This webpage was last updated on September 1, 2020.
Yes. While rumors about a waiver application process circulated for several weeks, the San Francisco Department of Public Health only recently invited letters of intent to apply. SFFS did submit a letter of intent, and we have received the application materials, including the latest SFDPH guidelines and requirements. The SFDPH has indicated that it will begin considering waiver applications soon, pandemic circumstances permitting, and that the process is likely to require 2–4 weeks. In order to position ourselves to take advantage of an opportunity consistent with our commitments to wellness, wholeness, and stewardship, we will continue to take the steps necessary to be eligible for a waiver, even while committed to optimizing our Friends@Home experience through October 9.
In the event the San Francisco Department of Public Health authorizes in-person school activities after October 9 and SFFS deems it safe to return, we will initiate an incremental, hybrid return to campus, beginning with our Kindergarten Friends. We recognize the potentially positive impact of in-person activities, as well as the potential costs of a hybrid approach, widely recognized by educators as the least effective mode for learning. Therefore, informed by our commitments to wellness, wholeness, stewardship of resources, and the impact on learning, we plan to gradually increase the number of students on campus, adding Grade 1 after Kindergarten, and then Grades 2, 3, and 4, followed by a similarly incremental approach for Middle School students. Families will be given at least one full week’s notice before their students are welcomed back at 250 Valencia.
When a grade returns to 250 Valencia in hybrid mode, students will rotate two days at school and three days in Friends@Home. In this scenario, because all students will remain on Friends@Home programming three days per week, a strong Friends@Home component will remain in place in order to serve all students. Those students who cannot return to the building in any capacity will remain connected to in-person learning using tech tools such as in-class cameras, Zoom, our Lower and Middle School Distance Learning Portals, Google Classroom, and Seesaw.
As a grade fully returns to 250 Valencia, we will pivot from focusing on our Friends@Home online program to in-person programming on campus. Because we anticipate some families being unable to return for personal reasons (such as students with a health condition, students with family members with a health condition, students who cohabitate or regularly interact with a high-risk individual, etc.), as well as students being unable to come to school when they are sick with common illnesses like a cold or the flu, we plan to continue a limited Friends@Home program, and will continue to make use of the tech tools listed previously.
When we are able to return to 250 Valencia in hybrid mode, outdoor spaces will be a particularly important component of our curriculum after being in virtual Friends@Home mode for so many months. The Front Yard will allow students to be physically active at various points in the day, and with physical distancing guidelines in place, 2–3 groups of 11 students could fit on the yard at any given time. With that in mind, there will be limited space for holding class on the yard and we will pursue a plan of returning to campus incrementally or in a rotating schedule.
Unfortunately, teaching at parks and other non-SFFS outdoor areas limits our ability to control the environment, provide proper sanitation, handwashing and bathroom facilities, and thus we are not pursuing this option.
Our historic home at 250 Valencia Street has a passive ventilation system, which allows air inside of the building to be drawn in from outside through open windows and doors, and drawn up and out through one of four towers venting to the roof. We have equipped each room with an air purifier with an ionization feature that binds to smaller virus particles and allows them to be trapped in the HEPA filters of the units. For the rooms where HVAC is available (the gym, the Black Box theater, and the movement rooms), we have upgraded units with Merv-13 filters set to pull in the maximum outside air possible. In winter, our building is heated by a radiant in-floor heating system.
Until the SFDPH changes its guidelines, we will remain in cohorts no larger than 14 students and one teacher.
Should we learn that an individual who has been on campus has contracted COVID-19, we will work in close coordination with the SFDPH and our health coordinator to notify all families immediately. We will also notify all students/families and staff who have been in contact with the individual and provide them with guidance on how to self-quarantine, as per SFDPH guidelines. These students will shift to temporary Friends@Home mode, and the impacted areas on campus will be closed off and cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized. After their period of self-quarantine is over, we will ask students/families and staff returning to school to certify that they have followed the appropriate protocols. If we have multiple confirmed cases of COVID at school after reopening, we may once again switch to Friends@Home mode for all students. Please note that we will not share the name of the individual who is ill, as this is protected medical information.
Yes, SFFS plans to require all staff and students returning to campus once we are cleared to reopen to sign a community agreement that will detail the safety precautions and thoughtful behavior we expect our Friends to undertake in order to protect everyone in our community to the best of our ability, such as wearing masks in public, avoiding large gatherings and observing social distancing guidelines, etc. More details about this agreement will be forthcoming.
Academic Dean Tracie Mastronicola has worked throughout the summer with a team of faculty members on processing the feedback we received in our Friends@Home parent survey, distributed at the end of the 2019–2020 school year, and using that input to develop a thoughtful and strengthened Friends@Home schedule for our students. The schedule for the coming year provides more in-person connection with peers and teachers, increased academic touchpoints, smaller classes, and opportunities for engagement throughout the day.
