All posts by Prospect Sierra

Join Us In Service – All Together Now

Please join us for All Together Now on Sunday, January 26 from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., an annual event where we come together as a school to share food and then engage in acts of service in our community and on our campus.

The day will begin with a family potluck in the Tapscott MPR at 11:30 a.m. After music and community time, we will head out (or stay in) to take action with some of our community and organizational partners from 12:30-2 p.m.

We invite you to sign up and take part in one of the following projects:

The student arts fundraiser hosted by 5th graders raises money that will benefit refugees living in our country currently. This portion of the event will be held during lunch from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. before service projects begin. Students will create art on campus throughout the month and can also bring art pieces from home; they can be dropped off in the Admissions offices. Bring your dollars and your love for a great student-led cause!

Engaging in community service is integral to our school’s mission, and to the work that we do as a community to care for one another and the world around us. We look forward to working with you at All Together Now on January 26.

Abby’s Corner: Project Based Learning and More

Getting In the Pit: Developing Growth Mindset during our Winter Performance

As we wrap up 2019 at Tapscott, teachers and students are heavily immersed in preparation for our Winter Performance, Maisie’s Journey of Friendship. In past years, we have chosen a story that we could retell. This year, we asked our incredible drama teacher Matt to write a story for us. I want to give a huge shout out to Matt, who worked with many colleagues and helped us find a way to weave our care for the environment, animals, and the climate change issues currently needing attention into the story. This story allowed us to teach students about environmental changemakers, climate change, and changes that should give us hope.

During the two weeks prior to our performance, instead of adhering to our typical class schedule, we employ a project based learning (PBL) focus and have created 90-minute blocks for students to dive deeply into different aspects of this story. They engage in making art, doing research, applying technology skills, and practicing music, dance, and singing – all related to the winter performance story and our PBL learning goals. Every year, we try to build community through a shared learning experience; practice and build upon 21st century learning skills such as collaboration, communication, and creativity; connect the power of story to the learning of people and places (and animals!); and celebrate our learning in a final presentation to our community.

We also want to help students understand that having a growth mindset means sometimes pushing through moments that are “hard” or “challenging” in some way. I have often used this visual below with students, which was shared a few years back with me at a math conference. Being “in the pit” here is seen as a good thing – a moment where your mind is stretched. We encourage kids to share when they feel they are “in the pit” as this is a way those around them can offer support and encouragement to keep learning.

As a school dedicated to deep, meaningful understanding, our hope is that our winter performance is a chance for you as parents to see how the power of a simple story can bring community together while deepening learning and developing skills for students. Please join us at one of the two winter performances this year (please plan to come to only one). This year students also worked across grades to create stop motion films, which will be playing prior to the start of the performance.

  • Thursday, December 19: 1:15 p.m. (stop motion film will begin at 1 p.m.)
  • Friday, December 20: 9 a.m. (stop motion film will begin at 8:45 a.m.)

Resources for Parents

A Quick Read
Kindness Isn’t Enough by current kindergarten parent and former elementary teacher Brett Turner is a fabulous article put out by Teaching Tolerance. What I love about Brett’s article (besides the fact that I know the author!) is the way in which it reminds me of what we value and know to be true at Prospect Sierra. This article absolutely validates why we dive into learning about identity deeply, as we know there is value in not just knowing who you are but also in having an understanding about identity as it relates to inequity, both past and present. Thank you Brett for writing such a powerful message for teachers and parents alike. While kindness is important, it is only with a “culture of justice” that we can expect kids to go out into the world and feel empowered to make needed changes.

We want to support you as you consider technology tool choices and use at home. For many students, regular technology use tends to happen outside of school. Here are some suggestions we often share with parents, and these might be especially helpful over the winter break.

  • Ideally, devices live in public spaces within the home (not bedrooms).
  • There is open discussion between parents and children about what each wants and needs so that agreements and expectations can be made in advance.
  • Your digital footprint must be discussed, as elementary students do not always understand that anything they say or do online lives forever and is connected to them. This must be discussed repeatedly as it is still a developmentally tough concept to grasp for most third and fourth graders (this is the age we are seeing that many students are now engaged in apps that allow them to communicate within a game, for example, text friends, and other online activity that requires more sophisticated communication skills and awareness than most elementary students have).
  • All forms of communication with others via text, chat, email, etc., should be closely monitored by an adult or avoided completely at this age. This means that if they aren’t comfortable with you reading or seeing what they are sending, it probably isn’t a good idea to send.
  • Parents should have passwords and access to all devices and accounts so that you can regularly monitor what is going on.
  • When something comes up that feels like it could be going down the wrong path, it is helpful to reach out to parents of students involved to be sure they know as well. Parents need to work in collaboration so that your children know you are all talking together.

