Outlook 77.4 | May 2024

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SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION Troy A. Brown, Ed.D., County Superintendent of Schools
inside this issue of the Outlook to learn about the amazing things happening in education across San Joaquin
MAY 2024


LOOKING FORWARD 11 CONTENTS DISTRICT HIGHLIGHTS Empowering Student Voices 4 TED-Ed Student Talks 5 IN THE COMMUNITY A Night at the Ballpark 6 NEWS Curiosity Meets Creativity 7 An Enchanting Experience 8 Gliding Along the Delta 9 Rooted in Curiosity 10 Mastering Languages 11 Growing Together 12 Reading in Schools 14 WE ARE SJCOE Enrique Lopez, Special Education 15 FEATURE Salmon Journey From the Classroom to the River 16 The Classroom Aquarium Education Project brings hands-on learning and unique experiences for students. IN THE
Building Thinking Classrooms 20 This issue’s In the Classroom section looks at how two San Joaquin County school districts are doing the work, in collaboration with the SJCOE Mathematics department, to empower students to build thinking skills and learn math. Teaching Teams 22 Lesson studies bring educators and coaches together to strengthen instruction. SNAPSHOT 23 Events, trainings, and more! Learn more about upcoming events, meetings, trainings, and workshops for students, families, and educators on
County Office of Education
calendar at www.sjcoe.org/calendar.aspx.

TROY A. BROWN, Ed.D. San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools


Deputy Superintendent Business Services


Associate Superintendent Student Programs and Services


Assistant Superintendent Educational Services


Assistant Superintendent Special Education and SELPA


Assistant Superintendent County Operated Schools and Programs


Assistant Superintendent Business Services

CHRISTINA TORRES-PETERS Chief Human Resources Officer

13 20 8 6 VOLUME 77 | ISSUE 4 | MAY 2024 OUTLOOK Let’s stay connected! The Outlook is published by the San Joaquin County Office of Education Public Information Office.
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Stockton Unified School District holds seventh annual PLUS Summit

More than 1,100 students from across Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) gathered at the University of the Pacific to kick off the seventh annual Peer Leaders Uniting Students (PLUS) Summit. During the event, high school students in the PLUS program led their elementary school counterparts through team-building challenges and workshops on leadership development, school climate, mental health, drug prevention awareness, and more.

Incorporated into most SUSD schools, PLUS is a student-led, peer-driven program that utilizes social leadership qualities to connect students on campus and positively impact school culture, attendance, bullying prevention efforts, and other aspects of school climate. The ultimate goal – to help students feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

New this year was a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) Sharecase session facilitated by high school PLUS students, in which students analyzed district-wide data, discussed how to decide how to enact change at their specific sites, and created action plans. John Vandenburgh, founder of the PLUS Program, also offered a workshop to enhance PLUS leaders' ability to critically think about student voice data and how to carry out their YPAR projects to address issues on campus. “Student involvement and voice have always been there – we just have to open a door,” said Vandenburgh.

PLUS leaders facilitate many activities that correlate with Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) efforts in the district. For example, Aryan, a senior at Franklin High School, and his fellow PLUS leaders have organized student events to improve student attendance and engagement. “PLUS helps me connect more with the school, hear others’ experiences, and use that to help them,” said Aryan.



Lammersville Unified students wow audience with presentations

A dozen Lammersville Unified School District (LUSD) students in grades 5-8 paced back and forth behind the stage in the Mountain House High School theater, carefully rehearsing their talking points. On the other side of the curtain were their peers, family members, and school staff eager to see them host or present during the district’s third annual TED-Ed Mountain House Club Student Talks.

Organized by the district’s Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, the talks are an exciting opportunity for students to explore, develop, and share their ideas through TED-style talks. This year’s event featured four event hosts and eight presentations on topics such as artificial intelligence and its impact on human creativity, the power of healthy living to curb disease, and the impact of rumors on reputations.

The presentations were a culmination of classroom preparation that began last fall when Lammersville GATE teachers began a 13-week TED Talk curriculum. In these lessons, students reviewed and analyzed TED Talks, identified intriguing topics, learned to incorporate throughlines and gestures into presentations, and more. Students used this

knowledge to create their own TED-style presentations and apply for a coveted presentation spot in the event.

Rohin, a junior at Mountain House High School, was among the ten speech and debate students who served as speaker mentors. Drawing from his expertise in debate, he helped his speaker refine and gain confidence in his speaking skills before giving his presentation on harnessing the wonders of the ocean for innovative approaches to medicine. Rohin’s favorite advice for each speaker was, “You’re already ahead of where we were at your age, so be confident, believe in yourself, and remember that you will get out of this as much as you put in.”

