Education

A new car? A new cell phone policy? Stanislaus County students head back to school amid changes

Third grader Madelynne Saragosa (center) uses a balance ball as Mattilynne Criswell stands at right Thursday (08-10-17) on the first day of school at Sylvan Elementary School in Modesto, Calif. The kids are offered alternative ways at desks for learning as part of the new STEAM program the school is launching this year.
Third grader Madelynne Saragosa (center) uses a balance ball as Mattilynne Criswell stands at right Thursday (08-10-17) on the first day of school at Sylvan Elementary School in Modesto, Calif. The kids are offered alternative ways at desks for learning as part of the new STEAM program the school is launching this year. jlee@modbee.com

Going back to school is not such a routine this month for many students in Stanislaus County.

Children attended the first day of class Thursday at Sylvan Elementary School’s newly launched STEAM Academy, where they sat on exercise balls and wobble cushions while engaging in classroom activities.

In Turlock, the public high schools and middle schools have a new policy for cellular phones and smart watches. And high schoolers throughout Stanislaus County who have perfect attendance will have a shot at winning a new car.

Sylvan School in Modesto, the original campus in Sylvan Union School District, is completing a $7 million makeover and rolled out the STEAM academy emphasizing science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Principal Tedde Vaupel said 100 children from other schools were chosen in a lottery to join Sylvan School students in the academy. The alternative seating arrangements include pillows, wobble cushions, bar stools and exercise balls. Collaboration and project-based learning are central to the educational experience at the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school on Coffee Road.

“It’s engaging for the students and it’s a culture like you have at no other school,” Vaupel said. A lab newly built for the academy should be open in September for engineering, photography and other electives.

Teacher Nikki Whorton said her third-grade class will set up a polling place for a voting project and bring in elected officials to talk.

Monday will be the first day for students in Modesto City Schools. Beyer High School will welcome students with a 50-foot red carpet lined by cheerleaders, student leaders, athletes, the robotics team and the Patriot band.

A new program this year for high schoolers in Stanislaus County is a perfect attendance drive, which is part of the county Office of Education’s “Destination Graduation” initiative. Students with perfect attendance for any calendar month in the 2017-18 school year can enter a contest for a new car or family four-pack tickets to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in the Bay Area.

Lynn Stinson and Kevin Stinson, owners of the Modesto Toyota auto dealership, worked with the Office of Education to create the incentive for school attendance. The grand prize is a new Toyota Corolla.

The contest is open to students at traditional and approved charter high schools within the purview of the Stanislaus County Office of Education. The rules are posted at www.modestotoyota.com/attendance.

The Stinsons “see themselves as community partners and it’s a big deal for the family to be involved in the community,” said Mike Daniel, owner of Final Cut Media, who is running the promotion.

Turlock Unified School District, which welcomes students back Monday, has relaxed a policy for cell phone and smart watch use among high school and middle school students.

Marie Russell, chief communications coordinator for Turlock Unified, said the students are permitted to use their phones and other communication devices during the lunch break only. Under a previous policy, students were supposed to have their phones powered off from the first bell to the last each day.

The Turlock school board approved the change in policy in May as “part of our ongoing efforts to prepare students for life after school by helping them learn to self-regulate their behaviors and recognize appropriate versus inappropriate times of cell phone usage.”

Russell said Turlock students have used their phones on campus to communicate with their parents, regardless of the previous policy. They mostly ran the risk of having phones confiscated if they were texting or playing games in class. She said the new policy is meant to clarify the rules for cell phone use.

The TUSD policy for cell phones is still one of the more restrictive. Modesto City Schools doesn’t allow cell phone use in the classroom, unless it’s part of an instructional activity; otherwise, students can use their phones on campus.

Schools from Ceres to Waterford also are geared up for the 2017-18 school year.

Patterson Unified School District will hold its Back to School Block Party & Safety Fair from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. The activities including music, games and information booths will be held in downtown Patterson.

Some new principals have taken the helm at Modesto high schools. Sara Gil, a former associate principal of curriculum at Beyer High, has taken over at Davis High School. Former Davis principal Mike Rich took a job in the district office as director of innovation.

Enoch High School’s new principal is Amanda Moore, who was the associate principal of curriculum and instruction at Gregori High. State Principal of the Year Deb Rowe left the top administrative job at Enochs to accept a position with the county Office of Education.

In May, Modesto City Schools also announced new principals for Enslen, Everett, Franklin, Fremont, Marshall, Martone, Orville Wright and Rose Avenue elementary schools.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16

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