While the majority of campuses in the Mountain View Whisman School District have remained relatively quiet since classes let out for the summer, Castro Elementary has been bustling with activity.
It was a mix of fun and work July 14, as Craig Goldman, Mountain View Whisman's superintendent, walked around Castro, checking up on the progress of a variety of district programs. Children in city-operated summer camps played games on the blacktop, incoming kindergarteners prepared for their first year of school and teachers practiced a new instructional method with summer school students.
All of the programs operating out of Castro this summer, including the city-run Club Rec, benefit from the federally subsidized Seamless Summer Option, which allows the district to provide free breakfast and lunch to children.
"It is a real asset," Lauren Merriman, acting recreation supervisor for the city's Recreation Division, said of the Seamless Summer food program. "The lunches are nutritious, and, from what I hear, everybody loves them. It gives our program that extra something."
Because the city doesn't pay to use the space on Mountain View Whisman campuses, city recreation programs like Merriman's can be offered at a lower cost than privately operated summer camps. Paired with the free meals, it makes Club Rec a good value for parents at a time when money is tight, Merriman said.
There is one other advantage to being at Castro this summer, Merriman added: the sense of community. "It definitely feels like there is a lot of energy at the school. I think it helps our staff feel like they're not so isolated."
In the past, Club Rec has often had the entire campus to itself. Camp counselors didn't have to worry about sharing their space with other programs. But overall, Merriman said, with the energy and communal feel at Castro, she wouldn't be opposed to sharing space with the school district in future summers.
One of Club Rec's neighbors is Stretch to Kindergarten. The non-profit, tuition-free program offers kindergarten prep to low-income kids who haven't had the opportunity to attend preschool.
The accelerated course is intended to familiarize youngsters with the skills they will need to hit the ground running in kindergarten, and it also shows parents how to ensure their children are getting the most out of their elementary school education.
"Even though we are a short program, we have all the components that you would want from a full preschool," Stretch to Kindergarten founder Liz Simmons said. "We do the best we can to bridge that gap."
Stretch to Kindergarten, which is now in its third year, has 63 families enrolled and uses three kindergarten classrooms on the Castro campus.
While Simmons' program works to ensure that incoming kindergartners are ready to begin learning at grade level on the first day of school, the district is also working to make sure its kindergarten teachers are prepared to receive their students. At the back of the school, incoming kindergartners are being tested on English proficiency, so that the district will know where to place those students and teachers will have a better understanding of their needs.
"It's a fairly extensive process, but it's definitely well worth it," Goldman said, as he looked into one of the testing rooms. Two children sat at separate stations and went over a workbook with an instructor; parents waited outside for their children to finish their assessments. In all, the district is testing 600 kindergartners for the 2011-12 school year.
Classrooms toward the front of the school are occupied by several grade levels of students who have fallen behind in math. This year, the district is using the majority of a $1 million donation it received from Google to help these students catch up and try out a new instructional method with a group of teachers.
The method, known as Explicit Direct Instruction -- EDI for short -- involves a rigorous, yet streamlined, system for teaching. The method, developed by a Fowler, Calif. education company called Data Works, draws on 100 years of education research to ensure that students learn more and retain more in a shorter period of time, according to Cynthia Kampf, a consultant for Data Works.
One key to the EDI method is the use of whiteboards by students, said Kampf, who holds a doctorate in education. First they draw students into the lesson, as students are required to write their answer to a given problem on the whiteboard and hold it up above their head when finished. "Kids like to show when they have the right answer," Goldman said.
This method also quickly shows teachers which students had an incorrect answer. Instead of waiting to find who didn't understand an entire set of problems by correcting a slew of papers after class, the teacher can pull those students aside and immediately begin remedying the problem, while giving students with a stronger grasp on the material more problems to work out.
Goldman is particularly excited about the potential of the Data Works system, which he observed last year at the Sanger Unified School District near Fresno.