This webpage was last updated on March 26, 2021.
Yes! :) In fact, our families continue to come out in large numbers for our community testing events at the Friends campus—at our last event, on Sunday, April 11, our testing service, Agile Force, administered more than 170 tests to students and their parents, guardians, and siblings. Our next testing event will be held on Wednesday, May 5, and we will send out an email with more information and a sign-up link in early May. Questions about COVID testing at Friends? Please reach out to our Health Coordinator, Allie, at email@example.com.
While some SFDPH travel guidelines have been modified in the face of declining COVID case rates, many have not, and at Friends we want to continue to remain vigilant about the safety of our community. Specifically, the SFDPH still recommends that Bay Area residents avoid non-essential travel outside of our region. Despite this, we know that some of our families will be traveling during the break week, and we want to be sure that everyone, especially our students and families who may not be vaccinated, has time to return from any trips and ensure they are well before we all return to campus at 250 Valencia, to finish out the school year together and in-person. *
* Please remember that we will be offering a community COVID testing event heading into our remote week, on Sunday, April 11, from 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. An email from CFO Kim Plough was sent out to all families on 4/1/21 with sign-up information.
We were happy to receive new guidelines from the SFDPH, informed by the CDC’s new recommendations, and have carefully reviewed these new requirements. In many ways, school will look the same as it has over the last several months (for example, although these guidelines lessen the physical distance between students from six feet to three feet, they still require stable cohorts to remain together with minimal—or no—mixing, as well as a six foot distancing requirement for all adults.)
We feel confident in the ways that each of our grades is currently operating on campus, our continued vigilance and focus on safety, and the way our community continues to come together, and we are hopeful that those community bonds will be strengthened by more special events, athletics, and opportunities to gather in the fall.
It has been a long year without athletics at Friends, and we have not been able to field sports teams this spring due to cohorting rules and limitations on indoor activities.
Mick Colburn, our athletic director, has expressed his hope to have a cross country team in the fall, and if case rates continue to decline and vaccination rates continue to increase, this seems like a strong possibility. We also hope to field a volleyball team in the fall, but as this is an indoor sport, we will have to see how public health guidance, and our space restrictions at school, allow for this.
In the meantime, Mick is planning a friendly, non-traditional springtime athletic competition for our students, and he and Clarke will be sharing more details about this next week. Similarly, when we have more concrete information about our fall season (and these plans will likely evolve over the summer), we will share them with our Middle School families ASAP.
Graduation for the Class of 2021 is still in its initial planning, and we are currently waiting for additional guidelines from SFDPH to better understand the experience we will be able to offer. Regardless, we are focused on giving our 8th-Graders a celebratory in-person event, on our campus, and we are looking forward to guidance from the DPH in the coming week on what we may be able to do. There will likely be restrictions we must adhere to in terms of distancing and limiting attendance, but we hope to give our graduating students the opportunity for a meaningful goodbye to 250 Valencia and the community here. We will keep you updated when we know more about our plans.
Due to privacy concerns, we cannot share much information about the results of COVID tests at Friends. However, we can share the following, which we will hope will provide some reassurance to our families: Of the 1,347 tests performed on campus for faculty, staff, and students, along with self-reported data, 8 members of our community have tested positive since we opened school in October.
We will continue to be vigilant, pursuing vaccine opportunities for our professional community and continuing with our community COVID testing events for our families (next one will be next Wednesday, March 17!) and with our regular biweekly testing for faculty and staff. We will also continue to follow SFDPH protocols regarding communications related to potential exposure and positive cases, which is carefully tiered and dictated by the DPH to protect privacy. Rest assured if your student has been exposed, you will receive a communication with information, instructions, and next steps. If you do not receive an email of this type, your student has not been exposed and we are unable to share any more information about the case in question.
The school continues to closely follow the guidelines (including travel guidance) set forth by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which recently lifted the travel mandate that had been instituted in December. The DPH now strongly advises against non-essential travel outside the Bay Area and encourages that you quarantine if you do travel—but a 10-day quarantine post-travel is no longer required.
From the 2/23 rescission of the previously mandated travel quarantine: While case rates are declining after an unprecedented surge, transmission rates of COVID-19 remain high in San Francisco, the greater region, and beyond. Accordingly, all people living in or moving or traveling to San Francisco are strongly urged to follow the State of California’s Travel Advisory, including refraining from non-essential travel of more than 120 miles from their home or other place of residence and self-quarantining for 10 days after arriving in or returning to San Francisco from other states or countries.
From our response to this question posted on 1/29/21:
The more people travel, the more interactions people have. The more interactions people have with people outside their household, the greater the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. If you must travel outside the Bay Area, make sure you wear a face covering and maintain at least six feet of distance from people outside your household at all times. If you can, travel by private vehicle with only members of your household. Avoid indoor interactions to the extent possible and keep the number of people you interact with small.
Please note that our teachers put careful thought and consideration into both our in-person and Friends@Home programs, and we are unfortunately unable to support families toggling back and forth between Friends@Valencia and Friends@Home. If your family is planning to travel, it's important that you are in touch with your student's teacher and division head about plans for their schoolwork while they are out of the classroom. From Lower School Head Jennifer Arnest's recent communication to families: "If, for any reason, your child is not going to be onsite for regular school (for example, they have a mild illness/ injury, or will be going to an appointment), and you wish that they might attend remotely with the Friends@Home cohort, please communicate this request with your child’s teacher, or with me, in advance, so that we can help you plan. This important step will support our teachers’, and your child’s, experience."
