It's summer, but school is not out for 80 incoming freshmen at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto.
Seven hours a day, Monday through Friday, they're in classrooms learning pre-algebra, analyzing "Fahrenheit 451," playing with data sets on Google sheets and getting to know one another through ice breakers and off-campus hikes.
This is Summer Bridge at Eastside, a six-week program designed to prepare new freshmen for the rigors of college-prep curriculum and transition them into high school life. The program has existed since 1997, the first summer after the launch of the tuition-free private school, which serves students who will be the first in their families to go to college.
Unlike most brand-new high schoolers, with Summer Bridge "students don't feel uncomfortable when they start high school," Principal Chris Bischof said. "That puts students at ease a lot."
The intensive summer program packs in 12 weeks of academic instruction into half the time. Students take math, English, "high school prep" and personal finance classes. In high school prep, they're immersed in Eastside's culture and expectations, which can be a big change for the students who come from public middle schools, Bischof said. Students write letters to themselves about their goals; the school holds onto the letters and returns them their senior year. They also hear from alumni and upperclassmen about their experiences at Eastside. Upperclassmen are also on campus over the summer for summer classes or to prepare for the college-application process.
In the finance class, rising freshmen learn about budgeting, credit, investments, the cost of a college education and financial aid. (As seniors, they'll take another, more advanced personal finance course.)
The academic courses are designed to teach students who arrive with a range of skill levels. Between 10% and 20% of students require extra support to bring their reading, writing and math skills up to grade level, according to Eastside. Many arrive without a firm understanding of pre-algebra, Bischof said. All Eastside students take the equivalent of two years of math their freshman year to ensure that by senior year, they can progress to pre-calculus, college-level AB or BC calculus or Advanced Placement statistics, Bischof said. The goal is to lay the foundation necessary for a student to pursue a major in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) in college, the principal said.
Increasing the rigor of math early for students at Eastside has helped students with "entering, persisting and finishing STEM degrees" in college, he said.
In the past three years, students have increased scores on their math diagnostic test on average by 51% from the start to the end of Summer Bridge, Bischof said.
They're also exposed to beginning coding over the summer, in case any students want to take Eastside's computer science elective. One of those students is Anthony Prado, who stepped away from a Google sheet populated with data on Tuesday to talk about the summer program.
"I like it a lot," said the incoming ninth-grader, who attended middle school at East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, a charter school. "It teaches me a lot, a warm-up before school starts."
In a neighboring math class, students corrected errors on a recent test with the help of teacher Hai Tran. Exams during Summer Bridge also help Eastside teachers to assess where students are academically and to measure youths' progress.
"Progress isn't necessarily good or bad," Tran told the students on Tuesday. "It's just where you are."
Several doors down in an English class, 26 focused, engaged students learned about adverbs, played an interactive vocabulary game on Chromebooks and analyzed the book they're currently reading, "Fahrenheit 451."
Elizabeth Diaz, a Stanford University student who graduated from Eastside in 2017, returned to her alma mater this summer through an internship with Streetcode Academy, a youth technology nonprofit providing coding instruction during Summer Bridge.
When she was a rising freshman, she considered the summer program as mostly a time to make new friends but also a time to catch up academically. A highlight for her, she said, was a two-day camping trip, which this year's students are going on at the Presidio in San Francisco next week.
According to Eastside, 100% of its graduates have been admitted to four-year colleges and 76% have either graduated from a four-year college or university or are on track to graduate within six years, compared to a national college completion rate of 11% for first-generation students.