“Rocketship serves all students.” It’s a fundamental principle that drives Rocketship’s approach to meaningful inclusion of students with diverse learning needs in our schools. Ask any visitor to a Rocketship classroom and they will tell you that they see this philosophy play out in the diversity of learners in each and every school. It means that every cohort of Rocketeers consists of students of all abilities and disabilities, learning alongside each other in the general education setting supported by a team of Rocketship educators.
Parents are the first teachers of their children. They are our Rocketeers’ strongest advocates, and the leaders in our collective movement for change. They are closing the achievement gap and bringing educational equity to communities where there are few to no options for an excellent, free, public education.
Rocketship had the honor of celebrating these courageous and powerful parent leaders at our First Annual Bay Area Parent Leadership Awards Ceremony in early May. Over 20 awards were presented, and school leaders and parents from our 12 Bay Area schools gathered together to celebrate. Here are some highlights from the award winners:
Ten years ago, I was in third grade. I started at a new school that year that I really liked. I had great teachers and we started every day singing and dancing together. It was a good year, but I had no idea that it would make such an incredible impact on my future. But looking back now, that is when it all started. That is when I started thinking about college, dreaming about my future, and dedicating myself to reach my goals.
Ten years later, I was accepted to the best public university in the nation: The University of California – Berkeley. My path to college wasn’t easy. Only one person in my family graduated high school. Nobody in my family even applied to college or knew what it would take to get accepted. But way back when I was just nine years old, my family put me on the path to college when they enrolled me in Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary.
This was the very first year of the very first Rocketship school. Our school was in a church basement in downtown San Jose. But what I remember most about my time at Rocketship is my teachers and what they taught me. I loved all my teachers at Rocketship, however, my favorites were Ms. Guerrero and Mr. Nadeau. These two teachers made an incredible impact on my education and my life.
I never thought I’d get here. I never thought I’d be legally allowed to stay in this country, be a college graduate, or be a teacher. Coming originally from Tijuana, Mexico, when I was one year old, my family immigrated to San Jose. We scraped by those first few years. We crammed eight people into a two bedroom apartment. My father was always working, trying to keep food on the table and saving up so we could move into our own home. When I turned five, my dad bought our first house.
I started school that same year. I went to a nearby school in the neighborhood. It was great and I got good grades. But everything changed when I got to middle school. My parents were no longer able to help me with my homework but they still expected me to earn straight A’s. My dad would tell me “You only have one job. Your job is to go to school and get good grades. My job is to work to give you food and shelter so you can bring those excellent grades home.” I was so scared to disappoint my family. I did not know how to study, so I memorized everything by writing it down on a paper. I would read what I wrote to myself and I would go to sleep repeating what I had written from my books. My grades improved but I’m not sure I really learned much in middle school. In high school, things got a little better. I did well in math and science, but I hated English. I understand the pain that many of my students have when they are not able to write or say something grammatically correct in English.
Helping fourth graders access and understand the news. Increasing personalization in kinder STEM classes. These are just some examples of how our creative Rocketship teachers used funds they won in our first ever round of ‘Innovation Grants.’ This grant, sponsored by the Achievement and Operations Teams, awarded 5 different grants to help Rocketship staff innovate and solve important challenges that impact our Rocketeers. The grants were aimed at projects that identify specific, “bite-size” issues and include innovative and scalable solutions to solving the issues. 12 staff members, from teachers to enrichment coordinators to office managers, applied for this inaugural round of funding. Here are some examples of the winners…
Walking into the lobby of the Nashville Ronald McDonald House you know immediately that this is a welcoming place for kids. Brightly colored walls, comfortable seating, beautiful art, and a big kids play area fill the space. The problem is that families staying at the Ronald McDonald House spend most of their days in the hospital with their child and their nights in the individual family rooms, not in the lobby. The family rooms have not been brightened and decorated like the rest of the house, but instead remain grey and bare.
Earth Week is an opportunity to educate our youngest citizens around environmental awareness. At Rocketship, we prepare our students to be successful, empathetic, and persistent change makers both inside and outside of the classroom. Check out these five ways our Rocketeers celebrated Earth Week this year, and get some ideas for how you can implement environmental awareness in your classroom.
At Rocketship, we have always valued personalized learning as a core part of our instruction, integrating blended learning programs into our instructional model to meet the needs of each and every Rocketeer.