The event is made possible through support from the GATE coordinators, teachers, and the Mountain House High School students who provided application review, videography, photography, lighting, sound, and speaker mentorship. “Despite their busy schedules, they've dedicated countless hours to mentor their peers, even amidst their own competitions and performances,” said Melissa Crivello, Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction, and Programs at LUSD.



Educators, staff, and students from across the county enjoyed a night of Pacific baseball

University of the Pacific’s Klein Family Field buzzed with excitement on April 19 for Celebrating Education Night.

Celebrating Education Night brought together educators, faculty, students, and families from across the county for a memorable evening of baseball and community.

To start the game, cadet Magana from Discovery ChalleNGe Academy was welcomed to the field to throw out the first pitch. After the first pitch, two students from our Special Education Programs walked out with Pacific’s coach to hand the umpire the lineup cards. They also got to hang out with Powercat the Tiger, Pacific’s mascot, who was a crowd favorite.

After the first pitch, Discovery ChalleNGe Academy Color Guard presented the colors for the National Anthem. The National Anthem was sung by five students from West High School (Tracy Unified School District) choir.

At the game, a special shoutout was given to the 2024 Classified School Employees of the Year, Teacher of the Year, and School Counselor of the Year to recognize their dedication to the students they serve.

From the pre-game activities to the game against Loyola Marymount University to the fireworks show at the end of the night, it was a special time to celebrate everyone across San Joaquin County who make education great for students!



Students and families from across the county explored the world of STEAM

From science fair projects to exploring space in the Star Lab to building Lego structures, the 65th annual San Joaquin County STEAM Fair & Expo was a celebration of creativity, curiosity, and ingenuity.

With over 480 students in grades K-12 from 25 participating schools, the fair was filled with excitement. A total of 266 individual, group, and whole-class projects were reviewed by a panel of judges, comprising over 60 STEAM professionals, teachers, university students, and community volunteers.

Of those 480 students, eight were selected to represent San Joaquin County in the California Science and Engineering Fair on April 16.

• Jordan Prawira, Mountain House High School (Lammersville Unified School District)

• Tanvi Yenigalla, Sebastain Questa Elementary School (Lammersville Unified School District)

• Shreyas Muddey, EPIC Academy (Banta Unified School District)

• Maheep Singh, Wicklund Elementary School (Lammersville Unified School District)

• Anjana Bharathiraja, Mountain House High School (Lammersville Unified School District)

• Akshaya Ganji, Mountain House High School (Lammersville Unified School District)

• Avni Agawal, Mountain House High School (Lammersville Unified School District)

• Jaida Gao, Middle College High School (Lodi Unified School District)

But the fair wasn't just about competition; it was also about discovery and engagement. The Expo portion of the event was open to the public, offering a hands-on experience with various exhibits from community partners.

This event was coordinated by the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) STEM Programs department, which focuses on igniting a passion for science and engineering among students. Through events and programs like the STEAM Fair & Expo, the SJCOE aims to cultivate the next generation of innovators and problem solvers, equipping them with the skills and knowledge needed to face the challenges of tomorrow.

STEM learning does not stop when the school year ends! Registration for STEM Summer Camps is now open! From engineering wearable technology to LEGO robotics to Biotech Camps, there is a camp for everyone! To view all of the camps and register, visit www.sjcoescience.org.



Old and new friends dance and celebrate at San Joaquin County Special Education Prom

Students from across San Joaquin County danced the morning away at the Enchanted Forest Special Education Prom at Kimball High School (Tracy Unified School District) on April 4.

Arriving in gowns, suits, or other formal wear – the students also made crafts, ate pizza, and posed for selfies with friends, both old and new.

Hosted by the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) Special Education Programs at Kimball High and students from leadership classes at Kimball and Tracy high schools, the event brought together approximately 150 students from high schools and young adult programs, including the SJCOE programs on campuses in the Tracy and Manteca unified school districts; Tracy Unified School District programs; and the Stockton Education Center, a non-public school.

The leadership students transformed the Kimball High gym into the Enchanted Forest before joining the fun on the dance floor.

"We're so lucky we get to have this at our school," said Kylie, ASB president at Kimball High. Dancing is the best part, because that is when everybody gets to meet and talk, she said. "Their eyes light up and we start dancing, and it is so rewarding. It means so much."

That's an important part of the prom – it helps make students feel more connected to each other and their schools, said Lilliana Vazquez, prom organizer who teaches in an SJCOE class at Kimball High. "It opens doors," she said. "Today demonstrates that students with disabilities are able to attend and enjoy memorable events like prom."

Students made new friends, but they also connected with old friends.

Ethan, a student in a Tracy Unified program at West High School, was able to see a former classmate. They had a laugh bringing out old nicknames that they had for each other when they were classmates, he said.

