Franklin Templeton job shadow

Franklin Templeton Investments invited BHS students to attend a job shadow on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The company specializes in mutual funds and is one of the world’s largest asset management groups with its headquarters in San Mateo.

Posted on November 14, 2018 .

A day in the life of the principal

Principal Paul Belzer begins his day by waking up in the early hours of the morning. Currently, his house is being remodeled because the house was last remodeled in the 1990s and needed an update. The only appliances still “living” in his kitchen, as he phrased it, are the stove and coffee maker. In the morning, Belzer drinks his coffee in his Green Bay Packer mug while watching his dogs, Dori, a Spaniel mix, and Jessie, a labrador retriever, in the backyard to make sure that Dori does not jump the fence. Then, he lets the dogs into his bedroom during the day due to the ongoing construction. His wife, a 4th grade elementary school teacher in the Ravenswood district, must leave early and Belzer and his daughter, a junior at Aragon High School, make sure to lock the house before they leave. Belzer then drives his new blue Infiniti G35 coupe to school.

“I like to start my day, if I can, being at the front of the school or someplace because I really enjoy seeing the students and I like to be there when they are coming in,”  Belzer said. 

 Principal Paul Belzer speaks at a student council meeting.

Principal Paul Belzer speaks at a student council meeting.

His mornings consist of meetings with teachers and other staff members, checking emails and returning phone calls. On October 15, Principal Belzer, Assistant Principal Arbizu, the wellness counselors, and head counselor, Mrs. Renzi met with the district office to review the multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) to ensure that the student support program is aligned with the needs to the students. There are three different tiers in the system: tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3. Tier 1 includes support for all students such as office hours and provides students with help if needed. Tier 2 is for students who need more help in order to succeed such as guided studies, wellness counseling and 504 plans which ensures the academic success of students through accommodations. The highest tier, tier 3, provides students with an IEP, Individualized Education Plan, which is developed for students in need of special education. 

“Students who are struggling are not necessarily all struggling with the same thing and there are a variety of different reasons. So, we are looking at how to support students both academically and socially,” Belzer said. 

During lunch, Belzer helps supervise the students and either eats his lunch, cafeteria food, sandwiches, or leftovers, in his office or in the faculty lounge.

In order to facilitate interaction with the students, he has an open door policy in which students are able to talk with him in his office about any issues or problems. This policy also applies to staff members. Belzer wants to create a safe environment in which students and staff are able to express their concerns and thoughts. 

“A big part of my job is to set policies, expectations, and directions which can feel very top-down, so I try to have an open door policy to allow me to engage with students and staff to discuss our goals and how they see their roles in the school,” Belzer said. 

Additionally, he attends student athletic competitions and is very involved with school activities such as school dances and sports games.

“I like being engaged with students and teachers and helping facilitate their learning. I also like the fact that no two days are the same and that I am a part of something that is constantly growing and moving forward,” Belzer said.

Most of Belzer’s meetings are after school at around 3:30 pm. After, he often stays at school until 5:30 to 6 pm checking emails and connecting with teachers. Finally, when he arrives home, he walks his dogs, has dinner with his family, and either watches TV or reads his current book, The Scarlet Letter, which is also being read by his daughter at Aragon.

Posted on October 31, 2018 .

Colleges track demonstrated interest in more ways than students know

In an age when applying to some colleges is as easy as checking a box on the Common Application, schools are increasingly tracking demonstrated interest in an attempt to predict which applicants consider the college to be their first choice, and which are applying with no real intention of attending. While many students are aware that colleges track demonstrated interest, most do not know the extent to which colleges can monitor a prospective student’s behavior.

 Students who opt into receiving emails from colleges when they take the PSAT may find their inbox flooded daily with dozens of new emails from colleges. Many of these schools track whether students open college emails or click the links inside.

Students who opt into receiving emails from colleges when they take the PSAT may find their inbox flooded daily with dozens of new emails from colleges. Many of these schools track whether students open college emails or click the links inside.

Students typically try to show that they are interested in a specific college by visiting the campus, scheduling an alumni interview, attending a college fair or emailing admissions representatives. The college’s goal in recording these actions is to increase its yield, or the percentage of admitted students who choose to attend the school. However, tracking demonstrated interest extends far beyond what students expect. According to Stefanie Niles, the vice president for enrollment management at Dickinson College, many schools have a database tool that checks whether or not prospective applicants are opening the emails that colleges send. The website CollegeMapper, created by Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed, also claims that colleges can detect whether or not an applicant scrolled through the email, which links in the email the applicant clicked and how long the applicant spent looking at the college’s website after clicking a link.