If you want to research more in the area of developmentally appropriate technology use, Common Sense Media is a great tool for parents and teachers. We use this resource often and feel that it is a reliable source in terms of identifying appropriate ages for things such as online games, movies, and much more. They have reviews on current books and movies with age suggestions that are not by reading level but rather by content and include information on language, violence, etc. They have a parent concerns tab that has everything from suggestions by age to articles about very specific questions you might have around technology use.

I hope that you all have a fabulous winter break and I look forward to seeing everyone in 2020 – the start of a new decade together!



Nathan’s Notes

Welcome to Nathan’s Notes, your monthly report from middle school! Each month I’ll share some moments from the classroom, curriculum thoughts from me and/or our amazing teachers, some ideas about education that I’m excited about, and more.

One thing that got me excited this month…

Janis Chun’s 5th-grade science class. The students were using ratio tables in conjunction with Google Maps to discover how eating different foods change the carbon footprint. The students collaborated in pairs as they used math, technology, and science concepts to create a poster that highlighted their findings. I loved how the kids were able to have an application of math to deepen their understanding of a real-world issue about the environment. They were able to work on collaboration skills while using technology in a thoughtful way. Most importantly, the kids were engaged and excited about what they were doing in class!

A curricular question I’m pondering is…

How we can continue to build confident math students? The other day I heard one of our teachers say, “I am not a math person.” Immediately after she said it, she recognized that this statement is something that we have been actively working to vanquish from our language at Prospect Sierra. A growth mindset, especially in math education, is a topic we have discussed regularly by sharing our own personal math stories. Many of the stories that exist within our educational community are of struggle, self-doubt, and external factors that took away our math confidence. We understand that these are the kinds of experiences that lead towards the declaration of believing one is a “math person” or not. For the past few years, the math department has been working hard to unpack not just personal stories of discouragement in someone’s math journey, but also discussing how larger movements of math education in our country have contributed to self-doubt in this subject. How do we continue to foster confident math students? How do our own math journeys as adults impact our children’s experience in math?

One moment that made me think, wow what a special community this is…

When I spoke to the students from the “Be the Change” elective about the climate strike. To be honest, I was worried about this day. How do I support student activism while still upholding the integrity of the middle school? In this case, the activism the kids wanted to take directly impacted school because it required them to miss school. This question rattled in my mind. One day a group of 10 mixed-grade students appeared at my office door. They were from the “Be the Change” elective and were hoping to organize a Prospect Sierra group at the climate march in San Francisco. I wasn’t sure exactly what to say, but as we dove into dialogue it became clear to me that these students truly understood the tough situation that I was in as an administrator. They had empathy for me, and they also made clear that this was an event that they felt very passionate about. The way that these students engaged in discussion showed that they had been given a Prospect Sierra education. They spoke with empathy, respect, organization, and passion. We came to an agreement through thoughtful discussion, and we decided how to move forward. What initially felt like a stressful conundrum ended up being an inspiring moment.

Experiencing Joy at Prospect Sierra

Joy is watching first graders in colab work through their partnership by offering endless suggestions for compromise. Joy is listening to our third graders share their process and pride  in the detailed work of their insect drawing art pieces. Joy is witnessing our fifth graders walk arm and arm down the hallways of Avis. Joy is marveling at the questions of eighth grade mathematicians as they grapple with their own thinking and the thinking of others. Joy is knowing the time, energy, and love that goes into community gatherings like Panther Picnic.

“Joy is when you are in the yellow zone.”- Helen (TK student)

When describing Prospect Sierra to family, friends, and colleagues, I have used many of the words in both the yellow and green quadrants of the Mood Meter multiple times. In fact, I can say genuinely that I have been in the yellow or green almost every day of the last three months. I find myself starting sentences with, “I know this sounds corny but…” and then follow with an effusive example of something, either big or small, from the day that brought me joy. Joy is often categorized as moments as opposed to long sustainable periods, but at Prospect Sierra joy is bursting from every seam, with big and small joyful experiences amounting to hours, weeks, and months of happiness.

Joyful communities are filled with joyful people and so it was no surprise that when I asked 4 and 5-year-olds to define the word JOY, the yellow section of the Mood Meter came to mind. This conversation, which included one child who simply walked in circles around me until the word “happy” and “love” came pouring out of her mouth, also demonstrated the impact that our social-emotional learning curriculum, specifically RULER, is having on our students. From TK to 8th grade, our students are able to explore and articulate their emotions via a language and practice that is understood by all.

It’s programs like RULER that remind us of the importance of putting emotions at the center of our learning. Whether it’s joy, frustration, unease, or excitement, research shows that our emotions impact attention, memory, and learning, along with decision making, our relationships, and our physical and mental wellbeing. In essence, our cognitive skills and behaviors partner with our emotions every day.

For example, it’s consistent practice that our eighth graders start math with some form of mental exercise. You may hear a string of problems put together in a series, each child thinking of the best strategies to achieve the same result. And while the very idea of starting class thinking about a string of problems feels worrisome for many of us who learned math in a way that produced anxiety and focused on the end product only, this exercise almost feels like the start of a good yoga class, centering the mind and getting it ready for the challenging stretch to follow. Infused with deep breaths, reflective questions, and acknowledgment of paths that took them to varying ends, math becomes a joyful experience…most of the time.