Additionally, our Technology Team has focused on streamlining our tech toolkit for students—the Lower School will now have a 1:1 iPad program, with all K–4 students receiving a school-owned device for learning. The device will be centrally managed by SFFS with remote tools that will allow us significant control of the iPads in order to accomplish things like pushing out software, filtering internet access, and setting time limits. This standardization of devices should greatly simplify and improve distance teaching and learning for our Lower School community. (We will also have a tech meeting for parents and guardians early in the year to address tech-related questions.) Additionally, the Lower and Middle School faculty are moving towards standardizing the online resources and software tools that we use in distance learning in order to minimize technology training hurdles and focus on teaching and learning.
At SFFS, inclusivity and connectedness are central to who we are, and we are committed to trying to maintain this element of our identity throughout our time in distance learning mode. We will continue to gather for Meetings for Worship via Zoom, we will welcome and onboard new families with a virtual version of our New Families Coffee and meetings with division heads, and we will still connect new families with buddy families as we have in the past, and we are working with the PA to imagine creative ways that we might foster community connections, at a distance.
We did think quite a bit about the impact of our schedules on working families, and how structuring our students' day more could hopefully be more helpful to parents. To this end, they focused on more closely mimicking a school day schedule, with hours similar to those when we are on campus. They also added more synchronous classes (five live classes in LS and seven in MS), made class sizes smaller so that students could experience more direct teacher support, and tried to make space for facilitated social time for students, like scheduled lunch. There will also be ED programming with Marina for "after-school hours."
We also find that it is sometimes helpful for families to try to identify the most important parts of the day for parents/guardians to "attend" with their student. SFFS understands that every child needs vastly different supports during their school day, and our division heads and teachers will work closely with families to tend to those different needs.
M, T, Th, F:
Kindergarten/1st: 9:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., with virtual ED programming to follow
2nd–4th: 9:00 a.m.–3:15 p.m., with virtual ED to follow
K–4th: 9:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m., with virtual ED programming through 2:30 p.m.
M, T, Th, F:
5th–8th: 8:15 a.m.–3:45 p.m., with virtual ED programming to follow
5th–8th: 8:15 a.m.–1:15 p.m., with virtual ED programming through 2:30 p.m.
As part of our preparation for the coming academic year, we have deliberately created smaller grade and classroom-specific groupings that will be consistent throughout the year whether in Friends@Home mode or back on campus. We will share this information with families in August, and hope that this will help facilitate virtual connections.
As for in-person "learning pods," while we certainly understand that there may be a variety of pragmatic and well-intentioned reasons that families are interested in them, SFFS cannot organize or support them, especially with the current restrictions outlined by both the Governor and SFDPH. We ask that families consider some of the concerns that we, and many others in the education field, have about the formation of these pods in the current Bay Area landscape: that many families may not be invited or may not feel they have the resources to join a pod, leading to issues of equity and inclusivity, and that gathering in-person—even in small groups—exposes children and their families to a greater risk of transmitting and/or contracting COVID-19, which is both a public health concern and could cause a delay to the start of in-person school. Our Quaker mission compels us all to consider equity and access, and in these times, those values are put to the test more than ever.
Upon listening to and processing parent feedback about the spring, some of the supports we have put in place to help students who struggle with distance learning are
- Smaller instructional groups (about 12 students/class)
- Office hours in the Lower School and required Tutorial in the Middle School
- Facilitated connections during non-academic times (lunchtime Zoom buddies, student clubs, daily advisory in the Middle School)
- More student choice (choice time, clubs, affinity groups)
- Live a.m./p.m. circles in the Lower School
- Daily Advisory meetings in the Middle School
A huge component of building up our support for families is strengthening our home-school connection during Friends@Home—we will build in time for bi-weekly teacher-student-parent check-ins and we will continue and expand our weekly support meeting with technology support with Ryan, Friends Connect with Jennifer and Clarke, and regular programmatic updates with Mike and Tracie.
It’s important to note that our approach is not one of “How will we help our students to catch up?” but one of “How will we work with our students to help them move forward?” Our educators will spend time on grade-level work, providing supports for students that are aimed at helping them access grade level material.
Now more than ever, we need to be more precise in how we “address learning gaps.” The age of the student, the discipline, and which specific skills and knowledge they are acquiring are all components to understanding how we address learning gaps—we believe a combination of grade level work and filling in any gaps is the best way forward.
For example, in math there is a clear progression of standards, so it makes sense that students will struggle if their understanding of prerequisites is not strong. No amount of support will make that issue disappear. In this case, teachers will help students fill in holes, while also helping students make progress on grade level material. In addition to classroom teachers, DS supports at each grade will play a key role in this work with students. In reading/writing and humanities, age becomes a major factor. A kindergarten student who was on the verge of sounding out letters in March is going to need help picking up where they left off in first grade this year. A middle school student who is struggling with comprehending informational texts because they missed out on vocabulary work and practice in reading for understanding in the spring is not far from the differentiation that our educators take on every day. Pandemic or not, using strategies to build up a student’s weaknesses (in this case vocabulary and reading comprehension skills) while continuing to advance the student through engaging, grade level content helps to keep students engaged and learning while also tending to the targeted skill building they need.
