The school year has long surrendered to summer, but classes are still in session at Pinewood School.
The Pinewood Upper Campus in Los Altos Hills welcomed a new batch of middle-schoolers for the summer, hosting the seventh- and eighth-grade summer component of the Peninsula Bridge program.
Peninsula Bridge, a donor-funded nonprofit organization, collaborates with local schools to provide tuition-free academic enrichment for motivated students from under-resourced communities.
Pinewood opened its campus for the program last year for the first time.
“They wanted to expand, and we were looking for a summer outreach program to participate in, so it worked out,” said Bonnie Traymore, Pinewood’s site director.
The program is volunteer driven. Pinewood students and alumni serve as teacher assistants (TAs), and instructors from Pinewood and other local schools are hired to teach.
A career perspective
Traymore, a certified college-counselor, emphasizes a constructive college and job-hunting perspective.
“I start from the perspective of careers,” she said. “It’s not just about school and more school, it’s about the end result, and it makes more sense to them.”
This year, DPR Construction, a major donor to the program, visited the campus and taught students about bridge building.
“The surprising thing is, they didn’t just bring in architects, construction workers, who you might expect,” Traymore said of DPR. “They brought in people in computer science and graphics so that you could really see why it’s worth it to go to college and how many cool jobs you can do afterwards.”
Traymore said she plans to expand the career-planning component of Pinewood’s program next year.
“People assume that the kids just know what they’re working for, but a lot of the time they don’t,” she said. “We want to expand our focus on careers, and get local businesses involved, like Google and Facebook – get the kids thinking about jobs they could do in their community.”
The high school students who volunteer to assist in the program play an important role in the program’s mission of setting middle-schoolers on a path to college, according to Traymore.
“We want to infuse them with a college-going mindset and culture,” she said. “Having the TAs going through the college application process, or having gone through it, gives the kids role models that they can respect and try to follow.”
The volunteers said they enjoy the teaching experience as well, contributing significant amounts of their summer to the program.
“I really like seeing how they start out in the beginning and how they end up,” said Chloe Robinette, a two-time Bridge volunteer, of students in the program. “In the beginning, they’re hesitant to even raise their hands or put in effort. But in the end, you can just see that they really value working hard. I love seeing their confidence just skyrocket.”
According to Robinette, soft-spoken eighth-grader Yasmine Naeata, black curly hair escaping from under her turquoise beanie, is one of their “rock-star students.”
“I do feel a difference (from school),” Naeata said. “There are more activities and fewer people, so you feel like you’re being more engaged because you’re being talked to more often by TAs and teachers.”
Traymore has high hopes for the students.
“The goal is that they pre-learn the material and stay ahead in class,” she said. “That way, they become leaders in their classes and maybe change the culture, make it cool to get ahead, work hard and get good grades.”
In a seventh-grade pre-algebra class, the summer students can both get ahead and goof off.
Rohan Suresh, a junior at Pinewood, sits in a huddle with his group of seventh-graders, desks pushed into a circle. He’s teaching absolute-value pre-algebra. Or rather, he’s trying.
Peninsula Bridge student Francisco Rivera Navarro, who goes by Paco, has just grabbed Suresh’s pen.
“Give me the pen,” Suresh says, hand extended.
Navarro gives an impish smile. “No.”
“Give. Me. The. Pen.”
Paco places it in Suresh’s outstretched hand, then snatches it away before Suresh can close his fingers. Navarro chuckles to himself. At this point, Suresh abandons all pretense of a diplomatic approach, grabs the pen and calmly continues to teach pre-algebra.
Standardized testing, college admissions and careers are far from their minds – after all, it is summer.
For more information, visit peninsulabridge.org.