrich. An example: A student in the culinary program may land a mentorship at Buck's restaurant in Woodside. All academy students read "Omnivore's Dilemma," a critique of industrial farming by Michael Pollan, Ms. Aldrich said.

Woodside initiates a first-year language course in Mandarin this year, with more levels to come in following years. A poll of ninth-grade students in advanced English classes showed a preference for Mandarin over Japanese, said French teacher Gay Buckland-Murray.

A sister school in China and a travel program are also in the plans. Mandarin students may be lent Apple iPads, a convenience for learning a character-based language, perhaps, but also reflective of a broader move toward electronic textbooks, Principal David Reilly said.

A second college-level AP math class begins this year. Calculus BC covers the topics of calculus AB and more, according to Some 70 Woodside students completed a summer math-acceleration program, Mr. Reilly said.

Digital natives, kids who've grown up with the Internet, have better computing skills than their predecessors, so Woodside has updated its computer applications and keyboarding course to address "digital citizenship in the 21st century," Ms. Mazzei said.

Sleep in!

The big news at Menlo-Atherton High School is a redesigned main hallway, lights for the football field, and a starting time for most students of about an hour later than normal. There's also a Russian angle.

M-A's juniors and seniors can study Russian literature and history this year, a new elective that includes a trip to Russia for students interested in a fuller experience. As a matter of policy regarding such travel opportunities, the school will not turn away students who lack the financial wherewithal to pay for them, Principal Matthew Zito said.

Students with six periods a day — most students — now start school at 8:45 a.m. M-A has long had a culture of 7:50 a.m., and 66 percent of faculty and staff objected to a schedule that starts at 8:30 or later, Mr. Zito said in January. But administrators at the school and district levels have been persuaded by research showing that teens need extra sleep. (A similar schedule has been in effect at Woodside High since the spring of 2009.)

Friday night football, not an M-A tradition, is on tap for some home games this fall using temporary light towers at the normally unlighted field. An experimental night game in November 2009 created a sensation in the school community, with receipts up 212 percent at the gate and 343 percent at the snack bar.

A lighted field has distressed a group of residential neighbors to the point that they have filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming violation of environmental and zoning regulations.

The Sequoia district's investigation into the feasibility of permanent lights will include an environmental analysis of noise, traffic, artificial light, and safety, Superintendent Jim Lianides has told the Sequoia Union High School District board.

More light is not controversial in Pride Hall, M-A's once dark and tunnel-like central passage. Over the summer, the hall acquired "soaring new ceilings," new lights, new paint, and new large windows that overlook the adjacent courtyards, said Bettylu Smith, a spokeswoman for the district.

As with Woodside, M-A has a new environmental science course built on what was called integrated science. The class will include field trips and gardening, Ms. Smith said.

A new class in three-dimensional animation begins and covers such topics as preproduction, storyboarding, modeling, rigging, animating and texture mapping. The teacher "is excited to teach this brand new course that will help students get ready for the 21st century job market," Ms. Smith said.

Bricks and mortar

If state financing of some $3 million for each school comes in, M-A and Woodside will break ground on environmentally designed digital-media-studies buildings. If state financing does not come in, the schools will probably break ground anyway.

The schools are competing statewide and district-wide for grants connected with the state's career technical education (CTE) initiative, but the Sequoia district probably has enough voter-approved construction bond money to construct the buildings, spokeswoman Smith said.

The intention at Woodside is to have students collaborate under one roof using different media, including photography, audio, video and animation, Mr. Reilly said. The "wildly popular" audio production class launched a second section this year, he said.

M-A's goal, Ms. Smith said, is to offer career paths in the field of media and design arts to about 600 students per year, including opportunities for "entry-level employment, advanced training or higher education through a rigorous, integrated course of study combined with specialized training through work-based learning opportunities."

A "model school"

At Summit Prep in Redwood City, the 2010-11 school year will include visitors from distant lands touring the school. The School Redesign Network at Stanford University has invited Summit to be a "model school," said Todd Dickson, the school's executive director.

Sister-school Everest begins its second year with new freshman and sophomore classes; the school occupies the entire first floor of a former office building on Main Street in Redwood City, said Executive Director Jon Deane.

(With enrollment by lottery, about 25 percent of Summit and Everest students typically live in the Almanac's circulation area.)

Many of the two schools' teachers are graduates of Stanford's school of education; Summit will host 11 student teachers from the education school this year, and Everest will host two, the executive directors said.

Among the new electives at Summit this year are Aikido, robotics, and internships for 12th-graders at local businesses, Mr. Dickson said.

The electives take place during intersession, a month-long break from regular classes that happens at the end of each semester. Everest is a partner with Summit during intersession.

The math department is initiating intersession and summer support classes for freshmen and sophomores who need the help to be successful at college-level math, Mr. Dickson said.


Posted by Wildcat, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 1, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Go Woodside! I am a freshman at Woodside and I love it! I can't wait to take the Mandarin class. Everyone is so friendly at Woodside and I love my teachers. The classes are tough, but the teachers are always there to help. My counselor and all of the principals are very friendly and helpful. Thank you for writing about my school. I can't wait for the first football game. Does this paper cover sports or does it just write about the classes and programs?

Posted by editor, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Sep 2, 2010 at 12:37 am

We run stories on Atherton schools by sportswriters with our sister paper, the Palo Alto Weekly. We are interested in finding people who would like to contribute reporting on Woodside High sports. If you have suggestions, please e-mail us at: Thanks.

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