The National Association of College Admission Counselors reports that about half of all colleges consider demonstrated interest to be a highly or moderately important factor in the admissions process, meaning small actions, such as looking at college emails, can make a difference in the admissions process.

Some college applicants, such as senior Samantha Goldstein, want schools to make their methods of tracking demonstrated interest more transparent.

“I think tracking emails is little scary. I thought that those were emails that didn’t hold a lot of weight and they were more like sales pitches for schools and not important in terms of your admission,” Goldstein said. “Since college admissions are so competitive, hiding something that gives students a better chance of admission is unfair.”

However, alumna Priya Koliwad, currently a freshman at American University, believes that revealing exactly how colleges measure demonstrated interest would decrease the value of tracking demonstrated interest in the first place.

“Schools want to see genuine interest. If kids knew that they were tracked, they could falsify that interest,” Koliwad said. “There are ways to make the information [on how students can show interest] more accessible, but I think it would defeat the purpose of tracking.”

Most private institutions track demonstrated interest. If you are unsure whether or not a certain college pays attention to a student’s interest in the school, the admissions sections of college websites frequently have more information.

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

BHS Cafeteria faces immense problems

The school cafeteria has been in two difficult situations over the past few years. The school lunches have consistently climbed, with the most recent addition of $.50 added to the lunches this school year, leaving the lunches priced at $5. Meanwhile, the Special Nutrition program reports the average school lunch in California only costs $3. And yet, the cafeteria is still hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

The transition from Burlingame Intermediate to BHS has created an impact on freshman, most of who come from BIS, where the lunch price is a reasonable $2.75. Their lunches include a main entree, sides of vegetables and milk. BHS, on the other hand, is pricing the same lunches $2 more. However, it is split as to how the quality of the food compares to BIS’ lunch.

“The [BHS Lunch] looks like something I could buy at a store, which I like about the lunch...And [BIS’] lunches were just nasty,” freshman Dean Belhoucine, said.

However, other students have an opposing view regarding the BHS’ lunches.

“For me, BHS’ [lunch] is pretty trash... Plus it’s $2 more,” freshman Bilel Harrat said. “I just feel that BIS’ lunch was much better for its price than BHS’.”

Although some students may feel cheated by their costly lunches, the Nutrition Services have a far different stance on the situation. Vicki Ottoboni, the Nutrition Services lead at BHS claims that the high lunch price is still not high enough to support the lunch program, even with the additional $.50 added to the lunch price this school year.

“$5 for a meal is really not that expensive,” Ottoboni said. “Because if you walked Burlingame Avenue and bought a Caesar salad, for example, you would probably pay 10 or $11.”  

“We don’t raise prices every year…even though we should,” Ottoboni said, citing labor costs, food costs and benefits.

“But we are a break-even program so our goal is to break even… but we’ve never broke even. We’ve always been hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. But at this school and throughout the district, we seem to be selling more meals, more snacks or drinks,” Ottoboni said. “So hopefully it’ll be better.”

 Students line up in the BHS cafeteria to receive their food.

Students line up in the BHS cafeteria to receive their food.

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

Morning Glory: the Ave’s oldest store

When Paulette Munroe graduated from Burlingame 46 years ago, she was not entirely sure what she wanted to do with her life. However, a plan for the future soon presented itself in the form of Morning Glory, a store where she had been selling her handmade clothing since she was 16. Munroe and her sister Maureen bought the business from a friend’s sister with financial help from their father. Munroe recalls the early days when her father, who was very frugal, would loan them money.

 Morning Glory has been open since 1972 and has been in its location on 1436 Burlingame Avenue since 1995.

Morning Glory has been open since 1972 and has been in its location on 1436 Burlingame Avenue since 1995.

“[He would] only lend us exactly as much money as we had saved. So together we had saved $2,500 so he lent us $2,500,” Munroe said. “We opened it with $5,000.” They worked together making a majority of their inventory with Paulette sewing clothes and Maureen making jewelry and other accessories.

In the early 1970s, when the sisters attended BHS, Burlingame Avenue looked very different. Almost all the stores had single owners, as opposed to the large chains present today. Munroe remembers a store called Miller Drug.

