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.

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2018 Grant Recipients

10 Books A Home
Expansion of in-home tutoring and literacy program helping parents prepare their preschoolers for kindergarten through age-appropriate books and reading exercises$15,000

49ers Academy
Consolidation and relocation to a single middle school of the reading intervention and academic support program at to help prepare Ravenswood middle school students for high school $5,000

Able Works
Financial literacy education for students at Menlo-Atherton High School and East Palo Alto charter high schools and for young families$5,000

Acterra
Energy audits and solar installations aimed at reducing utility costs for low income residents of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven$5,000

Ada's Café
Training and support of developmentally disabled employees and high school interns$5,000

Adolescent Counseling Services
Outlet Program providing support services and counseling for LGBTQ+ youth $7,500

All Students Matter
Launch of new literacy intervention program focused on 3rd-5th grade students in Ravenswood school district$10,000

Art in Action
Art education program serving more than 900 students in the Ravenswood school district$5,000

Art of Yoga
Yoga, creative art and other mindfulness activities for juvenile girls in the criminal justice system$5,000

Bayshore Christian Ministries
Academic "Create" summer camp providing multiple tracks for Ravenswood district middle school students$5,000

Buena Vista Homework Club
New homework center for elementary school aged youth living at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park$10,000

CASSY
School-based mental health services to students and families in six Ravenswood elementary and middle schools$10,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Legal assistance to East Palo Alto residents facing eviction and other rental housing problems and conflicts$10,000

Downtown Streets Team
Stipends for homeless volunteers who perform community services in downtown Palo Alto as they transition to regular employment$7,500

DreamCatchers
New system to document student progress and improve communication among tutors of Palo Alto middle school students$10,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation
Educator Micro Grants Program, providing up to $600 grants to teachers in schools in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park$10,000

East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring
Literacy evaluations for first through eighth graders in Ravenswood schools to determine needed interventions$7,500

Environmental Volunteers
Monthly public environmental education programs for youth and adults$5,000

Family Connections
Early childhood education program for parents of preschoolers in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.$7,500

Foundation for a College Education
College Knowledge middle and high school program designed to prepare students and their families to pursue a college education$7,500

Friends of Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo
Science Outreach Program providing hands on science instruction at Willow Oaks Elementary School$5,000

Get Involved Palo Alto
Service-learning internship placement program for high school students wanting to work with low-income youth$10,000

Health Connected
Sexual health education instruction in Ravenswood middle schools$5,000

Hidden Villa
Summer camp scholarships $5,000

JLS Middle School
Homework Habitat after-school homework and tutoring program three days a week$4,000

Jordan Middle School
Jordan Academic Wellness Support (JAWS) providing after-school study center for students three days a week$4,000

Kara
Spanish language peer grief support program$7,500

Live in Peace
"Gap Year Project" to guide and support at-risk high school graduates unprepared or uncertain about careers or college$5,000

Marine Science Institute
Environmental and marine science education program for low-income students$5,000

Music in the Schools Foundation
Music education in Ravenswood school district$5,000

New Creation Home Ministries
Parenting and life skills classes for teen mothers in East Palo Alto$5,000

New Voices for Youth
Video production equipment and training for middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club in East Palo Alto$3,000

Nuestra Casa
ESL classes for East Palo Alto adults$7,500

One East Palo Alto
Summer job and mentoring program for at-risk East Palo Alto youth$5,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation
Cultural Kaleidoscope, an arts-education program linking Palo Alto and East Palo Alto schools and using professional artists$5,000

Palo Alto Housing
Family Reading Club for parents and youth living in subsidized rental apartments managed by Palo Alto Housing $4,000

Peninsula Bridge
After school and summer academic support programs for low income middle and high school students with a goal of attending college$5,000

Peninsula HealthCare Connection
Health care supplies and services provided at the Opportunity Center clinic$5,000

Project WeHOPE
Classes and counseling to support the homeless in East Palo Alto$15,000

Quest Learning Center
Parent education workshops for parents of 2nd to 5th graders in East Palo Alto $5,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation
Purchase of washing machines at three district schools$10,000

Rosalie Rendu Center
ESL and life skills classes for East Palo Alto adults$3,500

Silicon Valley FACES
Scholarships for East Palo Alto teens to attend Camp Everytown youth diversity training weekend$5,000

Silicon Valley Urban Debate League
Summer debate camp for at-risk students in East Palo Alto$5,000

St. Francis of Assisi Youth Club
Meals for low-income third to fifth graders attending East Palo Alto after-school program$5,000

Stanford Jazz Workshop
Pilot of new after-school jazz music program for Ravenswood school district 6th graders$2,500

Terman Middle School
Homework Habitat after-school homework and tutoring program three days a week$4,000

YMCA East Palo Alto
Summer "Full STEAM Ahead" program for high school students, combining academic curriculum with recreational outings$7,500

YMCA Ross Road
Six-week summer enrichment camp for low-income students attending Barron Park Elementary School$5,000

Youth Community Service
Support of Summer of Service day camp scholarships, service clubs at local middle and high schools, service days and life skills programs for at-risk teens$15,000

Youth Speaks Out
Expressive arts program enabling teens whose voices may not be otherwise heard to collaborate on artistic projects with each other and supportive adults.$15,000

Child Care Facility Improvement Grants

Children's Center of the Stanford Community
New classroom tables and chairs and additional trikes$5,000

Children's Pre-School Center
Replacement of climbing structure$5,000

Friends of Preschool Family
Replacement of climbing structure$5,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool
New cabinets and counters$5,000

