Silicon Valley schools reject tech

Megan V. Winslow/ Town Crier
Canterbury Christian School students do not use computers or tablets in the classroom until sixth grade.

At most elementary schools, iPads and laptops abound. Children create PowerPoint presentations to showcase their work, and they search for sources online for research papers. But at Canterbury Christian School in Los Altos, laptops, tablets and cellphones are not welcome in the classroom.

The small elementary school of 90 students is distinctly religious: Each school day starts with a service, and each student memorizes a Bible verse each week. But what draws some Silicon Valley families to the school is that computers are left out of the classroom.

Tutorfly stretches its wings

Courtesy of Tutorfly
Tutorfly, a tutoring startup founded by a Homestead High alumnus, recently hosted a monthlong coding camp for local students.

Taylor Garcia, sixth-grader at Graham Middle School in Mountain View, loves animals. She wanted to build a website dedicated to ending puppy mills, but she didn’t know how. So when her mom told her about a monthlong coding camp, she was in.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, sign me up,”’ Taylor said.

The coding camp is the latest brainchild of a company created by Los Altos native and Homestead High alumnus Parsa Rezvani.

Rezvani created Tutorfly because he wanted to provide peer-to-peer tutoring at his former high school and other schools. Now, the Los Angeles-based startup has tutors at more than 300 high schools and universities across the state. The company is rooted in his peer-to-peer model: Tutors are students who have recently taken the course a fellow student is looking for help in, so they know the curriculum and sometimes even the teachers’ quirks. Baked into the company’s mission is a desire to serve families of all income levels.

“We’re doing a good job of alleviating the pain of expensive tutoring for middle-income families, but we really want to help lower-income families that can’t afford to even pay $25 per hour for tutoring,” Rezvani said.

As part of that mission, Tutorfly partnered with different organizations to provide two coding camps in the fall. The camp that Taylor participated in took place at Homestead High and was a joint venture between Tutorfly and Mindspark: Mindspark supplied the curriculum for the camp and Tutorfly provided the tutors and oversight.

The curriculum consisted of the basics of building a website, start to finish. Taylor learned HTML and CSS – she’d already taken coding classes after school at her elementary school, but the website-building tools were new to her.

With any growth comes growing pains – Rezvani said the camp ended up with fewer participants than expected. Initially the company planned to have 20 paying students attend the camp and 10 students attend for free, but they eventually decided to make the camp free for all and afterward ask families for a donation.

Approximately 10 students consistently attended the camp at Homestead. During the same time, Tutorfly held a similar camp in Southern California that had approximately 30 students regularly attending. Rezvani said they learned that getting community input in advance of the camp is important – parent-teacher organizations were helpful in spreading the word about the Southern California camp. Timing matters, too – in the survey parents filled out after the camp, they said a 7-9 p.m. camp time was too late for their kids.

Like any startup, Tutorfly will keep iterating. The kids who attended camp last fall walked away with a working knowledge of how to build a website, which instructor Diya Aggarwal said she was proud of.

“Most people came in with no previous knowledge, so that feels rewarding,” she said.

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This too shall pass: Handling students first-year college challenges

While much energy is spent on the college admissions process and the focus on getting in, as important is staying, graduating and getting out.

More than 36 percent of all four-year college students transfer out of their first university, half of those to a community college. While challenging academics play a small part, it is often the executive functioning skills and adjustment to being away from home that are the big culprits impacting both mental health and grades.

Local teacher's stories evolve into book

 Devik Schreiner
Courtesy of Devik Schreiner
Devik Schreiner signs copies of “The Oregon Story,” his latest novel, at his book launch at Gardner Bullis School Dec. 1.

Gardner Bullis School teacher Devik Schreiner’s penchant for making up stories has led to a second career as an author.

Schreiner started telling stories to students in his social studies and language arts classes early in his career, prompted by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Los Altos Hills teen reflects on time in Morocco, cultural values

While most local teens stayed around town over the summer – perhaps working a summer job or taking a class – one ventured halfway across the globe to Morocco to learn her sixth language.

Anjani Ramanathan
Courtesy of Anjali Ramanathan
Anjali Ramanathan spent two months in Morocco learning Arabic.

Los Altos Hills resident Anjali Ramanathan received a selective scholarship from the National Security Language Initiative for Youth to travel to Morocco and learn Arabic last June and July. The program encourages applicants from all walks of life and language ability but focuses solely on learning languages to increase international conversation.

Community robotics team celebrates rookie year with wins

Courtesy of Brian Wilcove
Members of the DeepVision robotics team fix the lift of their robot between matches at the Oct. 5 competition.

Before last year, 17-year-old Reilly Dennedy had never held a drill. Within the year, she not only held a drill, but also helped her team put together a working robot, complete with computer vision and an autonomous mode, that won two awards at its second competition.

“I had no idea what I was doing, at all, but people helped me out,” Dennedy said.

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