The result of such intention is a community where you can see it’s development in real time. A community that thrives is different than a community that merely survives and it’s our goal that everyone at Prospect Sierra feels the joy of growing and learning together.

Spotlight On Service Learning

Each time I write to you, I hope to highlight a part of our program that is exemplary of our mission. This week the focus is on our eighth grade service learning trip to Sacramento.

Recently, Nathan Tanaka, our middle school division head, and I drove to Sacramento to visit our eighth grade students on the third day of their five-day service learning trip. Over the course of five days, our students become even closer as a grade level, gain further proximity to communities that may be a window for most and a mirror for some, deepen their knowledge of civic engagement, and grapple with how to create change in their own society with the backdrop of the state capitol. Imagine having experiences each day that exercise your empathy muscles and pair that with being proximate to the place where sustainable change comes to fruition! We are grateful to the eighth grade team for thinking deeply about the experiences of our oldest students and providing a week that captures their Prospect Sierra journey beautifully.

I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts with you throughout the year and invite you to share your thoughts with me. Please do reach out and know that my door is always open. Bring on the JOY!

Resource: Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

Abby’s Corner

October is Underway

While some may say Halloween is the most exciting event in October, I’d say that the head-to-head division race at Panther Picnic is a close second! Rachel, Luis, and I are geared up for another great race this year and we hope you all will come out and cheer on Team Tapscott. We will be racing at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday; it’s not to be missed!

Looking Ahead – Exciting New Format for Our Book Fair

As some of you are aware, in the past we have hosted a book fair in collaboration with Books Inc. during the spring on our Tapscott campus. This year, I’m excited to share that we are going to try something new! We are shifting our book fair to December, and it will be hosted at the North Berkeley Books Inc. on Shattuck Ave. on Monday, December 2 from 5-8 p.m.

For several years, we have been in conversation about ways to continue to promote a love for reading, generate additional funds to support our library program, and also balance how much we ask of our parent volunteers. We value having library volunteers help out regularly, as it connects parents, grandparents, and other caregivers to our library in important ways. In recent years it has been increasingly difficult for parents to volunteer on weekdays at our Book Fair, often due to work schedules. We thought that this would be a great opportunity to try something new, and pilot a format that does not require parent volunteers, and still brings our families together in celebration of reading.

Having our book fair in December will also allow us to remind students and families of the importance of reading during our longest break during the school year, our December winter break, and also celebrate new book releases that come out around that time of year. Because the book fair will move to Books Inc, we will be able to support all the readers in our community and librarians from Tapscott and Avis will be on hand to help readers at all grade levels find wonderful new books. Further, your child will get to enjoy “story time” with some very special guests including Diane Simoneau and our very own Head of School, Nisa Frank!

More details are coming soon, but for now please mark your calendars for Monday, December 2 from 5-8 p.m., following our Thanksgiving Break, and make a family night of it. Barney’s Burgers (down the street from Books Inc.) has agreed to donate a portion of proceeds to Prospect Sierra that day, so you can dine out, do some winter book shopping, and support our Tapscott and Avis libraries.

Dates to Remember

  • October 28 – NO SCHOOL, Parent Conference Day, Extended Program Available
  • October 31 – Halloween Parade at 8:45 a.m. on the Tapscott Terrace
  • November 1 – NO SCHOOL, Parent Conference Day, Extended Program Available
  • November 11 – NO SCHOOL, HOLIDAY, No Extended Program Available

2019 Prospect Sierra Summer Stories


Abby Guinn

My husband Jon, daughter Shelby, and I took a car camping trip up the California coast to Oregon this summer. Along the way, we stopped at Jug Handle Beach and camped at the Jug Handle Creek Farm. Both the beach and the farm were amazing spots – highly recommended from the Guinn-Stewart family!





Amy Millikan

My summer was filled with some productive work at Avis and some trips to Montana and the east coast. In August, we took our oldest child off to college. He seems fine. We are still recovering. 🙂




Amy Sullivan

A highlight for my family this summer was our Northern California road trip. We went to Lassen Volcanic National Park for the first time (and it won’t be the last since we all fell in love with it) and the Mount Shasta area. Wonderful hiking, s’mores by the campfire, sledding (!!) on Lassen Peak, climbing on rocks behind waterfalls, kayaking on Lake Siskiyou, and relaxing in some of the most beautiful places we’ve seen.

The other highlight for us was getting Max ready for kindergarten! He is so excited to be at Prospect Sierra, and we feel beyond fortunate to have him here.


Annie Fujimoto

I spent the summer with my new family of four! Me, my husband Chris, Dylan, and Vida went to Monterey together and we also spent a week in San Diego. Other than that, we hung out in Berkeley, enjoying our new baby Vida who is now three months old!






