PiE Helps Extend Learning at Palo Alto High Schools

The Slice – December 2013: In Our High Schools | In Our Middle Schools | In Our Elementary Schools

As any educator, parent or coach will tell you, classrooms aren’t the only place where teenage brains grasp new knowledge or concepts. Both Gunn and Palo Alto High School are capturing these “light-bulb moments” by extending learning beyond the school day and outside of the classroom, thanks to the flexible funding from PiE.

Gunn: New Avenues for Fluency in the Language Lab

Gunn Language LabAt Gunn, the Language Lab is where much of the “heavy lifting” that’s required to learn a foreign language takes place. In this Mac-based lab with 36 workstations, students practice listening and talking in Spanish, French, German, Japanese or Mandarin. The Lab complements classroom lessons in grammar and vocabulary by helping students acquire the fluency that comes from tuning one’s ears to the sound of a second (or even third or fourth) language.

“The software we use in the Language Lab originally came from a PiE teacher grant,” explains Gunn’s principal Katya Villalobos. “It’s proven so useful in supporting our language program that today we use PiE dollars to staff the Lab so that it can stay open longer. This kind of flexibility from PiE allows us to direct dollars, year by year, to what students need most.”

Several times a week, teachers send students to the Language Lab for practice, and later assess their progress via voice files students record of themselves. Being able to individually hear each student helps teachers personalize learning and tailor instruction.

The impact of the Lab is clear: Gunn’s students are excelling at languages. One fifth of all Gunn students taking Spanish were recognized by the Spanish Honor Society. Another Gunn student came in first place in a Bay Area speech contest sponsored by the Consulate of Japan. These language skills open doors to Gunn graduates, too, as a recent grad who took Mandarin landed an internship with a China-based company.

Paly: Peer Learning and Collaboration in the Library

Paly ARC Maria LimAt Paly, PiE dollars also support out-of-classroom learning through the Academic Resource Center (the ARC). The ARC, which is partly funded by PiE and located in the library, provides space where students can work collaboratively on group projects or study together for exams. It’s a popular place for students to gather during lunch or after school, and the Center’s coordinator, Maria Lim, reports that several hundred students use the ARC every week.

“At the ARC, students use their lunchtime to eat and study together without the need to hush their voices,” explains Kim Diorio, Paly’s principal. “Every textbook in use at Paly is available at the ARC so that kids don’t have to tote their books around campus.”

In addition to providing quiet space, the ARC also supports learning through its peer-tutoring program, where student who are in more advanced classes volunteer to help other Paly students. Teachers offer extra credit or community service hours to entice their best students to give back to the Paly community through tutoring at the ARC.

The ARC is open for an hour after school four days a week, and these extended hours are made possible by funding from PiE. “The final hour of the day is one of the busiest times in the center,” says ARC Coordinator Maria Lim. “Just an extra hour away from the distractions of home can make a big difference in our students’ success at school. I watch them work together here learning, and it’s wonderful to see.”