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Adelante Charter School’s STEM Program Yields High Science Scores

California’s STAR test data are out, and schools are busy analyzing their performances in critical subject areas. Adelante Charter School, Santa Barbara Unified’s two-way immersion elementary campus, continues to show significant gains.

Since 2009, when the school (formerly César Chávez Charter School) made dramatic changes to the instructional model, the school’s API has jumped a whopping 113 points. Most impressive were the science results for last year’s fifth-grade class. The students achieved the second-highest scores in the district after Washington Elementary, with 78 percent of students scoring at the proficient or advanced levels.

When results were narrowed to compare only those students in the socioeconomically disadvantaged subgroup across the district, Adelante came out on top by a significant margin.

ACS is seeing the results of a strong Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) focus, which emphasizes hands-on, student-centered learning, relevant real world problem-solving, inquiry and consistent opportunities for interaction with the natural world. Principal Juanita Hernandez has prioritized strengthening STEM disciplines K-6 and has directed resources to support both teachers and students.

Students at all grade levels participate in numerous field trips and outdoor experiences. Third-graders take an annual overnight trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Fourth-graders participate in the MERITO Academy (Multicultural Education for Resource Issues Threatening Oceans), sponsored by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, where students engage in fieldwork with scientists at Coal Oil Point Reserve as well as on the Channel Islands. Fifth-graders benefit from Kids-in-Nature, a program sponsored by UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration, which provides multiple experiences in the field with UCSB graduate students who serve as mentors. They also work with UCSB’s SciTrek program, where students actively engage in the scientific process from the development of investigative questions to the design of their own experiments, data analysis and presentation of results.

Sixth-graders are partnering with the Wilderness Youth Project this year and enjoy the amazing opportunity to explore and connect with the beauty of Santa Barbara’s wilderness on a regular basis. The sixth-grade class will also attend CIMI (Catalina Island Marine Institute) for a weeklong science camp. Together, these experiences inspire Adelante’s students to engage in more complex thinking, and produce self-directed, lifelong learners.

Holly Gil, school Site Council president and parent of four children at Adelante, has been instrumental in developing the STEM program. She has volunteered countless hours over the years teaching science in the classrooms, supporting teachers in science instruction and advocating for outdoor opportunities for all children.

“I’m so proud of the fifth-grade students, but not at all surprised by their test results," she said. "These children love science; you can see the joy in their faces as they are learning, and it is contagious. I’m so thankful for the Adelante community and their commitment to providing these enriching opportunities, and most impressively, they do it in two languages!”

— Sheila Cullen is a member of Adelante Charter School's Board of Directors.

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