Audie Adage

This summer we did a little bit of everything. We had some late nights and lots of lazy mornings. We camped and spent some time on Eel river with friends. Jones and I joined my parents for a week in Mexico. He can give his review of all of the local chicken tacos and virgin margaritas he tried. We also took our annual trip to North Carolina to spend time with my in-laws. Whenever we are there, we are sure to see Jacqueline, our former PE teacher, and her son, Reilly. What a sweet and busy summer.


Beth Lewis

Our summer seemed to revolve around hiking to waterfalls! We went from a snowy summer hike to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park to a very long and hot hike to the top of Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park. It was a great way to spend more time with our boys, who are now 16 and entering their Junior year of high school!

Chaitali Thakar

One weekend prior to my West Coast move this summer, after sifting through boxes and finding myself ready to see something more than cardboard, I decided to take a day to re-explore Boston and do a few things that had lingered on the postponed list. The other hope I had in mind was to walk and/or ride all the four colors of the “T” the local train system in one day. I started in “Eastie,” an area close to the Logan airport, sitting on a patch of green overlooking a segment of the Charles, directly across the “new Boston skyline,” filled with buildings that were still shiny and new from recent construction as well as classic brownstones. Within a matter of an hour, the sun shone and the rain fell, typical of fast changing weather patterns of New England. I walked around, squinting every so often into the sky to identify which airline was flying above. A stop at a heladeria completed the journey, after which I hopped on to the Blue Line of the “T”, mostly for the fact that I liked that it had a station called Wonderland. Perhaps the highlight of that day, though, was a stopover to Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club, a cozy music venue where local Berklee College of Music students and other artists played. It had been on my to-visit list since 2008, and I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to see it! I smush-walked through the crowd, making my way to the front, and for a good couple hours, enjoyed the quartet that was featured that evening. I couldn’t think of a better way to end a full day of reacquainting this city which I had called home for 11 years. Much like the piece they played that night, Boston life had been a mix of eclectic and improvised days of living and yet, it had eventually all come together for a pretty pleasant tune. I can’t say I won’t miss it, but I do hope to find some new songs and sidewalks to explore here in the Bay Area.

Cindy Cheong

Getting a photo of the three of us is rare since my husband is always the person behind the camera! Even more rare is that as a family, we finally got to spend a little time together when we took a quick trip to Vancouver, BC Canada in June to watch Tyler’s dragon boat team – The East Bay Rough Riders – compete in the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival. We ate the most amazing food and had a wonderful time hanging out with great friends!

Tyler and I also spent five days in Columbus, Ohio for the Fencing Summer Nationals and July Challenge for his “final” competition as he has decided to leave the sport after 9 years. The adjustment to life without fencing has been bittersweet (for me), but the reward of having more time and a happier child is priceless!

In July, I went to Arizona for my cousin’s 70th birthday and took a side trip – “Girls Trip” – with my sister and cousin. We did some hiking, visited the Lava River Caves in Flagstaff, and visited the South Rim of the beautiful Grand Canyon.

I feel so fortunate and lucky to have these beautiful treasures around me – family, friends, and nature. It was a great summer!

David Allen

This was a busy summer for me! I moved into a new home, helped run a summer camp at Avis, and participated in a few really great professional development workshops. Fortunately, my partner and I found time to get away around July 4th for an epic road trip to and from Seattle. We hit some great state and national parks along the way and even got to visit with Aaron (former 5th grade math/science teacher) at his new place in Bend, Oregon. There were many great places and moments (feel free to ask me about them!), but if I had to pick one highlight to feature it would definitely be the northern Oregon coast near Astoria. Here is a picture I took early one misty morning on Crescent Beach.


David Gould

This summer, I tried to catch a nap wherever I could, but mostly stayed busy with various projects and spending quality time with my wife and kids. I also had a few occasions to travel, seeing relatives and old pals around the country. A few highlights include visiting the National Portrait Gallery (Washington, D.C.) splashing around in the North Folk of Long Island (NY), driving/ferrying around the San Juan Islands (WA), and hiking in Mount Diablo (CA).


Emily Burns

This summer was a time for rest and relaxation as I prepared to start my new position here at Prospect Sierra. I spent a lot of time cooking new recipes and spending quality time with my husband and my cat. I made a quick trip to Michigan for a wonderful family wedding, but mostly we stayed put. The Bay Area is such a great place to have a staycation!





Evan Duffy-Ledbetter

For most of the summer, I worked at a restaurant that was located right on Highway 1 overlooking the ocean. It was fantastic! I was in charge of the music that we played, which was a small perk that always made my day. Then I traveled down the coast to Cayucos to visit my aunt where we ate fish tacos, walked on the beach, and saw the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. Although I am a little sad that summer has ended, I am very much looking forward to the start of the school year!


Janis Chun

This summer my family and I went on several trips along the West Coast and spent quality time visiting friends and family. Our favorite adventure was a road trip to Las Vegas where we passed through Ridgecrest. Our friends took us to a horse and burro sanctuary where we fed the animals 25 lbs of carrots!  We were currently reading What is a Reptile? and we found a horned toad in the desert! Just like in the book! Can you see the lizard camouflaged in the sand just outside of Grant’s shadow? We have since gone on many lizard hunts and really enjoy observing animals in their natural habitat.

Jeanne Wong

This summer my family had the opportunity to learn more about my mom’s history. She was incarcerated in Japanese internment camps during WWII and survived a tidal wave. We always heard about these stories growing up, but this summer we engaged in this history in new ways. We found her name on a wall at the exhibit in the Presidio. We found her name on an exhibit in Honolulu. I took my mom to the candlelight vigil for Lights for Liberty. And my favorite, while vacationing in Hawaii we visited Volcano National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. There, we learned that at the Kilauea Military Camp in the National Park they interned Japanese from Hilo. The park ranger had plaques made to commemorate the Japanese that were interned there so that we would never forget. To our surprise, we found a sketch of my grandfather on one of the plaques. We go to Hawaii every summer to visit family but this summer was special as we heard story after story and stayed curious to learn. May we never forget!


Jesse Feldman

In July my family and I hitched a trailer to our car and set out for a month-long road trip through California, Oregon, and Washington. We had unique adventures at each spot along the way, including lots of camping, hiking, and paddling. We even did some sandboarding on the Oregon Dunes! The delicious and creative food and drink we found was a perfect complement to all of the outdoor activities. One of our stops was in Bend, Oregon where we checked up on Aaron Moorhead and his family. They are doing great and send their greetings to the PS community.


Jessica Boyles

Our family enjoyed plenty of mountain time in Tahoe and Steamboat, Colorado. This is a photo of my son and me on the hike to Long Lake near Truckee, CA.




Jessica Walker

This summer was a joy! We took our first family camping trip to Fern Canyon about six hours north of the Bay Area. Although our family got very little sleep, we loved our first camping adventure and can’t wait to do more. I also had the pleasure and privilege of becoming an aunt for the first time! In order to properly welcome my nephew to the family, my husband and two children and I piled into our Nissan and drove nine hours to Las Vegas, Nevada to meet the little guy. It was a wonderful experience! I also had time to explore old and new hobbies such as raising monarch butterflies after I capture their eggs on the milkweed in my yard, and learning to brew homemade beer! It was a summer to remember.


Maddie Hogan

We had never visited Italy because of our reservations about summer crowds, but this summer we finally decided to make the trip. Italy did not disappoint. Rome, Florence, Venice, the villages of the Tuscan hillsides, and the Dolomites were everything that our friends had been raving about for years. Of course, we paid special attention to music, and a Verdi opera in the ancient Roman amphitheater in Verona was a highlight. We began our trip in Munich and traveled by car through the scenic countrysides of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Switzerland. The incredible beauty of Plitvice National Park in Croatia, with its thousands of waterfalls, took our breath away.

Nathan Tanaka

This summer I spent time with my new baby son, Pax. We walked to the farmer’s market to hear live music and explore fresh produce. Other days, we walked to the park to enjoy Pax’s favorite activity, riding the swing! Towards the end of the summer, Pax learned how to roll which is now his favorite of way moving about the house. When not playing with Pax, I spent time settling into my new job as Middle School Division Head! The work has been challenging, fulfilling, and exciting. One work highlight was our Middle School Team Leader Retreat in Guerneville. We spent time planning for the year, bonding as a team, and swimming in the Russian River.


Rachel Monzon

I had so much fun teaching 6th grade science. It was my first time working with older children and to be honest I was terrified they would eat me alive. My time with them was just like summer always is, it went by in a flash but filled with memories to fill my heart. The best compliment that I received was, “Miss Rachel, we need more teachers like you.” I truly owe this compliment to Prospect Sierra and Miss Robin, because of the strong mentoring I’ve received these past two years. I couldn’t have done it without PS.

Remi Rubel

I loved teaching Remily Art Camp at Tapscott this summer. Emily and I ran four sessions of camp at the beginning and end of summer break. Our artists made new friends and were in full-on creative mode while they produced awesome, unique, and gorgeous works of art in a relaxed and fun environment. It was fabulous. Sandwiched between camps, I took long walks with my 13 year old girl dog, Marley, laughed a ton watching Brooklyn 99, ate relaxing meals with good friends and family, and slept as late as I possibly could.

Travel wise, I saw brilliant plays at the Ashland Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my mom and sister, (catch the backstage tour if you ever go), and spent a glorious week at Quyle Kiln in Murphys, California where I breathed life into some art of my own. After not throwing on the wheel for at least 25 years, I was excited to get back to it, and amazed myself by spinning out 10 large dinner plates, a gift for my husband to celebrate our 20th anniversary this month.

