BASIS Independent School Rewriting the Books on STEM Learning
By Deepika Sandhu
This post was done in partnership with BASIS Independent Fremont
My personal experience taking a tour as a parent at BASIS Independent Fremont, a Grades K-8 private school
Ever wonder what an engineering class for first graders would be like? Well, I got to find out first hand when I took the parent tour at the Fremont, California campus of BASIS Independent Fremont. As a working momma with an almost school-age child, I have begun the process of investigating schools in my local area. From public to private, Montessori to charter, magnet schools to parochial, I have visited campus after campus trying to understand the educational landscape in my area.
I am a product of a public school education, so private schools are completely new to me. When I heard about BASIS Independent Fremont, I thought it would be a snobby, serious school full of overachievers, pretentious parents and strict administrators. After touring the school, meeting with administrators and sitting in on a class of 20 plus first graders, I can tell you I was completely wrong.
The school was a magical place of learning. Watching so many lovely children and highly-qualified teachers engaged, enthused and excited about the unique curriculum was simply amazing. It made me want to go to school all over again.
The BASIS.ed network of schools was created by educators Dr. Michael and Olga Block, who found that students from other countries were better at being students than their US counterparts. When I visited BASIS Independent Fremont, what I saw was a curriculum unlike anything I had ever seen at the public schools I attended or at the private schools I have recently visited as I sort out my own child’s education.
From the outside, the building is very unassuming. I could not imagine by looking at the outside of the building that the inside would be so beautiful. Once you walk in, it is bright and filled with natural light. The facilities are sparkling clean, the classrooms are spacious and inviting. Oh and did I mention the playground? Let me just say my inner child wanted to run around and have some fun.
I got the chance to get a first-hand experience being a ‘student’ with an opportunity to sit in on a class.
I found the classrooms fascinating. All of the desks had wheels, making it possible for the teachers to come up with various configurations depending on what type of class discussion or activity was planned for the day.
The kids all had what looked like mini-briefcases with them called Case-Its and use “communication journals” to track their handouts, homework assignments and other school-related items. The best part of the classes is there were limited computers or technology. Teachers did have laptops with projection capabilities to help facilitate instruction, which worked great. But these elementary-aged kids were not using or working on computers. In our highly digitized and over-connected society, I found this to be a breath of fresh air. I loved that the kids were doing what we did growing up.
From first graders learning engineering and Mandarin to fifth graders studying Latin, this is indeed a unique curriculum. While on the surface one may say, “How does a first grader learn engineering?” or “Why would you teach Mandarin at such a young age?,” or “This must be a school focused on hard core academics,” I can only tell you that not only were the kids learning, they were engaged in a way I have never experienced in a classroom either as a student myself or as an outside observer. Every kid wanted to answer questions. Every kid was participating in the discussion.
The teachers were filled with smiles, highly interactive with each student and soliciting answers from different eager students each time. They were masterful with the subject matter. And if I wasn’t impressed by the teachers while watching them in action, I was completely impressed when I read their resumes included in the booklet provided when you tour the campus. The teachers at BASIS Independent Fremont have gone to great universities themselves and demonstrate a deep aptitude in the subjects they teach.
Now don’t get me wrong. There were a couple of comical kids being silly like you might find in any classroom, but the overall engagement of the kids was exemplary and the way the teacher handled these students deserves high praise. Side note – I found the comical kids comforting. Every classroom should have them. If they weren’t there it might have seemed too artificial.
How Students Learn
There is plenty of time for fun built into the day. Kids have dedicated time in each day focused on art, drama (the drama class is equipped with a stage to promote public speaking and various drama activities), physical education (I observed a beautiful, big, indoor gym filled with a high-energy physical education teacher and a group of cheering kids engaging in a relay race on the day that I visited), and not to mention the area my kid would love most –the fabulous playground during recess and lunch.
According to Vanissa Hernandez, Director of Admissions, who led me through the tour of the BASIS Independent Fremont campus, each year the school publishes an Enrichment Guide of additional extracurricular activities students can participate in such as chess, robotics, soccer, swimming, tennis and more. It seemed to be a perfect balance of academics and fun, which is certainly important to me as a parent.
The learning method of the school was also unique. From first grade onwards, the kids rotate from classroom to classroom. Just like in traditional school environments, there is one teacher that is with the same class of students all day.
This teacher is referred to as the Learning Expert Teacher. Instead of that single teacher instructing on all of the subjects, there is also a Subject Expert Teacher who specializes in a particular discipline (such as Humanities, Math, Engineering, Science, Art, Mandarin, etc.) to teach each section of the day.
The role of the Learning Expert Teacher is to make sure students understand what they are being taught and that every student is learning to the best of his or her ability. Whereas the role of the Subject Expert Teacher is to be a detailed subject matter expert on the particular topics being taught to the students. It is a unique structure that really seems to work at BASIS.ed-managed schools and seems to prepare students to be independent thinkers and active learners early on.
According to Hernandez, both teachers are in the room during all of the classes, which keeps the teacher/student ratio down and helps ensure each kid gets personalized attention. BASIS.ed-managed schools also do not do typical parent-teacher conferences.
Instead, each teacher hosts office hours on a weekly basis so parents are able to stop in and communicate with their child’s teacher whenever they like.
While it may seem to be a heavy content-rich day, Hernandez says, “We understand that children are capable and what we are expecting of them are things that they are capable of doing.”
To that end, the school has great resources to support its students from daily office hours with teachers, peer tutoring, and a two-teacher model for Grades K-4 – Learning Expert Teacher and Subject Expert Teacher – all there to support the child’s growth and development.
The BASIS.ed Network
BASIS Independent Schools are no strangers to excellence in education. They are managed by BASIS.ed., which has a network of twenty seven campuses across the US (including 21 charter schools, 5 independent schools) and one international school in Shenzhen, China, and the results of its graduates speak for themselves. Those completing a BASIS.ed education through grade 12 have earned multiple college acceptances and over 23.1% of graduating seniors are admitted to the 25 most selective schools in the country, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s Best High School Rankings. This certainly gives me confidence as a parent that my kid has the opportunity and expectations to do well just like their predecessors.
Worth the Investment
BASIS Independent Fremont is a hidden gem in our area that would be a great option for our family and I believe for many families located near a BASIS.ed campus. While the cost of this school is on the high end of private schools in our area, I believe for many families this would be an investment in their child’s education that would prove dividends. Most importantly, I think other schools have a lot to learn from BASIS Independent Schools’ ability to incorporate amazing academics and fun all in one fabulous school day.
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