New enrichment offerings planned for coming school year at R. Roger Rowe

Robotics will now be taught during the school day as a new K-5 engineering class.

The Rancho Santa Fe School District will start the new school year with a new history and social science curriculum, a new school counselor position and enhancements to the school’s enrichment and electives schedules.

At the middle school level, electives for 2020-21 will include Spanish, art, computer science, music, theater and science classes such as rocketry, introduction to medical science and Solve It Science which will incorporate forensics, physiology, zoology and 3D printing. Student council has been removed as an elective option and it will instead be offered as a lunch club or before school.

In elementary school, the district is not only making changes to the enrichment offerings but increasing the amount of time students will spend in each class.

Previously the weekly elective wheel included 30 minutes of music, art and computer science and drama. According to Assistant K-5 Principal Megan Loh, who spoke at the RSF School District’s June 18 virtual board meeting, feedback from the staff was that it was not enough instructional time so the new plan incorporates 45-minute periods of music, drama and art within the weekly wheel for all first though fifth grade students. Kindergarten would have 30 minutes of music, drama and art within their week as well.

In taking computer science out of the wheel, the plan for next year includes a new 50-minute class period for all K-5 students that is focused on engineering.

“We really would like to provide exposure to all students in not only engineering but computer coding and also robotics,” Loh said.

As a result, there will no longer be a robotics program after school for younger students.

Loh said they have looked carefully at the robotics program which has struggled in recent years; they haven’t had as many parent volunteers and it has been challenging to find teachers who were willing to teach it after school. With COVID-19, Loh said they also want to be mindful about limiting extracurricular activities on campus and the amount of time that the students are on campus. With the after-school program not everybody was able to participate and Loh said under the new plan, all students will have access to the robotics program within the school day.

“We were really feeling strongly about the fact that all kids would get robotics and coding this way and would get it in a meaningful way, 50 minutes with a trained instructor,” said Superintendent Donna Tripi at the board meeting. “We think we’re giving kids the best of the best that way.”

For those middle school students who want to continue on with robotics, the competitive robotics program will continue to be available after school.

RSF School District Board Clerk Jee Manghani said he liked the idea of the new engineering block with robotics but expressed concerns about the loss of robotics as an after-school enrichment.

“It’s not going to sit well with a lot of the parents, and I’m one of them, that we’re taking away robotics after school,” Manghani said.

He said that if the district is struggling to recruit volunteers or teachers for one year, they might consider taking away perhaps one grade level but not taking it away altogether—he said once an entire program is removed, it becomes much more difficult to bring it back.

“Robotics is very important to me, I think it’s important to a lot of parents and I don’t think it’s a good move to take it away as an after-school elective,” Manghani said.

Board member Sarah Neal agreed and asked that the district consider outsourcing instruction or continuing to offer robotics to at least the fourth and fifth-grade levels to provide a base for the competitive program.

“The program was initiated by parents and I know a lot of people support the RSF Education Foundation because they really support robotics,” Neal said. “It’s been a flagship program and very important for our school and I just don’t think it should be cut.”

Board member Tyler Seltzer said that there seemed to be universal excitement on the board for having robotics offered to every student during the school day but asked that the after-school program be brought back for further consideration and discussion at the board’s July 9 meeting.

In other changes, the district is now in the process of hiring a new full-time school counselor, one that will help with individual and group counseling as well as implement the new social and emotional learning curriculum. With the new curriculum, they hope to equip students with the skills and tools they need to be more resilient, monitor emotions and behaviors, manage stress, empathize with others, appreciate diversity and show concern for the welfare of others.

“With school closures this year, kids will have an even greater need for social and emotional support,” Tripi said about the importance of the new position.

At the meeting, the board also approved the adoption of the new history and social science curriculum. The district has not adopted a new curriculum since 1998 and Interim Principal Chris Hargrave said the teachers were thrilled that they were getting a new program that is better aligned with the state standards and is more engaging and interactive for students. The new curriculum, TCI, includes online textbooks and resources, explores themes throughout the year as opposed to being topic or time period-driven, provides lessons on note-taking and allows students to learn through investigations and discovery.

“I think one of the complaints of students about their history class is that it’s boring,” Hargrave said. “I think this curriculum will definitely bring the content alive because they’re interacting with it not just reading about it, responding to questions and taking tests.”