“[The store had] a soda fountain in the middle [with]... a white marble counter; you could go in after school and all the kids used to hang out,” Munroe said. “It was like something out of an old movie.”

Despite many renovations and changing store fronts on Burlingame Avenue, Morning Glory still stands. Originally across from Copenhagen Bakery in an 800 square foot space, it has moved multiple times and is now located at 1436 Burlingame Ave.

“[There’s] really nothing about [running the store] I don’t like… you know the customers so well…. You know what you have, you know what they like and they sort of just count on you to guide them,” Munroe said.

After all these years, Munroe still owns Morning Glory, although it’s not just her and her sister anymore. She now has seven salespeople working for her and though she no longer makes all the clothing (almost all of it comes from wholesale manufactures), she still does all the alterations by hand and loves the community aspect of owning a small business on the Ave.

“I [love it] because you know the customers so well. And this town is really good for it, because even if people move away, everybody's parents are still here,” she said. “They all come back.”

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

Famous author with local roots

She was born in San Francisco, and she died in Vermont. She had few friends as a young girl and agoraphobia as an adult. She existed as a social pariah in her three years at Burlingame and received worldwide renown for her stories of ghosts and public stonings. To this day, the horror fiction genre stands in the shadow of powerhouse author Shirley Jackson.

 Horror writer Stephen King cited Hill House as “ of the most important horror novels of the 20th century.” On Oct. 12, Netflix released a TV series loosely based off the novella.

Horror writer Stephen King cited Hill House as “ of the most important horror novels of the 20th century.” On Oct. 12, Netflix released a TV series loosely based off the novella.

Jackson’s writings would inspire notable horror authors such as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Born in 1916, she was raised in a shingled house on Forest View Road, now called Forest View Avenue. Jackson’s home life was fraught with conflict. Her mother, thoroughly a “Hillsborough mom” by modern-day standards, was discontented with her daughter’s reclusive temperament. Jackson wrote in her diary, “I thought I was insane and I would write about how the only sane people are the ones who are condemned as mad and how the whole world is cruel and foolish and afraid of people who are different.” The strained relationship between mother and daughter, societal expectations versus individual eccentricities, was to be a recurring theme in Jackson’s novels.

Jackson attended Burlingame for three years. She played violin in the school orchestra. In her senior year, she and her family moved to Rochester, New York. Thereafter, she attended Brighton High School, also abbreviated as BHS. In 1934, Jackson began her freshman year at University of Rochester, later transferring to Syracuse University.

Stanley Edgar Hyman, another Syracuse student, read Jackson’s first short story appearing in the literary magazine and vowed to marry the author. Two years later, his vow came to fruition. When Hyman accepted a professorial position at Bennington College, the couple settled in Vermont.

It was during this time in Bennington that Jackson was most prolific. As a housewife, most of her time during the day was spent in solitude when her husband went to work. The Lottery, published in The New Yorker on June 26, 1948, catapulted Jackson to fame. In response to the controversial communal violence portrayed in the short story, The New Yorker received hundreds of letters. To this day, it is read widely in high schools across the U.S. Even after she became a successful author, Jackson’s mother still criticized her daughter, mainly for her lack of photogenic physical traits. But Jackson couldn’t care less about the way she was portrayed in the media. In fact, a rumor emerged among several gossip columns that Jackson was a practicing witch. She did, after all, own at least six cats of the same color fur at any one time in order to fool her husband into thinking that they only owned three or four cats. Jackson, for her part, did nothing to dispel these rumors. She found a measure of amusement in them.

As her name recognition increased in the publishing industry, the shunning of Jackson’s eccentricity became celebration. In 1959, the publication of The Haunting of Hill House cemented Jackson’s status in the horror literature pantheon. Celebrated horror writer Stephen King even cited Hill House as “ of the most important horror novels of the 20th century.”

The plot follows four main characters as they attempt to spend a summer living in a notorious haunted house. It is revealed in the beginning that one of the characters will die at Hill House. What makes the novel so terrifying is its central premise: the malicious ghosts are really the repressed “inner demons” lurking in the minds of the characters. (The main character is haunted by painful memories of her emotionally abusive mother. Sound familiar?) To that end, the horrors of Hill House are inescapable. One can hardly run away from the dark thoughts concealed in their own subconscious. Ghosts, bogeymen and the things that go bump in the night are figments of the human psyche. Jackson’s novel begets the question: what does that connote about the human psyche?

