June 2, 2020

Innovation at Hillside School Leads to Increased Learning Opportunities and Expanded Extra-Curricular Activities for Students

Hillside School continues to expand learning opportunities and extra-curricular activities for students in transitional kindergarten through 8th grade, as they close out their second of year of operation.

The school opened for the 2018-19 school year in the Hillside Village at Tesoro Viejo – well ahead of any residents moving in.  It serves students in transitional kindergarten through 8th grade with an on-site preschool.  The school currently has 185 students and expects to welcome an additional 100 students next school year.

From a farm project with a garden where students will produce food for the school cafeteria to the television studio where students will produce a news program on a YouTube channel, Hillside School continues to evolve and innovate.

“Our staff focuses on relationships and on sound teaching; they are constantly innovating and evolving to meet the needs of students,” says Hillside School Principal Jared Pierce.  “We pride ourselves on a collaborative learning environment with high expectations.”

Hillside School Principal Jared Pierce

The school has a strong Project-Based Learning (PBL) model where students learn by doing.  The innovative design of the school not only accommodates that kind of learning, but it facilitates it.  In fact, Hillside School was the only new elementary school in the Central Valley to receive an award of distinction from the 2019 Education Design Showcase awards by School Planning & Management.  The school was recognized for its 12-foot sliding door system that expand the learning opportunities for students outside traditional classroom walls.

Hillside School is the newest elementary school in the high-performing Chawanakee Unified School District.  On California’s 2018-19 Dashboard results, Chawanakee Unified School District had the highest graduation rate in Madera County, outperformed the state average and had the number one graduation rate when compared with 71 similar schools.  The district also outperformed all other Madera County schools in College Readiness, outperformed the state average, and was number one in the 71 similar schools ranking.

Principal Pierce points to the importance of building a strong culture of high expectations the first year.  He states the second year was all about deepening instructional practices, acquiring resources and solidifying the culture of excellence.

He says the next school year focuses on the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) coming alive and he points to the new, state-of-art microscopes to enhance student learning.  The new Hillside School Parent Club helped purchased some of the science materials, including the new microscopes.

“Our parent club is the most engaged and inclusive parent club I have ever worked with – and that’s saying a lot because we only have 185 students,” Pierce says.

According to Pierce, the Hillside School Parent Club energetic and supportive of the school’s vision and raises money for the learning environment.  Their first official dinner/dance fundraising event that was held in early 2020 was a huge success.  Plans are under way for more community-based fundraising events including a golf tournament and a 5K run.

Hillside School Exterior of Classrooms

“Our mission is to support the Hillside staff in bringing their educational vision to life – the amount of parent engagement we have seen in the first two years has offered a great foundation for our club,” says Anna Ressler, Hillside School Parent Club president.  “As we move forward into the next year, we are excited to continue that growth to support this extraordinary learning environment for our children.”

Hillside School is proud to offer extensive extra-curricular activities for students including sports like football, volleyball, track, cross country, soccer, and basketball.  Pierce says that they are excited to start a community-based lacrosse club program and recently received a grant from the US Lacrosse Association for materials that they can use during the school day to introduce students to the game of lacrosse.  In addition, he says that they are working on developing a community-based baseball and softball program in the near future.

A swim and water safety program for kindergarten through 3rd grade is being developed where students will be able to learn about important water safety at the pool located across the street at the Ranch House, Tesoro Viejo’s clubhouse and recreation center.

Students at Hillside School are able to participate in other extra-curricular activities like art, percussion, band, robotics, classical guitar and ski club.  The school will add chess as another opportunity for students next year.

In addition to its on-site preschool program, Hillside Elementary School has a transitional kindergarten program for students who are born between September 2 and December 2.  Designed for students who are not quite ready for kindergarten, transitional kindergarten is an opportunity for these students to get the benefit of a full-day educational program just like kindergarten.

The school meets the needs of parents and their work schedules by providing a before and after-school program.  The before-school program begins at 6:30 a.m. and the after-school program operates until 6 p.m.

Because of the school’s strong connection with Minarets High School, Hillside Elementary students have an opportunity to take high school-level courses.  The 7th graders participate in an agriculture class with a high school teacher on the Hillside Elementary School campus and all 8th graders actually attend classes on the Minarets High School campuses over a 10-day period in such classes as art, Spanish, drama, and music.  This gives students a strong connection to the high school and sets them up for success, Pierce says.

Hillside School Cross-Country Team Photo

According to Pierce, one of the biggest benefits of Hillside Elementary School is its location within the Tesoro Viejo community where students on the cross country team can access the trails to train, where young students can access the clubhouse pool for water safety, and where students can work in a community garden.

Pierce sees that the Hillside Elementary School community can contribute to the overall community of Tesoro Viejo.

“We are a vector for building community at Tesoro Viejo,” he says.  “We are helping the vision of Tesoro Viejo come alive.”