Sandi Tanaka

I spent my summer days (and nights!) with my sweet baby, Pax who is now 7 months old. We took long walks around the neighborhood, listened to the same Japanese children’s music on repeat, did lots of mama and baby yoga, and even worked in the classroom together! My most favorite memory from the summer though was our family glamping trip in Mendocino.



Sophia Genone

I opted for slower family living this summer and enjoyed time with my two children (ages 5 and 8). We swam, biked, read, camped, and played with friends along the beaches of the Oregon coast. We gardened, crafted, and hiked between trips to see family in San Diego and Martha’s Vineyard, and then delighted in simply being home.

Trevor Smith

I spent a good part of the summer playing music with toddlers in preschools and other programs. Between classes I wrote some music and got up to Marin for bike rides as much as possible. I also camped a couple of times outside of Nevada City and up near Tahoe, and celebrated my little niece’s third birthday with her!

Trini Huerta

This year our entire family of 22 went to my hometown Teocaltiche Jalisco, Mexico to celebrate our parents 50th anniversary. We were also able to see family that I haven’t seen in 15 years! They were also able to meet my boyfriend and daughter for the first time. Another big trip we did was to visit my boyfriend’s grandparents who he had not seen in 20 years. It was a great reunion trip!


Whendy Costa

This summer my aunt and I finished our third and final section of the JMT (John Muir Trail), including summiting Mount Whitney! Coming from a year-round program, I wasn’t able to take long periods of time off to do the whole trail in one go, so we split the trail up into three. I can’t wait to see what kind of hikes I will be able to accomplish with summers off now! After finishing the JMT we spent a few days exploring both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, adding two more to the list of National Parks visited! Afterward I went on a solo camping trip to Yosemite for a couple of days to bring it full circle. While there I was fortunate enough to see Lee Stetson, a theatrical performer who portrays John Muir. It was amazing! For Labor Day weekend I will return to Yosemite with my husband to see another portrayal I have been waiting a long time to see – Shelton Johnson – a Yosemite Park Ranger who reenacts the experiences of the Buffalo Soldiers who were stationed in Yosemite in the late 1800s. Finishing the JMT and having books signed by both of these gentlemen put this summer at the top of my list!



Our Commitment to Environmental Sustainability

Greetings Prospect Sierra community, near and far! We are committed to environmentally sustainable practices on campus and a curriculum that gives our graduates the tools to be future stewards of our planet. We have been recognized both locally and nationally for these efforts, earning designation as a Green Ribbon School and a Certified Green Business. The following information will orient you to what we do in many different realms to maintain this commitment.

Carbon neutrality

Our school has made a commitment to achieving carbon neutrality in all our operations, including transportation.  We have made great progress in this direction and in 2019-20 we hope to purchase carbon allowances for the first time, to completely offset the carbon pollution we generate. The entire school community can help lower the cost of this by choosing the greenest possible commute options. And beginning last year, through the help of a parent volunteer, we provide a detailed carpool map to facilitate sharing rides.

Waste Management and Reduction


    • Bins in each classroom for paper recycling
    • Bins in each courtyard for paper, cans, plastic
    • See the signs on the bins for more detail
    • Special bins in the faculty lunch room for pens/markers and glue sticks/bottles


    • Bins in each courtyard for all food waste and compostable plates and cutlery

Event Supplies

    • Compostable supplies are available in the Extended Program kitchen at Avis and Multipurpose Room (MPR) kitchen at Tapscott. Faculty use these instead of having families bring them in for classroom and larger events. Cups, bowls, plates, forks, knives, and spoons are all available.
    • Pizza Day; we use plastic plates and students wash them.
    •  Printing; we developed guidelines to reduce paper waste.

Ecoliteracy Curriculum

Ecoliteracy is the ability to understand, appreciate, and care for the natural systems of our planet. The faculty has spent time reflecting on how we incorporate this into our curriculum in each grade and subject area. Sometimes this is through learning directly about environmental issues, and other times the practices of ecoliteracy can be learned or used in contexts with completely different subject matter. Grade level teams often collaborate on how to infuse ecoliteracy into the topics taught in their year.

Green Committees

Faculty and staff have the option of joining the committee that works on supporting and interpreting the goals of our strategic plan. There are committees at each campus that meet monthly.  There is also a very active committee of the PSPA and an umbrella group that meets a few times a year to bring all of these stakeholders together.

Earth Week

Earth Week is celebrated either the week before or the week after Earth Day each year in April.  Activities vary, but in general this is a time when we put an extra emphasis on incorporating ecoliteracy into the curriculum, as well as having special events, guests, presentations, and competitions.

Gardens and Outdoor Learning Environments


  • Two growing areas for food – 6th grade vegetable garden, 8th grade vertical garden.
  • Native pollinator garden – open during recesses and lunch for calm hanging out.
  • Upper Hillside – open once a week during lunch recess for active play.


