The very first class of students to make its way from first through eighth grade at Bullis Charter School matriculated last week.
"This is a particularly exciting event for us," Wanny Hersey, superintendent and principal of BCS, said of the milestone, which was commemorated with a June 7 afternoon ceremony. "Not only has it been an extremely successful class, in terms of academic achievement, but the students were also the ones who helped us pioneer our innovative curriculum."
Six of the 24 graduating students in the eighth-grade class of 2012 started their academic careers at Bullis, winding their way all the way up through the school's "comprehensive and integrated" program, Hersey said.
Hearing the students speak at the commencement ceremony was vindicating for Hersey, who said it was great to watch "a very full, well-balanced, articulate group of young people who are able to really recognize the benefits of the special program they were involved with."
That "special program," according to the charter school's mission statement "offers a collaborative, experimental learning environment that emphasizes individual student achievement and inspires children, faculty and staff to reach beyond themselves." According to Hersey, the school's faculty and staff aim to create 21st century citizens, ready to excel in a variety of fields -- not just one specialized area of expertise. The world today demands that young people entering the workforce be comfortable working on their own or on teams, and understanding right-brained "creatives," left-brained analytical thinkers, and all types of people in between.
To prepare students to be able to thrive in the modern world, school officials designed a curriculum where all classes -- from science to history to art to writing -- intersect and overlap. Additionally, students learn from mentors in the fields they are studying. Application developers, biologists, engineers and finance experts all have visited classes at Bullis.
Lynn Steffens, who sent all four of her daughters to Bullis, said the school's integrated approach clearly made a difference in the development of her children, especially her youngest -- the only one to go through her entire primary education at the charter school.
Steffens, who was able to compare her older daughters' experiences against her youngest, said the integrated program at Bullis took her kids "a lot deeper" than traditional school programs. The overlapping curriculum and size of the school also make for a much more intimate learning experience, where all of the teachers know all of the students, she said.
"When the kids are going through it, over time they really get to know the whole school community," she said. "It makes a big difference throughout the year. That's a very hard thing for a traditional school to do -- regardless of the caliber of the school."
Perhaps the biggest difference Steffens noted with her youngest child was the positive attitude she had about school. When she asked her older daughters how their day went, all she would get in return was a grunt.
"My youngest gets in the car and says, 'This is what we're working on in school and did you know this, mom?'" she said. "She is so engaged in the academics and she is excited to learn more."
"They just hold themselves to a higher expectation at that school," Steffens said
Most of the BCS eighth-grade graduates will attend high schools in Los Altos, Mountain View or Palo Alto.