The Learning Center
Installation of new Nature Explore "Outdoor Classroom"$5,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care
Upgrade of outdoor play space at Barron Park Children's Center$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School
Replacement of single-pane windows$5,000

Parents Nursery School
Repavement of parking area$5,000

Peninsula Family Service
Repairs and improvements of outdoor play area at Haven Child Development Center$5,000

As of Dec. 12, 2018,
197 donors have contributed $198,275.
* indicates amount withheld

David Labaree300
Bruce Campbell200
Janis Ulevich100
Mike Gordon250
Bill Reller*
Ellen & Mike Turbow200
Xiaofan Lin50
M D Savioe*
Ron Wolf200
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Tom Goodrich100
Leif & Sharon Erickson250
Stephen Levy 500
John & Meg Monroe500
Daniel Cox200
Richard Zuanich200
Kieschnick Family*
Deborah Williams500
Joan & Roger Warnke*
Havern Family"5,000
Bill Johnson & Terri Lobdell"1,000
Mike & Jean Couch250
Tony & Judy Kramer*
Peter Stern*
Dorothy Saxe100
David & Nancy Kalkbrenner100
David & Lynn Mitchell450
Barbara Riper*
Nancy & Joe Huber100
Sue Kemp250
Richard Baumgartner & Elizabeth Salzer*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Ted & Ginny Chu*
Stev & Mary Chapel50
Ruth Hammett100
Drew McCalley & Marilyn Green100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Judith Appleby200
Carolyn Brennan*
Susana & Doug Woodman*
Jody Maxmin*
Pat Burt250
Larry Baer500
Arthur Keller*
Lawrence Naiman100
Pamela Mayerfeld100
Eileen Brooks500
Scott & Jan Kilner500
Andrea Smith100
Braff Family500
Eugene & Mabel Dong200
Debby Roth200
Phil Hanawalt & Garciela Spivak"1,000
Lani Freeman & Stephen Monismith100
Tom & Ellen Ehrlich350
Robert & Barbara Simpson*
Gwen Luce*
Robert Aulger*
Pat & John Davis50
Art & Peggy Stauffer500
Kroymann Family250
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Karen & Steve Ross*
Wileta Burch*
Mandy Lowell*
George & Betsy Young*
Tom & Pat Sanders*
Gerald & Joyce Barker200
Brigid Barton & Rob Robinson400
Jim & Alma Phillips500
Peggy & Boyce Nute*
Michael & Cathie Foster500
Diane Moore*
Linda & Steve Boxer*
Chuck & Jean Thompson100
Julie Jerome500
Bonnie Berg*
Gallo Family500
Ann & Don Rothblatt500
Caryn Huberman Yacowitz*
Shirley R. Ely"1,000
Luca & Mary Cafiero*
Steve & Diane Ciesinski500
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker500
James W. & Nancy E. Baer200
The Ely Family250
Page & Ferrell Sanders100
JoAnne N. Zschokke100
Ralph R. Wheeler300
Bert Fingerhut & Caroline Hicks250
Kaaren & John Antoun1,500
Richard Johnsson"7,000
Bruce Gee & Jane Gee250
Eric Hahn & Elaine Hahn"1,000
Bob & Dee Crawford*
Diane & Bob Simoni200
Jan Thomson & Roy Levin*
Donald & Adele Langendorf200
Irvin & Marilyn Yalom100
Brigid Barton500
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John & Florine Galen*
H. Anton & Carolyn Tucher250
Phil Fernandez & Daniel Sternbergh*
Bob & Micki Cardelli*
John Pavkovich500
Eileen Stolee100
Sallie Whaley*
Ann Burrell & Allen Smith*
Patti Yanklowitz150
Linda Selden*
Dena Hill500
Michael Patrick200
Bonnie Packer100
Romola Georgia*
Martha Shirk500
Christina Kenrick"1,000
Dawes Family250
Ken Bencala & Sally O'Neil200
Nina & Norman Kulgein*
Tom & Nancy Fiene*
Lee Zulman*
Merrill & Lee Newman250
Judy & Lee Shulman200
Donna & Jerry Silverberg100
Victor Befera100
Kay & Don Remsen*
Beth & Peter Rosenthal300
Robyn H. Crumly*
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Amado Padilla & Deborah Farrington500
Jerry & Linda Elkind500
Donald & Virginia Fitton25
Don & Bonnie Miller100
Roger V. Smith300
In Memory Of

Er-Ying & Yen-Chen Yen250
Janet Hermsen200
Ray Bacchetti250
Nancy & Bob Lobdell*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Tracy & Alan Herrick100
Bob Fenster*
David, Zoe & Ken100
Mrs. Nancy Yih*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach*
Corrine Aulgur*
Duncan Matteson250
Pam Grady300
Elliot Eisner*
Nate Rosenberg200
Francine Mendlin250
Bob Donald*
Bill Land*
Emmett Lorey*
Ted Linden200
Marie & Don Snow150
Ben Barres100
Kathleen Morris*
Our Loving Parents Albert & Beverly Pellizzari*
August L. King*
In Honor Of

Melissa Baten Caswell*
Lucy Berman's clients"2,500
Jill200
Scott200
Polly200
Hayley200
Jake200
Garrett200
Gil200
Joe Simitian*
Businesses/Organizations

Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,000
Bleibler Properties1,000
Communications & Power Industries500
deLemos Properties200

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 January 4, 2019.