Students at SFFS will continue to be given high-quality assessments, both standardized and developed, by teachers who know them best. We will continue to use reading and math assessments such as Literably, Math & Reading Inventory testing, and CTP 5 testing (ERB) as standardized assessments. And while those are important markers, formal assessments are less likely to provide the most helpful information. Quick, informal assessments done by classroom teachers and shared with families will provide us with ongoing information about where our students are, how they are progressing, and what they need to move forward.
Our team of learning specialists will play a key role this year as we expand our efforts in assessment, differentiation, and meeting students where they are. They will be fully involved in both Friends@Home and Friends@Valencia modes, supporting students and families as we navigate the 2020–21 school year. We are expanding the scope of our DS program to include students who struggle with distance learning. We have carefully integrated several supports into the schedule that are specifically aimed at supporting students through F@H, including smaller class sizes; office hours in the Lower School; and required tutorial and office hours in the Middle School, which will be aimed at providing individualized support to students and parents.
In the Lower School, Frances Dickson and Kim Gitnick will each work closely with classroom teachers to provide small group instruction, one-on-one check-ins with students (as needed), and will collaborate and plan with our lower school faculty.
In the Middle School, students in need of organizational and learning support will receive assistance from Mitch Neuger and Kori Riordan, along with classroom teachers, throughout the school day. The schedule includes organizational support with learning specialists, tutorial time, and office hours with teachers.
It’s difficult to answer this question and stick only to the academic side of school. When we consider long term effects, social-emotional concerns are front and center in our thinking. Our youngest students are sometimes without the language to explain their feelings, while our older students are often seeking autonomy from their parents and thus searching for connections outside of the home to share their struggles. SFFS is paying close attention to this, and will continue to for years to come. Kids are resilient, but this is a time of high emotions and stress for all of us.
In looking at connections, emotion does impact academic performance, and we can tend to students' needs now, with steps such as outlining a personalized learning program, working with their family and therapist, and maintaining connections with adults at school throughout the year that are focused on individual support. For many students, they will learn more about themselves as learners in this pandemic than they ever would in a "normal" school year—which could have major benefits as they continue to evolve and grow.
When thinking about longer-term academic effects — if we follow through with the correct approach to distance learning and post-distance learning, we don’t anticipate long-term academic effects from six months of distance learning. We learned a lot from post Katrina research, and all of that points to a quick recovery (in terms of academic progress) when you avoid remediation, commit to acceleration (focusing on grade level content), and pair acceleration with supports for students that are aimed at helping them access engaging grade level material.
Our PE Department is currently focused on how we can engage students with physical activity in an equitable way that is accessible to all of our students. We are building Morning Exercises into our schedule to start the day and get kids moving before they settle in for a day of engagement and learning. We are thinking about a “Daily Challenge” that might bring some friendly competition and fun into the day. Physical education will also be a part of both Lower and Middle School schedules as a specialist class, and more details on how our teachers will lead students in physical activity will be forthcoming.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to have a Middle School athletic season this fall. The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) has stated that there will be no fall sports for high schools, either, and that they will plan for winter sports. We, too, hope that we will be able to return to the fields and courts this winter, but as with all decisions, this will be guided by the advice of public health experts and officials, as well as when the community is able to return to our campus at 250 Valencia.
We will continue to offer virtual ED/A3 activities, led by our Extended Day & A3 Director Marina Vendrell, and share a rotating schedule for after-school activities with our Back-to-School materials. You will note that ED activities are included in our current sample Friends@Home schedule.
At the end of last school year, the professional community committed to two goals to guide our work for summer learning in preparation for 2020–2021: developing our distance learning and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work. To that end, our faculty engaged in a number of learning opportunities in both these domains, from workshops to conferences to trainings. We plan to keep these two areas of focus as our guides throughout the coming year.
Additionally, we have formed a new faculty E&I committee, which will be led by teachers to focus on the student experience, looking closely at our classrooms and curriculum. Middle School affinity groups will again have dedicated time, and we'll work to get more students involved. And in Lower School, there is considerable energy behind the formation of affinity groups, in addition to ongoing SEL work in creating a sense of belonging and community for all.
There is also dedicated time being carved out for E&I work during professional development days and regular faculty meetings, and we are exploring the use of outside facilitators to help build our knowledge and skills with this work. The work is ongoing, and it will be seen and felt throughout the school year, be it virtually or in person.
At this point, we have decided to close our campus in order to implement social distancing, and all major health agencies are now urging citizens to self-isolate as much as possible. Though it is difficult and not an insignificant strain on home life, we recommend that families practice social distancing as much as they can and frequently consult the California Department of Public Health’s guidelines on social and public gatherings.
UPDATE: The school cannot assist families in creating independent learning pods, per the orders from the Governor's Office; thank you for understanding.
Though we might be home, we’re all still working and will be online in case you have questions—please feel free to reach out to us! For general questions about school operations and distance learning, please reach out to Alissa at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a tech-specific question, please contact Ryan and Shane at email@example.com.
We ask that, as a community safety measure, you let us know if a member of your household is confirmed to have Coronavirus (you can email firstname.lastname@example.org). Having this information is essential to our ability to make informed decisions about our school operations going forward.