Students enjoy hands-on learning through Stanford Summer Explorations

Students share their work during Open House at Bishop Elementary July 23, 2015.
Students share their work during Open House at Bishop Elementary July 23, 2015.

More than 700 students attended the Stanford Summer Explorations program, which ran from June 29 – July 24 at Bishop Elementary School for incoming 1st-5th graders and at Columbia Middle School (CMS) for incoming 6th-8th graders.

Summer Explorations is a free, four week program, where students spend each day working on their reading and writing, math and critical-thinking skills.

The program is a collaborative effort where Sunnyvale School District teachers, as well as teachers from surrounding districts, are paired up with student teachers in the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP). One teacher is paired up with two to three Stanford student teachers, which allows for more individualized support.

At the elementary school level, 22 Stanford student teachers were paired up with 13 cooperating teachers, 8 of which were from Sunnyvale School District.

At the middle school level, 72 Stanford student teachers were paired up with 20 cooperating teachers.

“In terms of doing what’s best for the kids and knowing that summer school is so important, we make it a priority in Sunnyvale,” said Cecilia Mendoza-Torres, Summer School Elementary Principal.

This year, participating teachers came from as nearby as Los Gatos Union School District, Santa Clara Unified School District, and Los Altos School District and from as far as Washington, D.C.

“Our partnership with Stanford is just incredible,” Mendoza-Torres said. “It gives us an opportunity to have multiple teachers in the classroom and really try innovative new ideas.”

For the elementary students, the curriculum focuses on retention and growth in the areas of math, writing and reading. Science-themed lessons were based off of the G.L.A.D. model (Guided Language Acquisition Design). This is a model of professional development in the area of literacy and was developed and field tested by the United States Department of Education.

If you ask third grader Anel Torres Zapata what her favorite thing was about the program, she will tell you: everything.

“But my absolute favorite was learning fractions and practicing my cursive,” Anel said during open house, where parents and guardians are able to see all of the work produced by students in just 19 days.

Harper Keenan, a doctoral student at Stanford and STEP supervisor said this summer focused on a more project-based approach to learning. In his first grade class, what that looked like was an in depth study of the school environment, getting kids outside of the classroom to understand the place that they’re in.

“So they did interviews with the garden volunteers, the office staff, the cafeteria staff and the principal and they took notes and used that to create nonfiction texts about the school,” Keenan said. “The kids were pretty motivated by that because they got to see themselves as researchers and their writing as really meaningful. Their writing has really come a long way over the summer and part of that is creating meaningful writing experiences for them, and they took that responsibility very seriously.”

Ruth Ann Costanzo, Director of Clinical Work for the Stanford Graduate School of Education, said the professors and staff of the Stanford Teacher Education Program are pleased with the opportunities the Summer Explorations program provides to Sunnyvale students and Stanford teacher candidates.

“The students benefitted by being a part of a carefully planned academic experience that both challenged and supported students to reach new academic heights and develop confidence in themselves as learners and problem solvers,” Costanzo said.

Sixth through eighth graders explored math, English, social studies, science and Mandarin. In keeping with the Next Generation Science Standards, students worked on applying scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

At the beginning of summer, 30 percent of students were performing at standard. By the end, 89 percent of students were performing at standard, according to Summer School Middle Principal Mary Grace Votran.

“Many of the STEP graduate students and Summer Exploration teachers personally witnessed amazing strides and growth in the middle school student with whom they worked this summer,” Costanzo added. “We are confident the summer experience has augmented the district’s goal of ensuring that Sunnyvale students will thrive in their future school experiences and further develop the 21st century skills they will need to succeed in life.”

To learn more about Summer Explorations visit

Contributor Alia Wilson.



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