Alumni Corner

James Rokas started playing guitar the summer before 5th grade when he began taking lessons from Mr. Prestianni. It has been a passion of his ever since!

After graduating from Saklan in 2012, James went to San Ramon Valley High School where he continued playing guitar in Jazz Band all four years. He also broadened his musical interests by playing cello in Orchestra (recommended to him by Mrs. Chaffey) and playing percussion in the Marching Band.

After high school, James decided to follow his passion for guitar and music by pursuing a degree from the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. As a jazz performance major at Thornton, James has enjoyed performing in multiple ensembles including jazz combo, big band and Afro-Latin jazz. He has also written many jazz big band arrangements.

James R

Another big part of his experience as a student at USC has been as a member of the Trojan Knights, an organization known as the official hosts and guardians of traditions at USC. If you watch college football you may have seen James on the sidelines in body paint cheering on the Trojans!


He is currently getting ready to graduate in May with a degree in Jazz Guitar Performance and a minor in Music Industry. After graduation, James is planning to pursue graduate studies at UCLA for Film Scoring and working in the music industry.


4th Grade Biography Project

4th graders donned costumes and dressed up like the person they studied while reading biographies. Students wrote 5-paragraph expository essays, which were presented in class to parents. They worked on creating an organized paper which included an introduction, a body that was filled with three main ideas and many interesting supporting details, and a conclusion.


4th graders practiced their public speaking skills by giving speeches at flag, including words of wisdom!

Art, Culture, and Politics: Poster Project


Artists have a long history of making artwork to raise awareness. Posters are graphic and accessible, which makes them great vehicles of expression. Students were given four steps to reflect, explore, and express in this project.

  1. Make it Topical: For people to understand your artwork, make it relevant. Address your eras most pressing issues.
  2. Use Iconic Imagery: Using visuals so common in society, anyone could recognize them. Create  your own twist on popular culture.
  3. Develop technique: Your poster needs to be visually striking. Be Bold!
  4. Make your art approachable: Make your message easy to understand and encourage a conversation.

Making a mind map, students brainstormed ideas of current topics they felt strongly about. Having multiple options, they then chose iconic imagery that would represent each issue. We then went into developing the technique of stencil making, looking at artists Shepard Fairey and Banksy. In this process they begin to understand positive and negative space. Once the stencil is created, the student must envision the next steps needed to be taken for the poster to be visually striking. Using language can help initiate a message and conversation. Students were given the option of using bold typography like Corita Kent and Barbara Kruger do in their artwork.This would help to balance the work of art and initiate a conversation. We are in the final stages of this project. Can you tell what topics these artists are addressing in their projects?


Buddies at Saklan

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Collaboration is what makes Saklan unique! 2nd and 4th grade buddies enjoyed getting together and playing, “Mouse Trap” outside. They were able to get their wiggles out all while learning about fairness and good sportsmanship. Afterward, they hunkered down together with books practicing fluency and reading with expression.


Event Recommendations for the Weekend

Sticking around for the three-day weekend? Check out these great art exhibits.

great wave

Bedford Gallery at the Lesher Center for the Arts

1601 Civic Dr, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

Tuesday – Sunday 12pm-5pm

Adult $5, Youth 13-17 $3, Children 12 & under free.


MLK Day of Service Fair

January 20, 12–4 pm | Oak Street Plaza

In honor of MLK Day, OMCA will be offering visitors an opportunity to connect with local social justice organizations who will share information about their work and how to get involved. Enjoy a free one-hour performance by The Marcus Shelby Quartet from 1–2 pm honoring Dr. King and the legacy of the work of Civil Rights leaders and other activists.

Participating organizations include: CARECEN (Central American Resource Center), Ella Baker Center for Human RightsLeague of Women Voters of Oakland providing voter registration, the US Census, and Marcus Shelby.

The Service Fair is free and open to the public. Gallery admission is not included.


Head’s Corner

How to Stress Your Kids the Right Way


Every now and then I come across an article or podcast that is ideal for sharing with the community. Do you worry about being overprotective, overindulgent or overscheduling your child? Is there a right way to let your child struggle and fail? When should you help, and when should you chill out?

This short 25 minute “How To” podcast has some great advice from the author Wendy Mogel (The Blessing of a Skinned Knee) on building self-reliant children. Worth your time.

Warm regards,



First Grade Invention Convention

The first grade class learned about simple machines. There are six types of simple machines. They are levers, pulleys, wheel and axle, inclined plane, wedge, and screw. They learned about each of these during their Science unit by doing fun investigations in class and each student made their own simple machine log book.


They invented their own machine and then created those machines using various scraps of recycled materials. During their presentation, they had to explain how this invention would work and why it was helpful. Way to go first grade!


3rd Grade Alexander Calder and the Mobile


Alexander Calder. Constellation Mobile. 1943.

Wood, wire, string, and paint.

In understanding Kinetic Art – art that contains movement – we look to American Sculptor Alexander Calder for inspiration. He is most famous for his creation of the Mobile – a sculpture that has delicate parts, is suspended in air, and moves in response to air or powered by a motor. The class discussed the elements involved in creating a working mobile and the effects on the brain.

The students were given half the class to work in groups to create their “test” mobile using the same materials (minus paint). Working together they problem solved and created very different mobiles. They had a mini critique after the making to assess the functioning of each mobile. Next class they are to sketch out their model, including multiple branches, and create a theme for the mobile.


Reptile Inspired Art

For the month of December, the Hoot Owls studied reptiles and had a lot of fun researching them. A guest expert from East Bay Vivarium came to Saklan yesterday and the children had a chance to see, touch and hold the animals.


Patterning is an important early math skill that is practiced often in the Pre-Kindergarten room. Hoot Owls worked on pattern making by exploring patterns seen in nature. The children compared the patterns of the venomous coral snake and the harmless king snake. Hoot Owls chose to copy the pattern of either snake while also working on their fine motor skills.


Process art focuses on the student’s experience while creating art, not on the end product. Process art allows children to make their own choices, ask questions and experiment. Students have the opportunity to make mistakes, explore materials and gain confidence while using their imagination and their senses. Hoot Owls thought about snakes and how snakes move while painting with thick pieces of yarn!

Hoot Owls strengthened their fine motor skills and sculpting skills while working with air dry clay. They used the information they learned about reptiles to freely create a reptile of their choosing. Careful! They might bite!