In a typical classroom, you will see one teacher teaching the same content to 25-30 students. In this whole group structure, it is near impossible to tell what content every student is comprehending and what gaps in understanding specific students may have. At Rocketship, we define personalized learning as an instructional approach where whole group instruction is more purposefully utilized (i.e. social-emotional lessons that are developmentally appropriate and require a large group or team), and Rocketeers engage in learning that is targeted to their individual academic and personal needs. While technology allows us to efficiently assign aligned content and track growth, online tools do not solely define our personalized learning model. Rather, the authentic partnership of teacher insights, student agency, online tools, and data systems allow us to really give each learner what they need to succeed. Thus, personalized learning lives in all parts of the day, including, but not limited to: small group instruction, peer group projects, pull out groups with ISE (Integrated Special Education) specialist, leveled homework, Tier II interventions in the Learning Lab, and online learning programs (OLPs).
“Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics.” – Dean Schlicter
When it comes to STEM education, the case for curiosity and exploration often gets lost in the traditional classroom. At Rocketship we believe in encouraging our student’s appetite for learning by igniting their curiosity and allowing them to experience learning. Last month for example, Rocketeers at Si Se Puede Academy found the connection between math and basketball during the NCAA March Madness tournament as they were transformed into court-side statisticians at the SAP Center in San Jose.
We caught up with Si Se Puede Principal Heidy Shin to find out more about this March Math Madness. Check out her story below.
Preston Smith, Rocketship Co-founder and CEO, won the 2016 University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill Distinguished Alumni Award. This led to a feature in the University of North Carolina Alumni Review’s spring issue.
by Sandra Millers Younger ’75
Back when Preston Smith ’01 was in high school, it wasn’t hard to pick him out of the crowd. He was the one in orange. Orange every day. Shirts, jerseys and jackets. Each one as orange as the fruit that grew in the orchards surrounding Rialto, Calif., a once prosperous middle-class community that was gutted by white flight shortly after Smith’s parents settled there to raise a family.
His penchant for orange made a great campaign gimmick, a distinguishing mark that may have helped him win the race for student body president despite his minority status as a Caucasian kid in a tough inner-city school. Then it became a thing. Preston’s thing. As if he needed to stand out more than he already did.
But Smith’s status as a campus leader didn’t protect him from political backlash when he uncovered a school scandal — a college counselor was playing favorites, stacking the competition for major scholarships.
Smith told the administration and then the media. No one believed him. Faculty members sided with their colleague and turned a cold shoulder toward the kid who’d made the accusations — even after lopsided awards-night results proved him right.
“It was a really lonely year,” Smith said. “Most of my friends had graduated the year before, and none of the teachers would talk to me.”
At graduation, after leading the Pledge of Allegiance, Smith made a farewell statement. He unzipped his standard-issue green graduation gown to reveal a second robe underneath — this one bright orange.
Pomp and circumstance gave way to pandemonium as two angry teachers jumped up and escorted their rebellious student body president off the stage and out of the ceremony. But it was too late. Smith had left his mark.
“A bunch of stuff happened after I graduated,” he said, and the scholarships started getting distributed evenly again.
Preston Smith has been fighting injustice and disrupting the status quo in education ever since. As co-founder, president and CEO of Rocketship Education, a nonprofit network of charter elementary schools based in San Jose, he has turned his restless energy toward the achievement gap — the educational disparity that handicaps students from low-income communities, often for life.
“She goes to school. Feels uncertain about who she is. Tryin to hide behind the curtain so she lashes out. Out of fear of bein’ known, inside and out.”
These words come from our Rocketeers’ work in Queenhype’s award-winning short film “Jagged.” The girls who wrote, directed, and starred in this movie are only 6-12 years old. Yet they used their voices and their art to show the struggle of a young girl, in school and in her community; to be okay with who she is. The girl eventually embraces who she is, inside and out, with the help of her other ‘queens.’ Queenhype partnered with San Jose Digital Arts to write and shoot this first short film to bring awareness to mental illness and violence in socio- economically disadvantaged communities.
QueenHype is an empowerment club that acts as a safe space for girls to confront their insecurities and move forward from them by establishing a strong sense of self-love and purpose. The skills we’re developing in QueenHype are improving not only their personal lives, but also their academic success, putting them on the path to tackle college and their careers with courage. QueenHype inspires our female Rocketeer students to find their voice, their confidence, and their reason to make their mark in history.
During Black History Month we have the opportunity to engage our young Rocketeers in important conversations around race, civil rights, social justice, and American history. Our Rocketeers live all over the country. They come from varied backgrounds, speak different languages, and have unique experiences. It is our job to instill in our Rocketeers the knowledge, confidence, and language necessary to talk about and appreciate difference. Black History Month is an opportunity to inspire students to dream big and become the leaders, change makers, and champions they encounter in the powerful figures and accomplishments of the Black community in this country.