Kindergarteners at Sunnyslope Elementary build towers out of straws and marshmallows. Photos by Kaitlyn Fontaine.
Kindergarteners at Sunnyslope Elementary build towers out of straws and marshmallows. Photos by Kaitlyn Fontaine.

For a few Saturdays each month, transitional kindergarten to fifth grade students are invited to a Hollister School District program focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects. The goal of the Saturday Scholars program is to help students make up absences and missed work.

Jeannine Ostoja, principal of Ladd Lane Elementary School, hopes that Saturday Scholars “sends a big message to parents that attendance is very important.”

Saturday Scholars runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Sunnyslope Elementary, Calaveras Elementary, Maze Middle School, Gabilan Hills Elementary, Hollister Dual Language Academy, Cerra Vista Elementary, R.O. Hardin Elementary, Rancho San Justo Middle School, and Ladd Lane Elementary.

In addition to assisting students, the program gives teachers the opportunity to incorporate more creative teaching methods in the classroom while focusing on STEM standards.

“Teachers enjoy the freedom of being creative and extending the lesson,” said R.O. Hardin Principal Lilia Espinoza. “They can start with an art project and build from there.”

Students participate in a variety of STEM activities, such as receiving a budget to purchase supplies to construct a tower, building bath bombs for Valentine’s Day gifts, crafting paper airplanes in order to see which models fly best, and packets on penguins where students explore the icy birds with art.

Joe Rivas, principal of Sunnyslope Elementary School, stressed the importance Saturday Scholars has beyond academics.

“The teachers enjoy it,” Rivas said. “I think it also helps, too, it helps the teachers build some of those connections and relationships. The classes are a little smaller. So, they get more of an intimate setting where they are doing group projects. It builds those relationships that carry over into Monday.”

R.O. Hardin fourth grader Isabelle Resendiz said she enjoyed coming to Saturday Scholars because “it is better than staying at home and being on your phone.”

Aaliyah Flores, a fifth grader from Sunnyslope, said “Saturday Scholars is a place where you get to have fun, and learn things about science by doing activities.”

Rivas said the program is about building a home-to-school connection and having students that want to participate.

“It makes me feel good to hear them say, ‘I want to be at school tomorrow,’” he said. “Kids were asking me for permission slips on Friday because they want to come on Saturday.”

At the end of each Saturday session, children celebrate upcoming birthdays of fellow students, and everyone gets a cupcake. For third grader Christian Navarro, that is the goal of the entire morning.

“All the hard work you did allowed you to get a cupcake,” Navarro said.


I am a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno. I spent a year teaching in China and two years working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga.