‘We’re With You’: Fourth Graders Learn Empathy Through Art


by Briana Burtsell, Rocketship United Academy Art Enrichment Coordinator and Visual Art Instructor

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. Continue reading

5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Week in the Classroom

by Beyond Editorial Staff

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. Continue reading

Personalized Learning in the Classroom Comes in Many Forms

by Keya Lamba
Senior Associate, Personalized Learning

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 conteIMG_5878nt 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).
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March Math Madness

by Heidy Shinn

Prinipal, Rocketship Sí Se Puede Academy

 “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. 

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The Accidental Educator


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.

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Empowering Our Girls to Share Their Truth

by LaToya Fernandez
Social Justice and Culture Teacher, Rocketship Discovery Prep + Queen Hype Founder

“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.”

“Jagged” by Queen Hype from SJ Digital Arts on Vimeo.

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.

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Poetry, Performance & Pride: Teaching Black History to Elementary Students

by Beyond Editorial Staff

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. 

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Gratitude is a Choice We Make Every Day

by Tatum Schultz
Third Grade STEM Teacher, Rocketship United Academy

Every language in the world has a way of saying “thank you.” Gratitude is an inherent quality that resides deep within each one of us. It is triggered by different events and crosses the boundaries of race, age, and gender. Gratitude comes from the heart. It is an acknowledgment of the positive things that we feel in our soul. When we give gratitude, we give a gift freely and unearned.img_9471

At Rocketship United Academy, our leaders, teachers, and support staff are dedicated to sharing gratitude. Within our halls a positive culture thrives. Respect, responsibility, empathy, and persistence are our core values we believe in. We build on our core values and allow our Rocketeers to grow in a community that shares a desire to exceed expectations.

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Tet Festival in Pictures: Celebrating Culture & Community

by BEYOND Editorial Team

At Rocketship we know we cannot achieve our mission of closing the achievement gap in isolation. We are a collective movement made up of many different identities. A diverse group of teachers, families, and staff united by a common belief that all children deserve a quality education. We believe in creating supportive environments where we celebrate the rich tapestry of social identities that make up our greater Rocketeer community. That means we encourage all of our Rocketeers to learn about each other’s cultural traditions to strengthen the bonds that will help us all unite together to rethink education.

This month, we have the opportunity to celebrate both Black History Month, as well as the Tet Festival, the Vietnamese version of the Lunar New Year. Vietnamese people around the world consider Tet to be one of the most important celebrations of the year, and we were honored to share this important time with our Rocketship community. Several of our schools welcomed the year of the rooster in with special events. The Rocketship Mosaic Vietnamese Parent Association (RMVPA) hosted a large event at Mosaic Elementary that showcased student performances and even a surprise visit from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and District 7 Councilman Tam Nguyen.

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Keeping Kids in Class

by Beyond Editorial Staff

Central to our mission is the belief that all students can achieve, both academically and through upholding our core values as respectful citizens. This belief is put into practice every day in Rocketship classrooms. Some of the most obvious ways in which this is implemented is through our very low suspension rate and our special education inclusion model. We put incredible time and effort into bringing all students into the classroom and supporting them to thrive there.

Rocketship Has Never Expelled a Student

We don’t kick kids out of school. That has been our stance since we opened our first school ten years ago. And while we have grown from a single school serving a couple hundred kids in a church basement to a national network serving nearly 8,000 Rocketeers, we have still never expelled a student at any school in any year.

Rocketship’s Network Suspension Rate Was 2.6% in the 2015-2016 School Year Continue reading

They Can Take Away Our Garden But They Can’t Take Away Our Unity

by Marie Issa Gil
Bay Area Regional Director
“Our children feel like second class citizens.” This feeling comes from Rocketship Futuro Academy parent Sasha Hickman, Principal Jason Colon, and a host of other Futuro community members. Why? Because the local school district has routinely targeted the school, students, and families with discriminatory language and action.

The first Rocketship school in the East Bay, Rocketship Futuro Academy has only been open a few months and already our parents have created a community of pride around their school. Rocketship Futuro Academy is co-located on the Ayers Elementary campus in Concord. Made up of six portables, the Futuro campus houses Rocketeers from kindergarten to second grade. ‘Purpose’ is the school’s fifth core value, as chosen by the Futuro parents and community supporters.

Rocketship Schools Named Top Bay Area Public Schools for Underserved Students

by Beyond Editorial Staff
The accolades keep rolling in for our Rocketeers! In the fall, Innovate Public Schools released their 2016 report titled “Top Bay Area Public Schools for Underserved Students.” Their findings show that for the third year in a row, the majority of Rocketship schools made their lists for top schools closing the achievement gap. Six Rocketship schools in San Jose made at least one list of top schools getting results for low-income Latino or African-American students. In math results for low-income Latino students, six Rocketship schools made the list of the top 18 schools, the most of any district or charter management organization. We are so proud of our Rocketeers who are beating the odds and getting on the path to college and career. This report is just one of many testaments to the results our Rocketeers achieve through their hard work and dedication.
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