Holiday Spirit

Christine Smith, an educator with the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, teaches second-graders about the fundamentals of balance and mass during her visit to Los Robles Magnet Academy School in East Palo Alto as part of the museum's science outreach program. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted November 17, 2017

Junior Museum and Zoo brings hands-on science to the classroom
Outreach program from Palo Alto institution targets low-income communities

By Gennady Sheyner

"I did it!" said Brian, a second-grader at the Los Robles Magnet Academy in East Palo Alto, as he balanced on his finger an upside-down paper cutout of a man.

He was the first student in Monica Banuelas' class of 17 to crack the code during Thursday's lesson on balance — a concept taught by Christine Smith, a science teacher with the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. The secret? Taping one of the two pennies he was provided on each of the paper-man's arms.

Over the course of the 50-minute class, the students learned the basics of balance by backing up against the wall and trying to touch their toes; balancing paper figures on their fingers; and performing a similar exercise with a flattened stick and bearings. They then concluded the session by recapping the lessons learned and striking various poses.

A second-grader at Los Robles Elementary tries to figure out how to balance a Popsicle stick on his finger using counter weights in a lesson prepared by Christine Smith, an educator at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo.
For Smith, who led off the discussion with a demonstration using plastic weighing scales, this was the latest in a four-class series on motion. Students recalled the prior lesson, in which they constructed roller-coasters to accommodate rolling marbles and learned about gravity.

Smith was at the school as part of the Junior Museum and Zoo's Science Outreach Program. Though the Palo Alto institution is best known for its popular museum at Rinconada Park and its famous cast of characters, which includes Sequoia, Tule and Claude (respectively, a bald eagle, a bobcat and a hedgehog), its instructors also spread the museum's scientific offerings beyond the Palo Alto borders, to communities with more challenges and fewer resources.

For this endeavor, the nonprofit received last year a $5,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund — money that helped provide 32 lessons to 180 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. This included courses about the solar system, kinetic energy and life sciences.

"I think there's something to be said for hands-on experience," said Cynthia Chin, principal of Willow Oaks Elementary School, an east Menlo Park school that also gets regular lessons through the science program. "Our kids may not have some of the exposure to the different science experiences. Rather than just learning it from a book or watching some video, they get to actually touch and feel.

"For some of the kids, it's the favorite time of the school year."

For some lessons, a classroom at Willow Oaks would transform into a miniature planetarium — with a starlit night simulated in a domed enclosure known as a STARLAB — and students turn into amateur astronomers, identifying stars and using telescopes for daytime observations. On other days, students build volcanoes, construct tiny homes that can withstand manufactured earthquakes or create a habitat for a roly-poly.

The science-outreach services began locally, at Addison and Walter Hays elementary schools, and grew over the years before spreading to other local schools and to neighboring communities, said Alex Hamilton, the Junior Museum and Zoo's education director. In 1999, the Junior Museum and Zoo launched its Science Outreach Program, which focused on schools that can't afford science labs and field trips for their students. Since then, it has slowly spread to other communities, including Sunnyvale's Vargas Elementary School.

Last year, the program brought its science programs to more than 1,600 students in the Ravenswood City School District. According to the Friends group, participating schools are considered to be "at risk" based on numerous indicators. Of those they serve, 87 percent are eligible for free lunch (well above the California average of 58.5 percent), 67 percent are English Language Learners (higher than state average is 21 percent), and they score an average of 712 on the Academic Performance Index (below the statewide goal of 800).

Unlike the more affluent Palo Alto schools, which get supplemental support from parents — including about $150,000 per year for the Junior Museum and Zoo's science offerings in elementary schools — Ravenswood schools often are unable to fund these "extras." To address the disparity, the museum provides its 50-minute classes to Willow Oaks and other Ravenswood schools at no cost to the school district.

One of the things that sets the Junior Museum and Zoo program apart from other science classes at local schools is the tools it has at its disposal, Hamilton said. In addition to live animals such as ferrets and tarantulas and its expansive rock collection, the organization offers access to scientific tools like microscopes, lightning-bolt generators and the like.

To date, the feedback for the program has been overwhelmingly positive from both the teachers and the students, Hamilton told the Weekly.

"The kids — they love science, especially in East Palo Alto, because they don't get some of those wild experiences that some of the kids in Palo Alto get," Hamilton said.

She recalled a recent class in which the children made phones out of tin cans.

"Once they see that these phones work, it blows their mind," Hamilton said.

In addition to providing the lessons, the Junior Museum and Zoo also regularly hires outside assessors to observe the science programs and report on the results. Last April, a Pleasant Hill-based consulting firm evaluated the science program in Vargas Elementary School in Sunnyvale, where every single teacher who participated indicated that he or she would recommend the program to others (91 percent indicating they would "strongly recommend" it).

Students are also enthusiastic about the program. On Thursday, about a dozen hands shot up every time Smith asked a question, including at the end, when she asked them what they had learned. Some talked about weights; others about balance. One girl focused on the practical, rather than the theoretical.

"I never knew you can balance paper on a finger," she said.

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.

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2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000


As of December 7th, 165 donors have contributed $145,397 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

24 Anonymous7,075
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Maureen O'Connor150
Martha Shirk1,200
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Alicia Newman100
Dorsey & Katherine Bass300
Edie Kirkwood1,000
Micri & Bob Cardelli*
George & Betsy Young*
Diana Diamond1,000
Brigid Barton 2,000
Korol Family250
Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Katherine Bryant100
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Elaine Hah1,500
Retired*
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Tess & Eric Byler150
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Harriet Benson10,000
Arthur Keller250
Cynthia Costell100
George & Betsy Bechtel200
Ellen M. Lillington200
Tom & Nancy Fiene200
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Merele McClure250
Joanne Koltnow400
Christina Kenrick1,000
Richard Johnsson5,000
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Jody Maxmin*
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Diane Finkelstein250
Linda & Steve Boxer*
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Jan Aarts*
Judith Appleby300
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Karen A. Latchford*
Kingsley Jack250
Richard Zuanich150
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Scottie Zimmerman100
Fran Codispoti250
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Dong Family200
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Andrea B. Smith100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
The Havern Family5,000
Gwen Luce and Family*
Bruce Campbell*
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Judy Kramer*
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John Keller100
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
Paul & Jane Millman250
In Memory Of

Walter Dean*
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Jack Sutorius750
Michele Wilson*
Bob Donald350
Leonard Ware*
Robert Spinrad100
August King*
Bob Simoni500
David W. Mitchell*
Paul Seaver*
Gerald Berner300
Ian Halliday250
Ray Bacchetti300
Marie and Don Snow200
Andre Jones *
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
David Sager100
Ted Linden200
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Chet Brown*
Phil Zschokke200
Nellie Perna Bartello100
Bob Donald*
Steven T. Ross100
In Honor Of

Marilyn Sutorius750
Darla Tupper3,922
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Polly Caddes*
Joe Simitian*
Gabby Perez & Logan Marsh250
Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Businesses & Organizations

Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Hearts & Minds Activity Center75
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000