AltSchool Hub

A Look Inside AltSchool SOMA

Posted by Lorie Delizo

Mar 17, 2016 3:11:30 PM

A fascinating question. A spark of curiosity. A kindled interest. When fostered, these moments can ignite a student’s new-found passion that lasts a lifetime.  

At AltSchool SOMA, we listen for those moments of inspiration. We’ve created a responsive learning environment that supports each student’s process of self-discovery, giving them the tools and confidence to pursue their interests. When they graduate, our middle schoolers not only have a strong academic foundation for high school, but they have the creativity, grit, and compassion needed to succeed in the ever-changing 21st century.

I invite you to take a virtual tour of our middle school classroom. As you take the tour, here are highlights about our school and approach reflected in the environment.


Our class mural
Walking into our classroom, you’ll see a mural hanging above our lockers. This triptych represents the code of conduct for our class— conceived, written, and designed by our students. It reads: Work hard, Work together, Respect different beliefs, Be your best self, Respect the environment, and Leave the environment looking better than you found it. At the beginning of the year, students established their hopes and dreams for the year. Then, they picked up pens and paintbrushes, writing their class code and painting the mural.  Students took ownership over their class culture; the result is a beautiful reminder of how we treat our community with respect.


A rigorous, personalized curriculum
Our curriculum is academically rigorous while providing flexibility to support individual interests. Each day is broken into two main components: core skill work and project-based learning blocks. Students gain mastery in core academic areas including math, science, English language arts and social studies. And throughout the year, they engage in several long-term projects that inspire interdisciplinary connections. During a project, students select a topic of choice, research it, and produce and showcase a final product.

These projects foster a “Just do it!” attitude. We want students to feel empowered and have the skills to develop their passions today and throughout their lives. Throughout the process students explore their interests and develop 21st century skills like goal-setting, time-management, iteration, and reflection.


Passion projects
This year started with a passion project, where students chose and developed a topic of interest. One group of students coded their own video games. Another pair of students learned photography from scratch, taking online tutorials on how to manipulate aperture and shutter speed. They showcased a beautiful photo essay about a local corner store. Another student filmed a short documentary, and another created a viral YouTube campaign to raise awareness of climate change.


Rigorous humanities: studying world religions
When you walk into our school, you may see kids reading The Bhagavad Gita or Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. They are both part of our unit on world religions.

We take an interdisciplinary approach to the humanities. Last year, students analyzed the themes in Homer’s Iliad through data visualization, and this year students combine religious, social, historical, and literary perspectives when reading and understanding important religious texts. Throughout the unit, students reflect on the hero’s journey, parse the differences between parables and allegories, and compare religions systems. By engaging with such advanced texts, students hone their reading comprehension, respect diversity, and decode the meaning of symbols. They also wrote short- and long-form essays to practice the art of building and supporting an argument. Our goal through our humanities program is for students to write at a high-school level.


Earth sciences discovery projects
Have a hypothesis? Time to test it! For our next project arc, students identified scientific questions that they could then put to the test. Is desalination a viable solution for California’s drought? Students are building a desalination kit to find out. How can we use our limited agricultural space to produce enough nutritious food for an increasing population? They are experimenting with alternative protein sources, like crickets. How could humans colonize Mars? Students are building a biosphere that supports plants and microbes.

Students are learning that science is both a discipline and a methodology. Throughout the unit, students generate a question and hypothesis, test the hypothesis, gather evidence, analyze the evidence, draw conclusions, and defend their results through a report.

AltHoops: Girls and boys basketball team!
This year AltSchool middle schoolers took to the courts, with our inaugural girls and boys basketball program! With regular practices and weekly games, students worked as a team off and on the court. The girls even made it to the championships! We look forward to continue to build our sports program across the network.


An AltSchool graduate: preparation for high school
When students graduate from AltSchool, they feel empowered, confident, and excited for that next step towards high school. Throughout their experience, students learn rigorous work habits, practice the skills to complete a long-term project, and master core content. We support each student and family through the high school selection and application problem, starting with identifying their near- and long-term goals. We also help students prepare for SSATs, support their high school applications, and help them write compelling essays.

Above all, we help students grow into self-assured, resilient individuals who are excited to drive their learning journeys and design their future.

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Topics: Virtual Tours, AltSchool SOMA