Parents joined in the festivities, too. "I'm so happy to see all the kids here," said Erika Rivera, mother of a student at Kimball High. Students with special needs deserve to have experiences like this, she said. "They always deserve to be celebrated."

Then Rivera, along with her husband and her son, joined everybody else on the dance floor.



Grant program prepares students for first sculling experience

“Arms, body, legs.”

Five students from one.Harmony listened carefully to instructions as sculling coach Dhaon Davis reviewed the proper form for using a modern rowing machine called an ergometer or “erg” for short.

The students warmed up on the ergs on a recent trip to the Stockton Delta Sculling Center. They had been training on the rowing machines at their school. At the Sculling Center, they took their training to the water, experiencing sculling on the water for the first time.

It was the culminating moment of monthslong preparation that began in October when the Delta Sculling Center invited teachers from the one.Program to participate in their train-the-trainer program, funded by a grant from the George Pocock Rowing Foundation. The program allowed six teachers to learn an

erg-education curriculum and brought 20 machines on loan to one.Program schools. Richard Holbrook, a teacher at one.Harmony, participated in hopes of inspiring a lifelong love of fitness in his students. From November through March, Holbrook incorporated the erg curriculum into his sports medicine lessons. After learning the proper body mechanics, students began using fun games to continue training, including monthly relay races to be crowned tops in the school.

“With these machines, I now know how to stay fit for life,” said Oswaldo, a one.Harmony senior. In December, he developed a love for erg machines due to the explosive energy they require and intense cardiovascular benefits. When it came time to test his skills on the water in April, he felt ready.

On the big day, students met their four coaches and learned the different parts of sculling boats and their uses, including

the stern, spacers, and bow ball. They then used a different rowing machine to learn additional arm mechanics to propel the sculling boat. Though it was their first time trying, students were all smiles when they became more comfortable with how to turn their oars and cut through the water.

Finally, students took turns venturing into the Delta with a coach to practice what they learned. Boats were equipped with pontoons, the boat equivalent of training wheels, to ensure students could be safe as they took to the water for their first time. Their movement was slow until the technique training they received that day clicked in. In no time, students were quickly gliding across the water, receiving on-the-spot corrections from the coaches when needed.

“You can see how excited students are to put their knowledge to the test,” said Jessica Andersen, youth program manager at the Delta Sculling Center who helped train teachers in the curriculum. “I’m hoping this is the first of many student visits through this program.”



SJCOE partners with state groups to host inaugural summit on Universal Design for Learning

The San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) hosted hundreds of educators from across the state for the first-ever California Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Summit. The sold-out event aimed to create awareness of UDL principles and provide immediate strategies for incorporating them into campuses to create inclusive and equitable learning experiences for all students.

Every student has different strengths and challenges. UDL values each one, recognizing that variability is the norm. As a research-based approach to teaching, UDL minimizes barriers and maximizes learning for all students by providing them with multiple ways to represent themselves and their knowledge, express themselves through action, and engage. With these principles, educators can create flexible learning environments, curricula, and assessments that accommodate the diverse needs of all learners, including those with disabilities, different learning styles, and different cultural backgrounds. In a classroom, this looks like providing students with multi-sensory lessons, differentiated instruction, several options to demonstrate their learning, and more.

“UDL isn’t one more thing to do, it’s the thing to do,” said Fred Cochran, SJCOE Continuous Improvement and Support coordinator. Lovingly referred to as the “Mr. Rogers of UDL,” Cochran has been an active member of several statewide groups focused on UDL for years. As the event chair for the summit, he was excited to create a space for every group to come together, share best practices, and ultimately help educators shift their practices and create expert learners.

“It’s so great that so many others from across the state gathered to learn more about UDL,” said Quirina Valencia, a special education coordinator and psychologist in Livingston Union School District. “We’re all inspired.”

Sam Drazin, executive director of Changing Perspectives, gave the keynote speech. Born with a rare congenital disorder, Treacher Collins syndrome, Drazin shared how his positive K-12 experience inspired him to become a teacher, and how reflecting on one’s own educational experience can shape our approaches to educating.

Drazin then primed attendees for breakout sessions by pressing them to shift from a fixed to a growth mindset before considering how to implement UDL into their current practices and systems. “Rather than thinking about all of the logistical barriers as to why we can’t (implement UDL), I want you to ask questions rooted in curiosity,” Drazin said.

Other topic sessions included cultivating creative spaces, strategies for conducting instructional rounds, addressing barriers to UDL implementation, and more.

This year’s event was supported by the Capital Central Area Foothill Consortium and the California UDL Coalition, as well as event sponsors UDL Goalbook and Texthelp. A live stream of the keynote presentation can be viewed at www.bit.ly/2024CAUDLSummit. The next California UDL Summit will be held on January 30-31, 2025, at the SJCOE. Learn more at www.bit.ly/CAUDL2025.