  • A school garden that is used for both curriculum-connections in science, and as an elective for students in the garden club. Primarily used to grow food plants.
  • Native gardens along the front of the school, in the entranceway near the MPR, in front of the development office, and between the kindergarten yard and staff room.
  • The Tapscott bunnies, Sunset and Midnight, live in the school garden during weekdays and support our ecoliteracy value of developing empathy for all living creatures.


  • Photovoltaic electricity generation includes hundreds of rooftop solar panels on each campus.
  • HVAC has been renovated and is centrally controlled for efficiency.
  • There are soaps and other cleaning supplies available for classroom and kitchen use on both campuses. The products that are stocked are the least toxic options for each category.

Resource Links

Strategic Plan (Priority #6)
Center for Ecoliteracy


Abby’s Corner: Summer Learning Fun

Summertime Fun

Happy summer to you all! Hopefully, you have already found some ways to relax. The heat wave that hit El Cerrito was an intense way to start our summer, and my hope is that you all were near a pool or beach on those 100 degree days.

Summer work is already underway at Tapscott and at our new Gatto/TK campus. Teachers have cleaned up and gone home, and some of our new faces are already here and getting a lay of the land, ordering materials, and thinking about how to support kids next year. It happens quickly, and I am getting excited to welcome our transitional kindergarteners to Prospect Sierra in late August.

In the meantime, if you are like me you have made a list of summer reading, eating, and relaxing that must be done! Wishing you a fabulous summer filled with joyful moments.

Worth Remembering: The “Summer Slide” is Real

While summer is super fun, it’s also a time that kids can lose some of the gains they made this past year in both reading and math, also known as the summer slide. Our approach as a school is to encourage parents to find ways that are fun and engaging for your child, and to keep them reading regularly as well as working their math brains this summer. Whatever way works for your child and your family, the goal is to promote lifelong reading and application of math skills in real life! When they buy ice cream, make them calculate the total or figure out how much change they will get back. When there is downtime for the family, have a family reading time for 20-30 minutes. There are lots of ways to “disguise the learning” so kids are still flexing those muscles!

The Tapscott Reading Challenge: We will once again attempt to read 400,000 minutes this summer! I encourage you to carve out some family reading time, and read some great books yourself or with your child this summer! Ideally, kids should be looking at books, listening to stories read aloud to them, or independently reading for 20-30 minutes every day this summer.

Practicing math skills during the summer:  This article from the Harvard School of Education highlights that, on average, kids lose 2.6 months of math learning over the summer. Below you’ll find the article’s suggestions for ways to integrate math into summer activities.

  • Highlight the math in everyday activities. When shopping, help kids calculate change or discounts. When watching a baseball game, talk about what players’ statistics mean. When cooking, try halving or doubling a recipe, and assist kids in figuring out the new proportions.
  • Read short math stories together. Studies have shown that reading math-focused stories to children, such as Bedtime Math books or the Family Math series, can help boost math scores in school.
  • Play math games. Games like Yahtzee, Racko, Blokus, Monopoly, and Set all rely on skills necessary for math, such as counting, categorizing, and building. Even playing with blocks and assembling jigsaw puzzles can help kids learn spatial skills and recognize patterns.
  • Find small ways to practice math at home. While worksheets alone won’t solve the summer math slump, small amounts of practice with basic formulas can help. Problem-of-the-day math calendars are a great way to practice basic math problems on a small scale. Parents can also find resources on Investigations about what types of mathematical procedures they should be practicing with their children.

Additional resources for math at home:

  • The founder of Bedtime Math, Laura Overdeck, describes how and why this series of daily math problems works as a family engagement tool in mathematics.
  • YouCubed resources for parents and apps/games/problems for students
  • YouCubed online course for students. This self-paced course is designed for any learner of math and anyone who wants to improve their relationship with math. The ideas should be understandable by students of all levels of mathematics. Parents who have children under age 13 and who think their children would benefit from some of the course materials should register themselves (i.e., parent’s name, email, username) for the course. The parent may then choose to share course materials with their child at their own discretion.

Worth Reading

Celebrate Pride this month with two great books. I love both of these! Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag is great for upper elementary students and provides some understanding of the flag as well as the local changemaker Harvey Milk. This Day in June is a great picture book, appropriate for all ages, and provides some background information on different aspects of this month’s SF Pride Parade.

Dr. Jo Boaler Opens Minds

The PSPA Authors & Lectures team recently brought Dr. Jo Boaler to campus to talk about maths. We intended to write “maths” because Dr. Boaler, who is British, refers to “math” as “maths.” Further, the “s” on “math” makes the subject expansive and full of possibilities and “expansive” and “full of possibilities” is exactly what we want for our students when they’re engaged in maths. To nurture the idea that maths is full of potential, and most importantly, accessible to all, students need a belief that they can do maths. Dr. Boaler’s talk focused on how to cultivate this type of mathematical mindset.