The good news is that you can answer that question for yourself. On Oct. 12, Netflix released a TV series called The Haunting of Hill House, loosely based off the original text.  

For her part, Jackson believed that the only way to vanquish her “inner demons” was to transform them into fiction. The self-conscious girl from Burlingame derived success from accepting her strangeness, and now the literary world is forever changed.

“As long as you write it away regularly,” Jackson wrote, “nothing can really hurt you.”

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

The driver's license dilemma

 Teens use Companies such as Uber and Lyft as substitutes to getting a license

Teens use Companies such as Uber and Lyft as substitutes to getting a license

Fewer teens are getting their driver's licenses than ever before. Instead of getting a driver’s license to drive themselves home, many teenagers are waiting until 18 years old to get a license. Many are saving money using either ride-hailing apps or public transportation such as buses and trains. Apps such as Uber and Lyft give anyone the capability to be picked up and dropped off whenever and wherever they want. Also, the driving restriction laws put in place for drivers under the age of 18 make getting a license before the age of 18 quite a hassle. These are a few of the reasons why many teens are not acquiring their license.

A common misconception is that owning a car is cheaper than using a ride-hailing app. The idea of paying everyday for a ride home by an Uber or Lyft driver at first glance can seem to be expensive, but in reality, ride-hailing is often cheaper after the total cost. Factors such as maintenance, gas, insurance, registration, or smog and tickets can add up to a large amount of money per month. The only cost of ride-hailing apps is the charge for the ride. Car owners are beginning to feel that the cost of owning a car outweighs the cost of an app.

For the first year of owning a license, an underage driver must have a licensed driver over the age of 25 in the car with them if they are driving after 11 p.m., or if there are other passengers in the car under the age of 20. These restrictions limit teenagers’ ability to legally drive friends alone in the first year of having a license and late at night. Because of these regulations, teenage car accidents have been on a decline. However, the multitude of regulations also frustrate underage drivers, leading them to work toward their drivers’ licenses only after they have reached age 20.   

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

Music for Kids Club provides local organization with music lessons

The Music for Kids Club at Burlingame High School devotes its Thursday lunches to planning voluntary Monday music lessons at the local Boys and Girls Club of North San Mateo County. The Boys and Girls Club of North San Mateo County’s mission is to inspire and enable young people to realize their full potential and contribute to their communities. Thus, the two programs’ objectives align nicely.

“Our club is all about inspiring kids to love music by making the experience a fun after school activity that kids look forward to,” said sophomore Grace Shin, president of the club.

The planning process of the entire after school program was not an easy task. Shin recalls that the idea of the program was brilliant, but daunting.

“At first, we just wanted to make an impact on the community in some way, shape, or form,” Shin said. “We got right to work planning the logistics of the program when the opportunity opened up at the Boys and Girls Club.”

The Music for Kids Club ensured that the music program would be something new that the community had never seen before. Although music lessons after school are very common, free music lessons held weekly by volunteers are rare.

“This is a voluntary program run by students who only meet once a week to plan a whole after school program from scratch every week,” said Sophomore Minami Mori, vice president of the Music for Kids Club.

Every Thursday at lunch, members of the club work vigorously to plan out game ideas and music lessons to create the perfect afterschool experience for the children.

“We have held four after school programs so far, all of which have been quite a success as we have seen improvement and interest from the kids,” Mori said.

Although the program has been successful, its road to success was not smooth sailing. The club had a hard time deciding on which songs to have the kids play, as they are all varied in skill level. The club also had to determine whether or not the children had sufficient musical knowledge to actually play an instrument.

“There were many factors we had to consider. We figured most of the kids probably didn’t know how to play an instrument yet so we had introductory music lessons first where we taught them the original octet, how to read notes, and how to count beats,” Shin said.

Nevertheless, the club was able to persevere through the complications and achieve its goal.

“After teaching them the basics for the first few weeks, they already knew the octet like back of their hand,” said Mori.

Once the children were beginning to able to play a simple tune, the program was starting to become a reality.

“We plan to start introducing more complex songs soon. It’s just a matter of how interested and focused the kids are during the couple hours we have, and they’re pretty focused already,” Mori said.

