I have a special place in my heart for the East Side of San Jose, California because that is where I started my career in education. From 2001 to 2003 and then again in 2008, I was a classroom teacher in the Alum Rock School District (at LUCHA Elementary School and Cassell Elementary School–I also taught in Oak Grove, which is more South than East San Jose, as well as in Ecuador). Every time I return to the East Side, I get nostalgic. Those years were significant for me– I moved to California, started teaching, and met my partner all within 1 month! Good times, for sure, but in my first year of teaching, I was overwhelmed with work and responsibilities I felt unprepared for. That being said, it was my students and their families that kept me going. Kept me teaching myself algebra so that I could then teach it to my kids, kept me focused on improving my students’ academic performance despite some grim beginning of year assessments, and kept me coming back day after day because the classroom culture my students and I created was truly special. Every time I drive down Story Road past King Street, I think about my students and their families who were so smart, so committed, and so wonderfully nice even though I must have looked like a deer in headlights at times. And this is not because they didn’t have a care in the world. The vast majority of my students had parents who were born outside of the US. They had sacrificed a lot to ensure that their children would have more opportunities than they did and every single one of them saw their child’s success in school as critical to their child’s future success. That’s why I had an eye twitch going for the first two years of my teaching career.
But this post is more than a walk down memory lane, it is about one of the most exciting schools I have visited: Bulldog Tech. And it’s located just south of Alum Rock in the Evergreen School District. Bulldog Tech aims to “connect students with the skills and abilities to succeed in a knowledge-based, highly technological society.” The school is part of the New Tech Network which is a national non-profit organization that works with schools and communities to develop innovative public schools that fundamentally rethink teaching and learning so that students gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life, college, and the careers of tomorrow. Project based learning and technology integration are at the heart of the teaching philosophy of both Bulldog and New Tech.
Bulldog Tech is a middle school with 300 7th and 8th grade students. The school is small and shares a campus with the larger LeyVa Middle School. However, the classrooms are brand new and the students are rightfully proud of their campus. I know this because three student ambassadors gave me a tour and even showed me the skylight adjustments in the classrooms.
Bulldog Tech Campus
It’s difficult to summarize the most impressive elements of Bulldog. But quality of instruction is easily on this list. Every subject except math is mixed with another and classes are team taught by two teachers. For example, 7th graders have a blended science and art class and 8th graders have a blended PE and science class. The students clearly love this. One of the ambassadors told me, “You learn things all at once. Because PE is about the body and the body is science.”
The teaching is very engaging and well thought-out. The students told me about how the other week they had to make cupcakes but instead of having 3 eggs like the recipe called for, each group was only given 1 egg. So they had to adjust the recipe and its proportions accordingly.
Another student told me about how she is making a Public Service Announcement about Islam because “people misjudge Muslims and they shouldn’t bully them.”
One of the classes I visited was working on comic strips about different elements of the American Revolution. One of my tour guides was making a comic strip about the Battle of Bunker Hill. At the end of the unit, all the strips will be combined into a comic book that has a comprehensive history book of the American Revolution.
Students hard at work on their comic strips.
Every student at Bulldog Tech has an iPad and in every class I saw students using Echo (the learning management system that New Tech had to build themselves because no other system could accommodate project-based learning!) to check their progress and enter assessment questions. It all felt pretty seamless.
But here’s the thing. The culture at Bulldog Tech isn’t dogmatic. It’s not overly tech-y in the way some schools are where all kids are glued to screens for 6 hours a day and need to be forced to collaborate as a group or have a face-to-face conversation. The culture at Bulldog Tech is lovely. They’ve struck a wonderful balance of rigor and high expectations for academics with a caring, authentic school community. And remember, this is middle school– some of the most turbulent and tough years of any one’s life. This is truly a special place. I can’t wait to return and learn more. I might just get myself a Bulldog Tech tee-shirt and try to pass as a student…