Check Out These Unique Public School Programs in the San Francisco Suburbs

Sep 15, 2021

Remember, there’s no ONE definition of an A+ school — it’s all about finding the right fit for your kids.

Everyone’s looking for something different in a school. While it’s easy to get caught up in finding the “best” school, the reality is there isn’t one best school — just the school that’s best for your family and kids.

The good news is the San Francisco suburbs are packed with tons of amazing schools that feature some unique programs. With so many great options, it’s easy to find a district that’s right for your kids. Start here…

#1. Bullis Charter School (Los Altos)

This K-8 charter school uses a Project-Based Learning (PBL) model to engage and challenge its students. Unlike a traditional curriculum, this method gives students the opportunity to take an active role in their learning process. PBL helps students think critically, solve real-world problems and retain information longer than with other instruction methods.

In addition to using PBL, Bullis Charter School stands apart for its award-winning S.T.E.A.M. program (it’s been named a California Distinguished School twice) and integrated world language program which offers both Mandarin and Spanish. Students at every grade level also take drama, art and physical education classes.

Bullis Charter School emphasizes the importance of teaching the “whole child.” On top of the rigorous academics, this school helps its students grow socially and emotionally by offering practical lessons in civic responsibility and decision-making. Plus, students can pursue their dreams and passions through co-curricular courses.

Any K-8 California student is welcome to enroll, but preference is given to Los Altos residents. A lottery system is used if there are more applicants than open spots.

#2. Design Tech High School (Redwood City)
Design Tech is an innovative high school built by the computer software company Oracle. Of course, STEM plays a huge role in the campus- students have access to an 8,000 sq ft Design Realization Garage complete with 3D printers, film editing software and tons of other equipment. But the school is much more than just a tech school. The student body is made up of dancers, artists, coders, journalists and other creative thinkers.

The school’s name comes from the design thinking program developed by the Stanford Design School. Design Tech is focused on helping its students gain valuable skills in real-world problem solving, emotional intelligence and collaborative confidence while also making sure they are comfortable using new forms of technology and adapting to the modern world.

Design Tech fosters a welcoming and collaborative campus culture. There are tons of student-led clubs from rock climbing to TEDx to Model United Nations. Plus, students participate in unique intersession and internship experiences to explore different disciplines and gain meaningful experiences outside of the classroom.

#3. Marin School of the Arts (Novato)
Marin School of the Arts is a specialized program within Novato High School. Participating students have the unique opportunity to experience both a traditional high school program and a challenging college-level arts training program.

This program encourages students to take creative risks, explore different artistic ideas and appreciate diverse forms of self-expression. Students can pursue a variety of artistic passions including dance, film, video game design, photography, musical theater, creative writing, visual arts and more.

Prospective students from Marin, Sonoma and other nearby counties must audition or submit portfolios to be considered for admission.

#4. Language Immersion Programs (Palo Alto School District)
For families who prioritize language learning, the Palo Alto School District is a top choice. This school system features multiple language immersion programs at the elementary and middle school level.

Escondido Elementary School, for example, offers a Spanish immersion program that helps native speakers of both Spanish and English to gain fluency in each language. Starting in Kindergarten, almost all of the classroom instructions are taught in Spanish. Each year, more and more English is introduced, and by 5th grade, half of the lessons are in English and half in Spanish.

A similar program is offered for Mandarin at Ohlone Elementary School. This dual immersion program aims to help students reach full bilingualism and have a strong cross-cultural awareness.

Spanish and Mandarin immersion continues at Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School, which also offers additional world language courses including French, Japanese and German. In both of the district’s high schools, students can take additional language courses and receive a Seal of Biliteracy on their diplomas.

#5. Tice Creek School (Walnut Creek)
Students at Tice Creek gain real-world problem-solving skills and learn how to become innovative thinkers through Problem-Based Learning (PBL). This model helps students to utilize the “Four C’s:” collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking.

PBL is a unique approach compared to traditional methods of instruction. For each lesson, Tice Creek students research, speak with industry experts, receive feedback and present projects to an engaged audience. This method puts students in an active role in the learning process and helps them gain knowledge through hands-on experiences.

#6. Paideia at Oakland Tech High School (Oakland)
Paideia is a one-of-a-kind holistic humanities program available to 10th-12th grade students at Oakland Tech High School. This integrative program encourages students to think critically, gain analytical skills and learn how to effectively communicate. Paideia students take rigorous courses in government, economics, history and literature.

In addition to Paideia, Oakland Tech also offers other innovative programs, like performing arts and civic engagement. Students can also join one of the pathways, which are designed to help them prepare for future careers and advanced academic pursuits.

The Fashion, Art, Design, Animation Academy and the Race, Policy & Law Academy are just two of the available pathways at Oakland Tech.

#7. The Connections Program at JLS Middle School (Palo Alto)
This unique middle school program uses project-based and student-directed learning techniques to help the students become curious and creative life-long learners. Unlike in traditional classrooms, Connections Program teachers act as coaches or mentors. The teachers facilitate the lessons but let the students take responsibility for their work, set goals and build their self-confidence.

What else sets The Connections Program apart? This program uses differentiated instruction to help every student reach their individual goals. The curriculum is adapted to meet the needs of each student and the entire group benefits by experiencing different learning styles. The curriculum also emphasizes real-world learning with expert guest speakers, field trips and current event projects while still meeting all of the state’s standards.

#8. The School of Environmental Leadership (San Rafael)
Students in this school-within-a-school program develop 21st Century and leadership skills through project-based lessons. This environmentally-focused program uses multi-disciplinary projects to challenge students and teach them how to think critically, analyze issues and find solutions to modern problems.

During their four years in The School of Environmental Leadership (SEL), students focus on “environmental stewardship, global awareness, community service and innovative thinking.” The students have tons of opportunities to build and showcase their skills. Sophomores can serve as counselors at the Walker Creek Outdoor Education Center and Seniors complete a community internship project. The SEL program empowers students to become strong, positive leaders no matter what field they pursue after graduation.

With so many great options, how do you decide which one is best for your family? You simply don’t without the help of a Suburban Jungle Strategist. Schedule your FREE Suburbs Strategy session today to start narrowing in on your perfect fit.

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