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Daily Breeze | August 21, 2010

Hawthorne charter school off to an early start

By Rob Kuznia, Staff Writer

Given how Leonardo da Vinci is still hailed as one of the greatest thinkers of all time, it's easy to imagine him questioning the wisdom of the traditional school year.

So perhaps it's fitting that his eponymous public charter school in Hawthorne is bucking convention by starting school a few weeks early.
Friday, when most kids in the South Bay were still basking in the final days of summer, students at the 2-year-old Da Vinci charter high school were wrapping up their first week.

Da Vinci Principal Nicole Tempel said the school truncates summer in part because the traditional way is becoming antiquated.

"It's based on an industrial-era, bring-in-the-crops kind of system," she said.

But mostly, the early start date is the product of a goal to ensure that allDa Vinci students get a taste of the college life while still in high school. At Da Vinci, every student must take at least two college courses on the high school campus in order to graduate. (They also must take the SAT and fill out a college application.)

The college classes are taught by El Camino College professors who commute to the high school campus.

This requires an earlier start date because El Camino's first day happens the week before Labor Day, and Da Vinci educators believe it's good to give the students a couple of weeks to get settled in before thrusting them into academic high gear.

Da Vinci, which is located at 13500 Aviation Blvd., is actually a pair of separate charter schools, with one focused on science, the other on design. The charter schools were launched in August 2009 by the K-8 Wiseburn School District (in the Hawthorne area) as an effort to give students an alternative to attending schools in the struggling Centinela Valley Union High School District.

Total enrollment has grown to 700 students, up from about 450 last year.
On Friday, some of those students tried to brush off the summer cobwebs with an educational game that had them literally dashing around the outdoor campus with tape measures in hand. The idea was to learn the metric system through a scavenger hunt for items of various lengths.

While measuring the width of the girls' room door, (1 meter), sophomore Katherine Davis acknowledged that going back to school so early was a little tough, especially in light of how, at that very moment, some of her friends from other schools were at a matinee movie.

"But it's not so bad," she said.

After measuring the circumference of a tree stump (34.5 centimeters), sophomore Misao Lambert pointed out that Da Vinci students get out earlier in the summer.

"Plus we get three weeks off for winter break," she said.

Their teacher, Kate Garrido, said the scavenger hunt is a great way for the students and teacher to get to know each other - while learning, of course. It's also an example of the kind of hands-on lesson that the school holds dear.

"Usually the metric system is something that - let's face it - is boring," Garrido said. "This is better than someone just talking at them."

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