Hundreds of San Joaquin County high school seniors honored at State Seal of Biliteracy Awards Ceremonies

Hundreds of the 1,242 high school seniors from 10 school districts and the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) who met all the requirements to receive a State Seal of Biliteracy were celebrated at four awards ceremonies held over two days at the SJCOE in April.

The State Seal of Biliteracy program recognizes high school seniors who have attained a high level of proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing in one or more languages in addition to English. The awards help to encourage the study of languages, which benefits students by contributing to their cognitive development while preparing them to join the workforce, both in California and around the globe.

It's that and a lot more.

"Becoming biliterate is like adding a sprinkle of magic to your life," said Cristina Altamirano Quintero, a graduating senior from the SJCOE's Venture Academy Family of Schools. "Not only does it make me more desirable in the workforce, but it allows me to appreciate more than one culture and consider myself a global citizen."

All ceremonies were held in the Venture Academy gym on the SJCOE campus. The April 16 ceremonies celebrated students from Stockton Unified high schools and Venture Academy. On April 17, students from Lodi Unified, Manteca Unified, New Jerusalem Elementary (Delta Charter High School), Escalon Unified, Lammersville Unified, Lincoln Unified, Linden Unified, Tracy Unified, and Ripon Unified school districts took the stage to receive their medals.

Students in San Joaquin County showed mastery across a total of at least 11 languages, including Arabic, French, Mandarin, Spanish, and Urdu.

Being bilingual is a gateway to many opportunities, said Javier Davalos Davila, student from Weber Institute (Stockton Unified). "Whether it is securing a job or simply expanding my social circle, the ability to converse in more than one language has opened doors I never knew existed," he said. "And who knows what other doors it might unlock in the future?"



SJCOE hosts inspiring events for students and staff

In September 2023, the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) launched Building to Serve, its strategic plan that features five priorities. Each priority has its own steering committee, made up of 15 SJCOE staff members from across the organization. The following events were organized by the Workforce Development and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) steering committees.


The SJCOE has long emphasized preparing students for jobs in the real world. It is both tradition and what the SJCOE strives to continue doing in new and innovative ways. To continue this tradition, the Workforce Development steering committee hosted the first-ever Career Quest.

The event welcomed 100 high school students from the Greater Valley Conservation Corps, Venture Academy Family of Schools, the one.Program, and the Discovery ChalleNGe Academy to prepare for a career and explore career options offered at the SJCOE. The day began with a presentation from guest speaker, David Edward Garcia. An educator and comedian, Garcia shared his own story of his challenges growing up on the Texas-Mexico border to show students how they could also defy expectations, discover what they excel at, and write their own success stories in life.

Students then attended workshops, led by the SJCOE Human Resources department, focused on helping students obtain a job. In these workshops, students learned practical skills, like how to write their resume and what to expect in a job interview. Students were also able to visit several informational career booths hosted by several SJCOE departments, community partners, the Greater Valley Conservation Corps, Codestack, and more.

“You are not just learning about jobs today, you are learning about careers where you can make a difference,” said San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Troy Brown during his event welcome.

Katie Wipfli, director of the College and Career Readiness department and facilitator of the SJCOE Workforce Development steering committee, shared that student survey feedback was overwhelmingly positive. One student even shared, “Today was AWESOME! I met some cool people, and I didn’t even know there were jobs like this.”



The San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) celebrates the culture and history of what makes us who we are. Knowing our diverse cultures and history leads to a deeper understanding of one another. In that spirit, the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) steering committee organized the inaugural Around the World on Transworld Drive event for SJCOE staff.

The celebration began with San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Troy Brown sharing the organization’s first official acknowledgment of the ancestral lands on which the SJCOE resides and serves. “It is important for us to recognize the history and heritage of the land upon which we now stand to give us a deeper understanding of where we are,” said Dr. Brown.

The SJCOE staff journeyed around the Wentworth Education Center, collecting stamps in their activity passport while experiencing the cultural booths and activities offered by fellow staff members. Activities included playing cultural games like Lotería and Backgammon, sampling Assyrian tea and treats, and even karaoke.

The SJCOE also welcomed student performers from local high schools on the “World Stage” for performances. Groups included the Chavez High School Mariachi band (Stockton Unified School District), Lathrop High School Black Student Union (Manteca Unified School District), and Weston Ranch High School’s Polynesian club and Dancing Cougarettes and Color Guard (Manteca Unified School District).

Around the World on Transworld Drive was an important step in the journey the SJCOE has been on in recent years to ensure we sustain safe, inclusive learning environments and workplaces for our students and staff.