For the members of the Music for Kids Club, the afterschool music program not only means service hours and a fun time with kids, but also a reflection of how far their club has come since its establishment in 2018.

“This program isn’t just impacting the community, it’s impacting us. It has shown us how much our club can do if we put our minds to it,” Shin said.

Posted on October 27, 2018 .

You Matter week

 The event held on Sept. 26 provided various fun activities to lighten the heavy subject matter at hand.

The event held on Sept. 26 provided various fun activities to lighten the heavy subject matter at hand.

 Representatives from local mental health services were available to talk to students and provide them with resources.

Representatives from local mental health services were available to talk to students and provide them with resources.

 Junior Louis Tang asks a representative from StarVista about her activity.

Junior Louis Tang asks a representative from StarVista about her activity.

 Counselor Tammy Esrailian asks a student a true-or-false question about suicide in exchange for candy.

Counselor Tammy Esrailian asks a student a true-or-false question about suicide in exchange for candy.

 The event, spearheaded by counselor Karen Latham, aimed to destigmatize discussions about suicide.

The event, spearheaded by counselor Karen Latham, aimed to destigmatize discussions about suicide.

Posted on October 15, 2018 .

Burlingame seniors participate in Chili Cook-off


The annual Roosevelt Chili Cook-Off is this Sunday, October 7, and Seniors Neha Patkar and Anya Ahuja will be participating.

This will be the 22nd cook off hosted at Roosevelt elementary school to support the school and cover various costs of the contest. Families will help judge which chili has the most original name, the best presentation, the spiciest flavor, and which is the tastiest. There are 16 groups of contestants each year who compete against each other, including both parents and students.

Patkar, a senior at BHS, and Ahuja, a senior at middle college, began participating in the contest last year.

“My first year making the chili was last year but my parents have done it every year since 2007,” Patkar said.

When she attended Roosevelt, Patkar’s parents began participating in the Chili Cook-Off after they realized that there was no vegetarian chili. After 10 years, they “passed the torch” to Patkar and Ahuja.

“It was a huge part of my elementary school experience at Roosevelt and it was a huge deal as a kid both because it was a huge fundraiser and because it was so much fun,” Patkar said. “Now I enjoy it because I can help support Roosevelt and I get to see all of my old teachers.”

Posted on October 6, 2018 .

When the passenger becomes the pilot


Senior Alessandro Franco awoke in the early hours, gathered his paperwork, and drove to San Carlos airport at a time which he described as the “a**crack of dawn.” He checked the weather report for Tracy, a city approximately 60 miles southeast of the Bay Area. Then, he started up his Cessna 172, the plane he would be flying for the day, and took off from the runway.

Franco was heading to Tracy to perform a check flight, in which an instructor would assess his ability to complete basic maneuvers. This assessment would ultimately decide whether he would receive a private pilot’s license.

“[I was experiencing] a mix of nerves and relief, knowing that if this goes well, I can come back this afternoon officially a pilot, and if things don’t go well,” Franco said, “I have to wait for another long time.”

Since his father is a pilot, sitting in the cockpit was not a new experience for Franco. While his father steered the plane, it was always Franco’s job to speak with air-traffic control over the radio and set GPS coordinates for their destination.

Through the Upwind Scholarship program, a free intensive aviation course for rising seniors, Franco pursued an interest that had always been a part of the background noise in his life. From the passenger seat, Franco transitioned into the pilot seat.

He had been preparing for the checkflight for about three months. Franco spent five days per week from 9-5 at San Carlos airport, studying and adjusting to the steep learning curve of the intensive course. He practiced in a Cessna 152 and, later, a Cessna 172.

“There was a book like this big,” Franco said, holding up his pointer finger three inches apart from his thumb. He moved his pointer finger lower by a single inch. “I probably had to learn about this much.”

The check flight date was set for Aug. 4, but was rescheduled twice due to weather and mechanical issues. For a month, Franco waited to receive word of his assessment date.

“In that month,” he said, “I was really tempted to be like, ‘I’m so sick of this.’ But really sticking with it, staying sharp, ended up being so worth it.”

Franco was only notified two days before that Sept. 10 was to be the day of his check flight.

“It was kind of an unreal feeling knowing that it was actually happening,” Franco said.

His supervisor, a pilot named Vince Nastro, was talkative and fair. After Franco spent an hour and fifteen minutes successfully reviewing the protocols for engine failure, engine fire, electrical fire and landings on different surfaces, Nastro awarded Franco a challenge coin. Challenge coins are medallions bearing the names of specific organizations in the military.