Growth Mindset

At Prospect Sierra, we’ve been implementing Carol Dweck’s work around growth mindset for many years. Dweck posits that in a growth mindset people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. A growth mindset is integral to Dr. Boaler’s work as well, and underpins the research she does showing the brain’s plasticity and extensive brain growth during hard work and struggle in particular.

Dr. Boaler’s work is pivotal in helping students believe they are capable math problem-solvers. In Dr. Boaler’s work there are no “math people” and “not math people.” She knows that every student will hit a roadblock and struggle, whether they’re told they can do math or not, or whether they’re good at math or not.

The Pit

Speaking of struggle, another powerful strategy from Dr. Boaler’s talk is her idea of “the pit.” The pit is the place of struggle where students are grappling with hard problems to solve. They often want a way out, or want a teacher to carry them over the pit. But in actuality the pit is the place where the brain is growing the most. The more we can help kids get more comfortable with the discomfort of the pit, the more they will grow and learn.

Helping Your Child

So what can parents do to help their child develop this flexible, ever growing math mindset?

  • When you see your child struggling with a math problem you could ask “What are some other strategies you can use?” You could also remind them that “Struggle is good; it means your brain is growing!”
  • Praise hard work rather than attributing success to being smart or gifted. You might say “You tried very hard and you used the right strategy,” or “What a creative way to solve that problem!”
  • When your child has made a mistake or feel like they’ve failed you can remind them that mistakes are an important part of the problem solving process and that they ultimately help improve understanding. Further, to normalize mistake making, you could ask “What mistake did you make that taught you something?” Or, “What did you try hard at today?”

If you’d like to learn more about the growth mindset, there’s lots of great information specifically for parents on this website. And if you’d like to learn more about Dr. Boaler’s math mindsets, click here. Thank you to the PSPA Authors & Lectures committee for bringing us such a thought provoking maths leader!

Everyone Represented: Advocating for More Inclusive Health Education

“I applaud each of you for your courage to write me and for also embracing what we must all do to respect and care for each other. How can we do that? One way is doing just what you did—learn about the wide spectrum of gender as well as the facts about sex and sexual health, and also embrace diversity and inclusion.” Robie Harris, author of It’s Perfectly Normal

How did our sixth grade students come to receive such a thoughtful letter from author Robie Harris? Their dialogue with Harris, and this story, began last spring just prior to their annual puberty unit in science class when their teachers asked the students to think about the language used to explore gender in It’s Perfectly Normal, Harris’ well known and oft used text about changes to the body associated with puberty.

The students quickly noticed that while some acknowledgment of gender diversity was present, the anatomy pictures referred solely to cisgender girls and boys bodies. And while these images provided a reflection of their own bodies for students, they acknowledged that these depictions may not be true for people with transgender bodies or gender non-conforming bodies. Further, using empathy they were able to reflect that reading this book and studying these drawings that didn’t show the wide variety of students’ gender experiences might feel bad at a time when things already feel awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.

As students continued to read with this eye for inclusivity, they also noticed a fairly limited variety of sexual orientations reflected. While the text did mention the sexual orientations lesbian, gay, and bisexual, they saw no mention of other identities that exist and that are important to many students such as pansexual and asexual identities.

Struck by their observations, they worked with their teachers to determine a course of action and thought about how they could affect change. They were offered the option of constructing a letter to the author with their suggestions for how to make the book more inclusive and began thinking about how they would approach Harris with their thoughts.

Working in groups, their first step was to study the book very closely and highlight areas where changes could be made. Each group then crafted a letter to Harris that acknowledged the challenges of writing this book, recognized the work put into the book, and honored how much Harris had already pushed the envelope in terms of puberty education. They then offered specific suggestions to improve gender and sexual orientation inclusivity. Over the summer teachers consolidated the letters into one letter that included all major points, including photocopies of page edits, edits to copy and images, a chart to organize suggestions, and sent it off to Harris in August.

Students received a response this fall, and were thrilled to hear that many of their suggested changes were already set to appear in the book’s next edition. Harris expressed much appreciation for the students’ suggestions and feedback and understood the importance of updating the book to be much more inclusive. She writes:

“Most every suggestion you made regarding the most recent text are revisions that I have already made in the text for what will be the 25th anniversary edition of It’s Perfectly Normal before I received your letter. But I still found your letter and chart with all of your specific suggestions extremely helpful in checking against what I had already revised. That is something I always do. Double-checking, triple-checking one’s facts and writing is important to do. Facts and evidence matter. In some places, I may have chosen different ways to talk about gender and other information that you suggested I add or change. I may have made different choices, but I hope and believe it is as inclusive and respectful as your suggestions.”

Students were surprised they received a response and felt validated and hopeful about the forthcoming changes to the book. Published in 1994, this book and it’s author provide a great model of lifelong learning and all that’s possible when one continues to think critically and remain open to change. Our students practice these same skills – from inquiry to critical thinking to empathy – in all of their subjects and will take these skills with them when they leave Prospect Sierra and make their mark on the world.