Community comes together to support early literacy

Students gasped with wonder when Grace Luke, executive assistant at the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE), entered the Podesta Ranch Elementary School (Lodi Unified School District) second-grade classroom. Dressed as the popular children’s book character “Pete the Cat,” students were eager to listen to the story she was going to read to them. Luke was among the hundreds of community volunteers across the Stockton community who visited kindergarten through third grade classrooms to read during the 33rd annual Rotary Read-In event.

Before the event, all reading volunteers carefully selected an age-appropriate book to read to their assigned class. Some volunteers, like Luke, dressed as their book characters while others used props, dances, and fun voices to engage students. All books were then donated to the classroom library.

More than 30 staff members from the SJCOE participated in the Rotary Read-In, bringing stories to students at Harrison Elementary School (Stockton Unified School District), Mable Barron School (Lincoln Unified School District), Podesta Ranch Elementary School

and Mosher Elementary School (Lodi Unified School District).

The Rotary Read-In event was followed closely by Read Across America, another opportunity for students to engage in creative and fun activities to inspire a love of reading. Schools across San Joaquin County celebrated. McKinley Elementary School (Tracy Unified School District) hosted dress days themed after popular titles, including “Oh the Places You’ll Go” and “Harry Potter.”

Manteca Unified School District schools also hosted guest readers on their campuses throughout the week. Students at Joshua Cowell Elementary (Manteca Unified School District) even welcomed therapy dogs on campus as guest readers from Paws 4 Friends read the story, “Ben: The Very Best Furry Friend," teaching students important lessons on canine companionship.

“While showcasing the power of books to unlock new worlds and inspire young minds, Read Across America and the Rotary Read-

In also build and strengthen a community focused on reading and literacy,” said San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Troy Brown. “They show our students how much we value reading and its importance to their education as well as provide access to books.”

These types of events also support district and county efforts to improve early literacy in schools. As a current and growing focus in San Joaquin County, each of the 14 school districts, along with the Teachers College of San Joaquin, San Joaquin Delta College, and the SJCOE, are working together through a community of practice with the goal of ensuring students are able to read by the time they leave third grade.

(Lodi Unified School District),


Redwood School Principal

Meeting the students at Redwood School changed Enrique Lopez's life.

Now the principal of the school, which is part of the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) Special Education Programs, Lopez started out his career in special education as a substitute instructional assistant for the SJCOE in 2006.

At the time, he thought it would be a temporary stop on his way to entering a career in law enforcement. He had a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and planned to become a police or probation officer.

But working with students changed that plan, starting with the first student he worked with as an instructional assistant. "We were basically like brothers," Lopez said about the student, whom he worked with, one-on-one, every day.

The bond they shared changed them both. The student showed marked improvement, exhibiting fewer aggressive behaviors. It also improved life at home for the student's family, and the student was able to have more experiences outside of the home because of improved behavior.

"Just seeing the joy I brought the family ... helped me to grow to where I am now," Lopez said. "And it led me to want to help others on a wider scale."

He became a teacher at Redwood School, but he hadn't totally shut the door on the idea of working in law enforcement. He took a threemonth detour working as a probation officer, but it didn't take.

"Every day I knew that something was missing. And what was missing was the kids," he said, saying he made a decision to return to special education. "I wanted to get back there so fast." He went back to school to get a master's degree in education.

As Redwood’s principal, his own path and history in SJCOE Special Education Programs help shape the school culture.

It's a culture where the principal models how he wants his staff to work with students because he's been there, he said. And Lopez said he works directly with students, too, when staff asks. "They utilize me, too, as one of their teammates," he said. "They know I'm always available to help."

Lopez says building relationships is an important part of the job, especially when it comes to the students. "It's the love in my heart that I can provide to them, and I think building those relationships is what keeps me coming to work every day."


We Are SJCOE is a regular feature in the Outlook to celebrate members of the San Joaquin County Office of Education community. If there is someone you would like featured, email sjcoepio@sjcoe.net. #WeAreSJCOE



TheClassroomAquarium hands-onEducationProjectbringsexperienceslearningandunique forstudents


The water in the Mokelumne River starts as mountain runoff, before flowing through San Joaquin County and, eventually, mingling with the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

On a sunny morning in February, the water in the river ran clear and cold beneath the Camanche Dam east of Lodi, while Gabriel – a firstgrade student – stood on the rocks at the river's edge, holding a cup filled with water and one, tiny baby salmon.

Gabriel gingerly tipped the water and salmon into an open-ended trough that resembled a rain gutter. It made a perfect pathway to wash the young salmon from a shallow eddy into the flowing river

"Good luck, little fishy," said Gabriel, as he watched the salmon disappear downstream.

