Class is in session | August 22, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Cover Story - August 22, 2018

Class is in session

New infrastructure, staff and classes at local high schools

by Sarah Lehman

Aug. 15 marked the start of another year for students at Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools. There are plenty of significant changes at both campuses, from new classes to new schedules, buildings, food options and staff members.

At M-A, enrollment increased from a little under 2,400 to about 2,480 this year. Woodside also welcomes about 1,890 students this fall, an increase of about 60 students, with more still registering.

Both M-A and Woodside owe much of their ability to lower class size and update equipment to their nonprofit foundations, whose members work tirelessly to support every student even as enrollment increases.

Woodside Principal Diane Burbank noted that, thanks to record fundraising, her school is able to invest in a second part-time college counselor again this year. The school received many Chromebook donations last spring, and 30 Chromebook carts provide easy access to teachers and students.

New infrastructure

The biggest change to M-A's campus this year is the introduction of a brand-new, two-story STEM building to house many of the school's lab science classes, offering better space and equipment than the previous C-wing. Inside there is also a new home for food and nutrition classes and a new makerspace for student use.

A large new restroom facility also addresses M-A's often-cited need for more bathrooms, and a new kitchen "will provide a hot and cold food bar with some self-service options," said Vice Principal Janelle Bugarini. And students should enjoy the newly improved guidance office.

All this construction comes as part of Phase 2 of M-A's facilities master plan, funded by Measure A and planned by the Facilities Needs Task Force. This funding is districtwide, and thus it also applies to Woodside High.

As part of Phase 2, M-A will continue updates such as new lockers, more bike storage, and improved student services accommodations. An update to the facilities master plan in June 2016 lists funded Phase 2 projects totaling just over $20 million.

At Woodside, the staff and student parking lots were repaved and striped over the summer; there are plans to install solar panels next year. Work has begun on a new brick entrance to the student lot, but traffic will not be affected.

Renovations were also made to the Woodside ceramics room. These offer more light, better kiln access, technology, and photography space. With more students taking ceramics and fulfilling AP studio art requirements than ever before, these improvements will be put to good use, Burbank said.

New classes and programs

Several new classes and some updated favorites are ready for students at both M-A and Woodside.

The popular audio elective at Woodside is now aligned with new Career Technical Education standards. Students can advance their skills over three years, said Burbank, while playing original music on the quad and handling assembly sound needs.

Woodside biology also got a boost, as teachers redesigned much of the course to meet Next Generation Science Standards. Freshmen and sophomores can expect more challenging and extensive labs.

Both M-A and Woodside enroll many underrepresented students and first-time college goers in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. AVID is a four-year elective that gives extra support and technology to students. According to Burbank, AVID was the first program at Woodside with a one-to-one device ratio; every student received a Chromebook.

Sequoia Union High School District is expanding one-to-one Chromebook access to students in the Green Academy and Business Technology Academy at Woodside, groups that offer a more individualized education and specialized focus on the environment or technology.

A rite of passage for Woodside seniors is the Senior Thesis project, which will continue. Seniors ask a broad question and complete a research paper to answer it. "Last spring, the project was recognized by the the San Mateo County School Boards Association with a Kent Award for a replicable best practice," Burbank said. "The project spans two quarters and prepares students for college-level success."

Students at M-A continue to enjoy the new Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity elective and the relatively new Psychology and Gender Studies class. Classes are still moving in to the new STEM building, which provides improved technology supports and equipment for lab science courses.

New people

Both school communities will see several new faces this year.

For the first time, Woodside is working with a counselor from the Boys and Girls Club. The full-time counselor gives support to 25 freshmen at Woodside and connects them to the Teen Center at the club.

Woodside also welcomes a new athletic director, and two members of the guidance team who are coming back to Woodside after some time away. The English department welcomes three new teachers; mathematics, four; social science, three; and world language, three. In addition, the special education department has two new teachers on board, and the arts department includes a new art and ceramics teacher this school year.

M-A has plenty of fresh talent as well. Two new staff members will assist students in the academic resources department, and there are three new members of the guidance team, including a college information specialist who will work with M-A's resident college counselor.

In addition, M-A greets four new math teachers, five for social studies, two for world language, and three for English. A new campus aide joins M-A's all-star team, and the school is looking for another.

New schedule

One of the biggest adjustments for M-A this year is a new bell schedule, which was voted on by staff members last spring. Although students did not cast votes, their input was collected on several prototype schedules before a decision was made.

The selected schedule is a double-block format like the old schedule, but first period starts 10 minutes later, at 8:55 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Wednesday is now an even block late-start day, with zero period starting at 7:50 a.m. and second at 9:30. Thursday will be an odd block, starting with first period at 9:15 a.m.

One of the reasons for the switch is to give students a later start. Even and odd block days are flipped to put the staff meeting on Thursday and give teachers more time to plan block lessons.

Another innovation that comes with this schedule is flex time. This is a twice-weekly, 30-minute period on block days before lunch that offers students more flexibility to get their work done. Students may schedule appointments with their teachers, choose a classroom to study or work in, attend presentations, or meet with counselors.

Sometimes staff will schedule appointments for students, or schoolwide events will be held during this time, but it is largely up to students to use this time to enrich their learning. School photo IDs are necessary to check in.

Woodside will be testing out a similar 30-minute tutorial period for two weeks in October. The goal is to give students extra time to complete homework and get help without spending time after school. Start and release times will remain the same during this period.

— Sarah Lehman was a summer intern at The Almanac, and is a senior at Menlo-Atherton High School, where she's co-editor-in-chief of the M-A Chronicle.


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