Head’s Corner

COVID-19 Waiver Update

Dear Saklan Community,

I want to start with gratitude and acknowledgments. Saklan received its Waiver from the county with relative ease due to many people’s hard work and dedication. While the COVID-19 Task Force drove the waiver/reopening process, many others stepped up to make it possible. Moreover, I would be remiss not to mention all the hard work that went into making the distance learning program successful and robust, although no replacement for face-to-face learning. While not acknowledging individuals, I will say those on the COVID-19 Task Force, the Admin Team, and so many teachers and parents pitched in to make the start of the year, and the Waiver possible. 

The Process

In July, Saklan was getting close to having systems in place that followed state-wide mandates when Governor Newsom announced that many counties would not open schools in August. A waiver process was put into place, but each county developed its timeline. Contra Costa County released their process in late August, and Saklan submitted its plan in the first week of September. Part of the process included conversations with officials at the County Health Department who went through each step of our Waiver and added helpful but intricate procedures. 

Once the Waiver was approved, it went back to the Task Force for consideration. From there, the Task Force made a recommendation to the Board, and the Board then considered the recommendations and had a conversation about how they envisioned reopening the school for in-person learning. From those conversations came two additions to our reopening plan.  

  1. We will require each student to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus for in-person learning. (All teachers/staff will be regularly tested.)
  2. We will stagger our reopening. We will start with K-2nd grades on campus first, following with 3rd-5th (possibly 6th) a couple of weeks later.

* Details regarding both of these will be communicated next week.

I understand that both of these additions create a burden on families. Unfortunately, the county added new restrictions that increased the level of complexity to our reopening. It is essential to get it right and for us to go slow before we go fast. 

The Plan

We will reopen for K-2nd as an in-person class on Wednesday, September 30th. The 28th and 29th will be days where the students may have some work to do for class, but online classes will not be held. Teachers will be using those days to transition back to in-person learning, preparing classrooms, going over safety procedures, etc. The exact schedule will be emailed out early next week. 

On Wednesday, October 14th, we will open grades 3rd-5th (and possibly 6th, our planning is still taking place). Like K-2nd, teachers in 3rd-5th will use October 13th (and our Professional Development day on the 9th) to prepare their classrooms for the students’ return. There will be no online classes for students in grades 3rd-5th on October 13th. 

We do hope that towards the end of October, the county will be in the “red zone” and will be able to bring our 7th and 8th grade students to campus. 

Other Reopening / COVID-19 Related Information

More Improvements – If you have been following our facility improvements over the summer, you know that we have added outdoor learning spaces, improved our ventilation system with hospital grade filter systems, installed sinks, sanitizers and non-touch faucets throughout the campus. We have now purchased for every classroom an air purifier with ultraviolet lights to kill germs. We will also be adding 1200 sq. ft. of outdoor learning space, giving us over 3000 sq. ft of outdoor classroom space. 

Being Responsible – While infection rates continue to improve, it is also easy to get comfortable and relax, leading to another jump in rates. Once the school is open, we can stay open even if infection rates increase county wide. But, if we have even a small outbreak at school, the county may close the school. As a community, it is our responsibility to keep our students and teachers healthy and in school. 

Flu Shots – This year, more than most, getting a flu shot is extremely important. The symptoms of COVID-19 present much like the common flu. We have had to send students home from the ECE for something as simple as a runny nose. The better job we do avoiding any illness, the more likely we will be successful in having a good year.

Survey – Next week, we will be sending a survey to parents regarding their intention to send their students back to school or keep them home. Our online options will be limited once we are in session. We will be setting aside time towards the end of the school day to connect with those at home and help them with their academics. We will do our best but will be limited by how much “live-teaching” we can do during the school day. 

Bus – Next week, we will be sharing information regarding the school bus. The seating will be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, and the fees will increase significantly. 

Extended Day – While we are in cohorts and under COVID-19 restrictions, we do not see a way to open extended day for K-8 that is safe and cost-effective. The school day will end between 2:00 and 2:20 pm for students. 

As always, thank you for your patience and support. If you have any questions or concerns, please email me. More information will be coming early next week. 




8th Grade Chemistry

8th grade is in the middle of their chemistry unit. They have been learning about state changes of matter. By adding and taking away heat, matter can change from a solid, liquid, to a gas. But sometimes, we can actually heat up a solid so fast, it changes to a gas immediately, skipping the liquid state. It’s hard to imagine a liquid oxygen molecule or a solid gas since we are used to living at a comfortable climate, so to understand this, students investigated dry ice or frozen carbon dioxide. At a cool -109 degrees F (approximately) and the outdoor temperature of approximately 80 degrees F, this drastic temperature change creates a sublimation state change for the dry ice; it changes straight from a solid to a gaseous form.  