It was a bittersweet farewell for Gabriel. In his classroom at Lathrop Elementary School (Manteca Unified School District) over the previous weeks, he and his classmates had watched salmon hatch from eggs and grow inside an aquarium.

So, he had been taught that making the journey downriver out to sea was part of the natural lifecycle of the Chinook salmon. But it's hard not to get attached. "I wanted it to be a pet," he said.

Gabriel was one of dozens of students on this February field trip to the Mokelumne River Hatchery. In addition to first graders from Lathrop Elementary School, there were fifth graders from John McCandless STEM Charter School (Lincoln Unified School District). Students from Lathrop High School (Manteca Unified School District) were also there to lead the younger students through activities.

The Classroom Aquarium Education Project is as much of the annual cycle as the journey Chinook salmon take up the Mokelumne River to spawn. Overseen by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the statewide hands-on interdisciplinary program for grades K-12 takes on different names and features through partnerships with a mix of organizations. The basic elements, though, are that teachers receive specialized training to prepare them to bring fish eggs into the classroom for students to observe while conducting coordinated activities before the fish are released into the wild. Sometimes students are able to be a part of the release, too.

The San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) sponsors the program for much of San Joaquin County. Other sponsors are the cities of Stockton and Lodi. They sponsor different schools, but they all collaborate with each other in a group they call the "Salmon Team," said Kristine Stepping, environmental literacy coordinator in the SJCOE STEM Programs department.

"This is a phenomenon that happens right here in our backyard, here in the Mokelumne River," she said. "We get to bring students, small and big, to see the salmon in the river and to understand the process. And our hope is that by participating in raising salmon, releasing salmon, and visiting the habitat, we're raising the future stewards who will care about the fish and take care of the environment, here, in their own backyard."

Release Day

This February field trip to the Mokelumne River Hatchery was part of the SJCOE-sponsored program, funded by a two-year grant from the California Coastal Commission. It's called a "Whale Tail" grant because part of the money awarded to programs across the state comes from the drivers purchasing Whale Tail license plates for their vehicles.

The grant also paid for another group of students to visit the hatchery in the fall, when the Chinook salmon had come up the river to spawn. The Whale Tail grant also makes it possible for high school students, who also raise salmon in their classrooms, to take part in the field trip by leading the younger students through activities.

Many of those students were in the Careers with Children class, a CTE (career technical education) capstone class at Lathrop High. These CTE students are placed in classrooms in the community, including with the classes of students on the field trip, said Jennifer Myers, who teaches the class. It means they can work with their students and mentor teachers in a different setting. "They're getting to see what it's like to run a field trip and all the behind-the-scenes moments of executing a big day like this."



And it was a big day at the Mokelumne River Hatchery.

The high schoolers led the younger students through a series of activities. They took a nature walk along the river to identify the best habitats for salmon. They learned about the anatomy of the fish, then used that knowledge to make art projects. In the long concrete troughs, called “raceways,” at the hatchery, the students fed hungry fish and watched them as they rushed toward their food.

In another activity, the young students navigated a course laid out on the blacktop that simulated all the obstacles – dams, waterfalls, and more – the salmon must overcome to reach the ocean. To make things interesting, some of the students play the role of predators and hurl beach balls at the student salmon.

"I really hope the kids have the best time here," said Ariana, a Lathrop High student leading the activity. "Helping the kids make memories is fun."

Layla, a Lathrop High student who led the fish-feeding activity, remembers how memorable it was for her to pan for gold during a field trip when she was a young student. She hoped some of these students might have a similar experience.

"You never know what activity they take with them for the rest of their lives," Layla said. "That makes me feel like I'm really doing something."

The fish-feeding was easily Ava's favorite part of the day. It was a lot different from watching the tiny fish feed in the tank in her classroom, said Ava, a fourth grader at John McCandless STEM Charter School. "It's seeing all the different sizes and shapes and how they react to everything."

Learning about the salmon and the world they live in is more than just interesting to Ava. "I think it is important for everyone to learn about the environment and things around us, like nature and animals," she said. "It's just really cool and interesting and amazing that we have the opportunity to do it."

The experience is a great example of project-based learning, which is a focus at her school, said Marina Meraz, Ava's teacher. It helps them as they learn about lifecycles, the environment, and watersheds, but it is not just a science lesson. "We also tie in the history of California, and how California waterways have changed," she said.

With the hands-on experience and the fact that they have salmon in their classroom – it makes a connection with students, she said. "Seeing the salmon every day, they get emotionally attached to them," she said. "It brings it to reality."

In the Classroom

From the time the salmon eggs were delivered until the time they were released into the river about two months later, Nicole Dickinson's classroom at Vinewood Elementary School (Lodi Unified School District) followed a routine focused on the fish tank in the classroom. First, two students carefully dismantle the insulation surrounding the fish tank to keep the water cold. The students – a different pair every day – collected data and wrote it down. They measured the temperature, counted the fish, and measured the pH of the water. Then they observed how the fish look and behave.