“It said ‘Jaws’ on it,” Franco said. “He was like, ‘This is my military call-sign because I talk a lot.’ I was like, ‘It fits.’ ”

Challenge coin in hand and pilot’s license under his belt, Franco flew back to San Carlos airport. He called his instructor, who congratulated him over the phone by shouting, “Dude, that’s f***ing awesome!”

Back at the airport, Franco switched into his favorite plane (same model, but with a touch-screen GPS.) His father sat down in the co-pilot seat. Together, they flew for an hour above the San Francisco Bay.

“He started trying to give me his little pointers,” Franco said. “I was like, ‘no, no, no, this is my flight now.’ ”

Posted on September 30, 2018 .

Canvas’ spiffy features are slow but sure to please

After its pilot last year, Canvas officially replaced School Loop as Burlingame’s learning management system (LMS) in August. By using an LMS, teachers, students and parents can develop a mutual understanding of students’ academic progress. 

   Students can access Canvas in its mobile form, on their tablets or on the desktop website.

Students can access Canvas in its mobile form, on their tablets or on the desktop website.

Canvas has many desirable features, including a web page for each class with links to modules, class agendas, assignments and more. Unlike School Loop, Canvas connects to Google Drive and Turnitin, meaning that everything students need to submit work is in one place. Colleges across the country from the Ivy League to the California State University system use Canvas, so becoming familiar with it now may help students in the future. 

For teachers and students who have been using School Loop since sixth grade, however, Canvas poses a challenging learning curve. 

“The transition from School Loop to Canvas has been a little hard because a lot of teachers and students are still learning,” sophomore Cherilyn Yu said.

To ease the transition, several teachers began to use Canvas last year. The district held professional development days to teach its faculty how to use the new LMS, which has more options and tools for teachers to use while grading. This semester is the first time the entire school has used Canvas. 

“Canvas is very organized and more flexible than School Loop, but it is harder to check grades efficiently,” junior Diana Milne said. 

Yu agrees, bringing up a problem many students face while navigating Canvas—unlike School Loop, grades do not just pop up automatically on the main Canvas dashboard. In the long run, though, this difference could teach students to value their individual classes above their grade point average.

“I don’t think about my grades as often anymore,” Yu said.

Posted on September 28, 2018 .

SWUN Math: friend or foe?

Burlingame Elementary School District (BSD) has been annually renewing its contract with SWUN Math since 2013, but not all teachers and students are on board with the program’s structure and effectiveness.

The SWUN Math model involves both conceptual and procedural lessons on topics in each unit. In theory, this structure aligns with the Common Core standards, which emphasize critical thinking rather than rote memorization of concepts. But some teachers offer a different perspective on its design.

   District officials tout higher test scores, but there was a slight decrease in performance in 2017 as compared to the previous year.

District officials tout higher test scores, but there was a slight decrease in performance in 2017 as compared to the previous year.

“Rather than going deeply into standards, the units move quickly without much review,” said Becky Glover, a teacher at Lincoln Elementary School. “If students miss school, they miss instruction and have to be caught up.”

The Burlingame B reached out to other teachers in BSD for comment; however, according to an unnamed source, none were willing to speak on the record for fear of retribution.

Another issue some have with SWUN is the presence of typos and editing errors in the curriculum, which have ranged from simple spelling mistakes to incorrect answers altogether. While Glover says there are fewer than when BSD started with the program, “[they] trip up the kids, or me.”

“[SWUN] is fraught with errors that just lead to more confusion,” said Brennan McDonald, a junior at BHS who started with the program in 6th grade. When asked about the typos, a representative from SWUN Math said that they had heard no such complaints from Burlingame, but said there was a process in place to fix them.

In light of these perceived issues, teachers have felt the need to supplement SWUN with their own materials. Glover, for instance, said that she provides her students with “logic problem solving lessons, math manipulatives and games.” 

In fact, SWUN itself is designed as a supplementary curriculum. It does not appear on the 2014 California Department of Education list of adopted mathematics curriculums (an updated list has not yet been released), although BSD worked with the company directly to develop it into its core curriculum. A California policy change in 2009 loosened restrictions on categorical funds and permitted BSD to use state funds to pay for the program.