Students began to understand how the quick change creates a dense gas or fog coming off the dry ice. This dense air sank and created a bubble of air the students could use to float the block on top of the tables. They pushed pennies into the block to see how matter responds at that temperature and how solid gases react to warmer solids colliding into them. By adding water to the block, they saw the water bubble (boil) with white gas filled bubbles and then freeze the water they had once put over the dry ice.

They then related their understanding of what was happening in our solar system back in class on Zoom today. As frozen gases orbit through space, when they come close to stars, they melt, much like our dry ice was doing on the table, and produce a gaseous tail. We recognize these orbiting frozen gas balls as comets.


The Skin You Live In

The Hoot Owls have been talking about their skin. They read the books The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler and The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. In The Colors of Us, a little girl notices all the beautiful and different skin colors of the people in her community. Her mom is an artist and teaches her how to mix black, white, red and yellow paint to make the skin colors of the people that she sees for a collection of portraits.

The Hoot Owls worked on self-portraits and mixed their own skin colors trying to get as close as they could to their own shades. We found out that the black paint had too much green and blue in it so we tried brown paint instead. Next, the Hoot Owls looked in mirrors and added their eyes, nose, ears, mouth and hair. They also talked about the importance of their skin. Some Hoot Owls said, “It keeps your blood and bones inside.” Some Hoot Owls have broken bones and told us their harrowing tales!


First Parent ED Talk

We know it’s tough right now. Join the Saklan parent community & Dr. Chelsey Hauge-Zavaleta for a workshop on managing big feelings during distance learning with supportive, relationship based techniques.

October 7, 2020 at 7:00 pm

Dr. Chelsey Hauge Zavaleta has been working with parents to create calm and cooperation at home for over two decades. Dr. Hauge-Zavaleta is the CEO of Positive Parenthood and as a mother-educator herself, Dr. Hauge-Zavaleta grounds her work in principles of equity, relationship based learning, and accessibility for all families.


What Do Our Hands Hold?

In Art class, all students K – 8th did a variation of this hand project to start off the school year. Students created “mind maps” including interests, passions and dreams. They drew symbols that represent these words and then composed them within a tracing of their hand. Younger students used lines, color, and their name to fill inside their hands.

Each is unique in the ways each student is one of a kind. Our hands as artists not only make each creation, but together we hold the power to change the world. All hand projects were turned into the last Swap & Drop, so Ms. Natalie can create one large work of art that brings everyone’s hands together. This collaborative piece will be on view in the breezeway for students to see on in-person visit days. In the coming weeks, we will have each project  and the collaboration piece on our online Art Museum at Artsonia.com under The Saklan School. Stay tuned!


Communications Best Practices: Accountability & Self-Advocacy

Mr. P and Ms. Natalie combined both 8th grade Advisories for a couple weeks to give the students the opportunity to have some fun while flexing their communications skills and learning personal accountability and self-advocacy.

The central idea in middle school and in the activity booklet (linked below) is student empowerment. As you can see in the diagrams in the booklet, when the student is in the driver’s seat on the communications highway of students, parents, and teachers, well… that’s where the money is!

During this exercise, small student groups brainstormed then acted out scenarios for various common types of communications that happen in middle school. For example, taking responsibility in class or self-advocating in interactions with teachers at school or with parents at home. We then recorded the student roleplays, and we’re now watching and reflecting on them as an 8th grade community while celebrating the kids’ creativity, compassion, and courage in making these videos — first thing in the morning, no less.

Evy, Elena and Isabel

The video presented here is one of a number of very sweet snapshots illustrating respectful, responsible student-to-student communications in social situations. We’re super proud of our 8th graders and their enthusiastic embrace of these essential life skills.


Literary Concepts

Fifth graders are reading the chapter book Frindle by Andrew Clements. Frindle is the story of a smart, mischievous fifth grader that likes to pull pranks at school. He comes up with a creative prank for one of his teachers by inventing a new word.

Two of the literary concepts students are learning about are character traits and providing text evidence to support the specific trait. In addition, students drew a picture of one of the main characters using what they have learned about the character during their reading. Students presented their completed posters on a Flip Grid video. Way to go fifth graders!

Click on the names to watch some of the videos: Sophie, Lilah, Finn, Eleanor.


Saklan Happy

In an effort to do a little something fun with our Friday Flag, we asked families to create their own version of Happy by Pharrell Williams. This video certainly made everyone smile and happy this morning!

Special thanks to Noah M. (8th grade) for putting the video together!


Talking to Your Kids About Race and Racism

The Seven Hills School is hosting a FREE virtual Parent Lecture Series event next Wednesday, September 16 at 7:00 pm. New York Times bestselling author, Julie Lythcott-Haims, presents “Talking to Your Kids about Race and Racism.”

The event is open to all, but space is limited. Please RSVP.