The fish connect to other activities and lessons. Students made posters using what they've learned to make fun "advertisements" directed to salmon to help them pick the best stream to follow on their way to the ocean. They supported a unit on genetics. While doing a hands-on activity observing the impact on cups of water

"Doing hands-on activities has really helped me learn more because it kind of goes in my brain more, and I just like seeing them every day in a, like, real-life situation,"
- Adley, sixth-grade student

when pollutants are introduced – the students think about what those pollutants would do to water that their fish might be swimming in.

"And having that tank in our classroom brings it all together, because every day we're looking at the fish," Dickinson said. "And then when we go to our release day, it is an even bigger impact because they get to watch their little babies float out into the ocean and they feel like they contributed."

Adley, a sixth grader in the class, said she was proud of her class for taking care of the fish and helping them grow. When it was her turn to make observations, she was surprised to see how active they were –moving fast and grouping together. She hadn't named any, yet, but she thought "Coral" might be a good name if she did.

"Doing hands-on activities has really helped me learn more because it kind of goes in my brain more, and I just like seeing them every day in a, like, real-life situation," Adley said. Adley was excited about going with her class to release the salmon into the river, but she was a little sad, too.

"I won't be able to look over and see them in the little fish tank," she said. "So, I think I'll be a little sad. But I'll be happy that they'll be in a bigger space and in the place they are supposed to be."



Math education can be engaging, fun, and within reach of all students. Schools – including schools in San Joaquin County – are getting there through the Building Thinking Classrooms approach to teaching math. This issue's In the Classroom section looks at how two of those school districts are doing the work, in collaboration with the SJCOE Mathematics department, to empower students to build thinking skills and learn math.

Jennifer Vick gave her fifth grade students something to puzzle out in math class on a recent morning.

Her students at Van Allen Elementary School (Escalon Unified School District) didn't work it out in silence at their desks. Instead, they gathered in groups of three and four around whiteboard grids.

Their task: determine how many three-by-three-inch sticky notes fit in an 11-by-11-inch square. Students marked up their whiteboards with numbers and shapes, wiped away their markings, and added new ones while talking out the problem in their groups.

"These are different shapes, but they're still equal to a sticky note," said Joey, in one group.

"That'll work," said Kylie, as the group worked out the answer it would share with the rest of the class.

It was just one of the many ways the students in Vick's class found to get to the right answer, as they discovered when she guided the


The on-your-feet, student-driven group work is part of using something called Building Thinking Classrooms to focus on how math is taught in classrooms at all grade levels across Escalon Unified School District.

"I love it. My students love it. And every time I bring out my cards to put them in groups, they always say, 'this is my favorite part of the day,'" Vick said.

The method of teaching builds grit, problem-solving skills, mental flexibility, and more, said Julian Zambrano, Van Allen's principal. "You look at a lot of these conversations – the teachers will guide them, but it is really the students who are leading," he said. "And so, what we want to do with Building Thinking Classrooms is to build thinkers."

The Building Thinking Classrooms approach comes from a book of the same name by author Peter Liljedahl that is being used by a

whole class in an instructional tour around the whiteboards on the walls of her

growing number of educators, including those in San Joaquin County. And often – as is the case in Escalon Unified School District – the Mathematics department at the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) offers training and coaching to help facilitate the change.

"The main focus is to get students to think. And in order to think, they need to engage," said Satinder Singh, SJCOE Mathematics director. "There are three features that are truly game changers if they are done right." Those are:

• thinking tasks that incrementally increase in difficulty

• students randomly placed in small groups

• use of vertical whiteboards

Instead of the activity beginning with students modeling something shown to them by their teacher, the students seek and share solutions with each other.

"The kids are teaching each other, and the teacher is facilitating with questions, comments, and consolidating at the end," she said. It's a process that is engaging and gets students excited about learning math, she said.

Linden Unified School District is another district partnering with the SJCOE to incorporate Building Thinking Classrooms in math at the middle and high school levels, which includes on-campus coaching and teachers who took part in a training offered by the SJCOE's Teachers College of San Joaquin. "And they came back and recognized that student engagement increased when they were able to work collaboratively, problem-solve, and discover," said Dr. Jamie Hughes, Linden Unified assistant superintendent of Educational & Student Services.

In addition to learning math, students are also learning the important skill of working with others. "It really develops that common language and safe environment for collaboration."

Developing a common language in math instruction – for students and teachers, alike –from elementary school through high school, is also one of the goals for Escalon Unified, said Ricky Chavez, district superintendent. The effort has been supported over the years by partnerships with University of California, Davis, and the SJCOE.