District officials who brought SWUN Math to  Burlingame in 2013, however, remain strong proponents of the program. Dr. Maggie MacIsaac, BSD’s superintendent, said that SWUN Math’s early alignment with Common Core along with its rigorous professional development programs for teachers were major motivators in the district’s decision to adopt it. 

“Typically what publishers do is regurgitate what they’ve had for years,” MacIsaac said. “They don’t change, they’re not flexible.” The superintendent mentioned other available options at the time, such as Engage New York, but said that they did not provide as much teacher training as SWUN did.

BSD Board Trustee Davina Drabkin, who was president in 2013, highlighted what she called “an upward trend in assessment metrics” since SWUN’s implementation. 

“It’s validated our hypothesis that understanding the core concepts would help students with unfamiliar math problems and situations,” Drabkin said. While there have been increases in scores, the percentage of students who exceeded standards dipped slightly in 2017 on the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) exam as compared to the previous year.

But it was Susan Anderson, BSD’s District Math Specialist, who formally presented SWUN to the Board of Trustees with MacIsaac back in 2013. Anderson was the new Specialist at the time, and had had very positive experiences with the program at both San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). 

“SWUN Math focuses on academic language and understanding why the mathematics works,” Anderson said. Interestingly, both SFUSD and OUSD had terminated their contracts with SWUN by 2013 (Anderson’s tenure at each district also closely correlated with their respective relationships with the company).

Testimonials from OUSD, which piloted the program starting in the 2006 academic year, are prominently featured on SWUN Math’s website. However, an OUSD math leader (who had worked with SWUN for several years) offered a critique of the program.

When Oakland used SWUN, students took the California Standards Test (CST) rather than the SBAC. The OUSD official, who asked to remain anonymous for this story, said that while SWUN was relatively effective in increasing scores, it relied on tricks to find the answer rather than an understanding of concepts.

“SWUN Math taught [a] trick for comparing fractions, and it would give the right answer every time,” the source said.  “But [students] wouldn’t understand fractions, and that would make math way harder in middle school and beyond.”

The OUSD district employee’s compilation of CST scores that tracked proficiency as students progressed through elementary and middle school showed a significant decrease in performance as students faced more challenging problems. 

“I noticed that the scores from students who were SWUN trained fell even more than those who used the other programs,” the source said. According to the compilation, there was an average 23.8% drop in math proficiency in schools use SWUN Math compared to a roughly 12.4% drop in proficiency for those who did not.

In 2011, OUSD terminated its contract with SWUN in favor of a curriculum combining Math Expressions with content developed by Oakland teachers. 

A representative from SFUSD, meanwhile, confirmed that no school had contact with SWUN after 2013, but would not provide any insight as to why the contract was terminated.

Either way, Burlingame intends to continue with SWUN Math. There are former students who liked using it, including junior Sophia Young, who “appreciated its structure in comparison to the curriculum [she] uses now.” 

Separately, SWUN was a sponsor at last academic year’s Burlingame Community for Education (BCE) Foundation’s annual dinner dance. BCE, however, did not respond to a request for the specific amount.

When asked what the district had heard from parents and students about SWUN Math, MacIsaac joked, “You know, I’m never going to make everybody happy.” 

Posted on September 28, 2018 .

Martinez’s return to the dark past

In America, children’s worst fear is the monster under the bed. In Nicaragua, children’s worst fear is being killed walking down the street. At 9 years old, Spanish teacher Julian Martinez was forced to flee from Nicaragua and its destructive civil war. Martinez remembers the dark past he left behind in light of the horrific events currently occurring in Nicaragua and understands the pain Nicaraguans are feeling.

Posted on September 28, 2018 .

SpaceX: Out of this World

Most people’s side hobbies are scrapbooking, knitting, photography, or the like. For business magnate Elon Musk, a side hobby is starting the multibillion dollar space exploration company SpaceX. SpaceX, founded in 2002, aims to reduce the cost of space transportation, and to eventually create a colony on Mars.

Posted on May 28, 2018 .

Sullivan retires after 43 years of teaching

Beloved history teacher Dave Sullivan plans to retire from teaching high school after 43 years on the job. Sullivan started teaching in 1975 at Campolindo High School in Moraga, California and then came to Burlingame in 2001 to be the Assistant Principal for two years. In 2003, he left to teach at Capuchino High School, where he taught for seven years.

Posted on May 25, 2018 .