With training, coaching, and teachers collaborating through lesson studies – the districtwide initiative has taken a lot of effort, but it is showing up in what teachers are doing in the classroom, he said.

"It's well worth the investment," Chavez said. "They are working magic."



Lesson studies brings educators, coaches together to strengthen instruction

In addition to offering training and coaching to school districts in the county, the Mathematics department at the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) also helps coordinate "lesson studies" at schools in districts.

A lesson study is when a group of teachers, along with a facilitator, design and teach a lesson as a team. The group holds at least one debriefing session followed by another teaching of the lesson.

But the impact of the process goes beyond just the developing of that one lesson, said Satinder Singh, SJCOE Mathematics director. Along the way, they focus on the subject framework, broader teaching strategies, and a mindset that can ripple through all the teaching at a school or district.

"It's a starting point of a much bigger picture of math teaching and learning," she said.

Lesson studies can range from one department at a single school to a lesson study that brings together all grade-level teachers across a district.

Some of the lesson studies the department has coordinated at districts this year have focused on incorporating teaching methods in the Building Thinking Classrooms model.

At one lesson study at Linden High School (Linden Unified School District) in February, the focus was to craft a lesson on quadratic functions with an emphasis on using technology as a way to bring the material to life and engage students.

It started with the teachers working together to craft the lesson on a Tuesday before rolling it out in a classroom on Wednesday.

The lesson began with an animation of a parabola growing on the screen at the front of the classroom. While one teacher led the lesson, the other teachers in the lesson study worked one-on-one with students, observed

everything about the lesson, and took copious notes.

When the lesson was completed, the teachers, along with SJCOE Mathematics coordinator Debbie Williams, went through every piece of the lesson during an hourlong debriefing session. They talked about teaching strategies, terminology, how students took part in the class, and how to improve the lesson.

One topic of discussion was how teachers could guide students to think of creative ways to come up with solutions, themselves. "The teacher becomes more a facilitator of learning," Williams explained. "It really empowers kids to learn."

The teachers in the lesson study debriefing looked at what worked and what didn't. They were engaged. Their passion for their craft and their students was readily apparent.

"Did you see his face? It glowed," said Mark Kehoe, one of the teachers, describing how one of the students in the lesson reacted when being asked to explain the strategy he used to come to the right answer.

"Teachers are learners too," said Julio Zambrano, principal of Van Allen Elementary School in Escalon Unified School District, which coordinates districtwide lesson studies. It's a way to collaborate with peers, trying things out and finding out what works best –not isolated, but together, as a team.

"That makes it so we're not talking about what you're doing in your classroom and what I'm doing in my classroom," he said. "It's like it becomes more about us. 'How are we? How are we teaching this idea?'"

Mathematics Summer Institute

They compared their notes, which included timing how long each step of the lesson took to complete.

Then they took all they discussed and learned and started the whole process over again with another class of students.

"I think the biggest thing about our math department, is they're a pretty cohesive team," Principal Todd Dunaway said. "They really find the importance of working collaboratively together, working toward a common goal of making sure our students are learning."

Lesson studies play an important role in other schools and districts working with SJCOE's Mathematics department.

Join the journey of learning how to set the stage for deep mathematical thinking and understanding for students. Learn how to create an environment focused on community, rich tasks, collaboration, and discourse.

With a focus on TK-12, this in-person professional learning is offered by SJCOE mathematics team and the participants can earn 2 college units from Teachers College of San Joaquin (TCSJ):

July 17-19

8:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Click here to register

There is also a one-day, one-unit advanced course: July 16

8:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Click here to register


Maria Ravelo is the 2024 Teacher of the Year! Ravelo has 30 years of teaching experience and is currently a seventh grade teacher at Mossdale Elementary School (Manteca Unified School District). “Maria is humble, compassionate, and dedicated while modeling a ‘let’s get this done’ and ‘we will figure this out’ attitude and approach with her students,” said Principal Anthony Chapman.

In perfect harmony! Vocalists and musicians from across the county performed at the Middle and High School Honors Concerts.

Put your shades on! Students, teachers, and staff across the county enjoyed seeing a partial eclipse of the sun on April 8.

Recognizing heroes fighting against child abuse! At the 24th Annual Child Abuse Prevention Symposium on April 11, five individuals and programs received the Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention Awards. These awards recognize those who are making a difference in the fight against child abuse in San Joaquin County.



Here’s a snapshot of what you’ve been missing if you’re not following the SJCOE on social media!

MESA rocks! Students in the after-school program at Monroe Elementary School built machines, gliders, and award-winning robots.

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We are the champions! Venture Academy held a championship parade on campus to celebrate their boys basketball and soccer teams.

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