Our upcoming COVID testing dates are:
- Wednesday, March 17
- Sunday, April 11
We will send out sign-up information and links as we approach both these dates, so please stay tuned!
We are buoyed by this news and hopeful about the future, but we also feel compelled to emphasize to our community the importance of remaining vigilant and following health protocols recommended by public health officials—please continue to wear masks, socially distance, and avoid non-essential travel. Despite the decline in case rates and the increase in vaccine availability, the need to remain careful and focused on safety is essential—we are not out of the woods yet, and COVID-19 still poses a threat to our community. We will continue to listen to and heed the advice of public health officials about the best ways to move forward and to protect one another.
We are communicating regularly with our professional community about opportunities and openings for COVID vaccine appointments throughout the Bay Area, and have a shared internal document, accessible to all faculty and staff, which is updated regularly with news and information about vaccine appointments. Thus far, many of our faculty and staff have already received their first dose, and we will continue to support our entire professional community in their quest to get vaccinated to the best of our ability.
Our Schedule Committee has done extraordinary work to make use of all spaces in our building so that all of our students can return to in-person learning in March. This includes opening up spaces like the Gym and the Black Box Theater for classroom activities. In order to make these spaces viable for in-person learning, the school invested in installing bi-polar ionization in the HVAC systems in the Gym (which has temporarily been split into two rooms and outfitted with sound-absorbing partitions and carpet!), Movement Room (formerly known as “The Fishbowl”), and Black Box Theater this past summer (this is in addition to the existing air filtration in those spaces which is MERV-13 HEPA filtration). We will also be running the A/C continuously in the Gym and Black Box throughout the school day. By getting creative with our facilities, we will be able to accommodate all of our students in socially distanced spaces when they return on a 4:1 schedule next month.
Yes—going forward, Friends will be opening up all of our Agile Force COVID testing events to students and families. The next testing event will take place on the Front Yard on Sunday, February 21, and we will send out a reminder to all families to sign up for a testing appointment ahead of time. If you are not feeling well or have been asked to quarantine, we ask that you do NOT come to school to get a COVID test. Instead, please reach out to your healthcare provider for further guidance on next steps and a safe place to test; if you do not have a regular healthcare provider and need help in finding a place to obtain care and/or a COVID test, please reach out to our health coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
We currently have THREE upcoming COVID testing clinics scheduled at SFFS; emails with sign up information will be sent out to all families ahead of these dates:
Sunday, February 21
Wednesday, March 17
Sunday, April 11
If any school staff or students were to test positive for COVID after having close contact with other members of our community on campus, the school would notify those families affected immediately with recommendations from SFDPH, and those students would be sent home to quarantine.
The school will also send out general exposure notifications to those who may have been on campus at the same time as, but did not have close contact with, an individual who has tested positive for COVID.
It is important to note that the school is not able to disclose names or details related to any case of COVID-19 in our community in order to preserve and respect confidentiality.
If your child, or anyone else in your household, tests positive for COVID-19, we ask that you immediately let us know in the Health Office by emailing email@example.com with the subject line, "Positive COVID Test."
Our Health Coordinator will provide guidance regarding next steps, and we will ask you to keep your student home to quarantine for 10 days.
Our current 4:1 schedule allows us to incorporate many important components into our Lower School students’ days that cannot be accomplished under the current SFDPH restrictions we face due to the ongoing pandemic. For example, with Wednesdays conducted virtually, we are able to have more flexibility to accommodate 1:1 teacher-student interaction; beloved buddy time; cross cohort groups for reading groups math workshops, and SEL lessons; and larger gatherings such as Meeting for Worship and division assemblies. This small weekly window in Friends@Home mode allows us to connect with our students in the ways that the SFFS experience was built upon—student choice, small group experiences, and 1:1 time with their teachers.
After careful consideration by our Academic Administration and our COVID Response Team, we plan to transition our Middle School students to a 4:1 schedule on Monday, March 1. This decision involves a number of considerations, primarily our school schedule over the next few weeks, which includes a weeklong February Break (2/15–2/19), our commitment to a remote week that includes a community testing event after that break, and the maintenance of stability in curriculum and program for our students as they adjust now to the new norms required in returning to campus in our 2:3 hybrid mode, which began just this week. We are also continuing to fill staffing needs for the Middle School as more students spend more time on campus, with the ongoing hires of teaching aides and long-term leave replacements. Above all, we are focused on keeping our academic program strong for our students and our campus fully staffed and safe.
While SFFS made testing after the Winter Break available for students as a service to our community, a negative COVID test is not required for students to return to school. Additionally, health experts believe that young children are not primary transmitters of COVID-19, and the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) does not actively promote the testing of asymptomatic children. All guidance we have received from medical experts, including infectious diseases specialists, indicates that wearing masks and social distancing are the most important things we can do. Point-in-time testing is an additional tool available to help protect our community and while informative, this snapshot is a supplement to ongoing, higher impact approaches. For all adults on campus, we do require bi-weekly testing and make it available on a more frequent basis upon request. This exceeds the SFDPH requirements for adult testing. We also require masks for all adults, promote hand-washing and social distancing for both students and adults. In addition, small stable cohorts, our carefully planned daily schedule and enhanced daily cleaning routines support the health of the community.
As we continue to navigate this pandemic, we are tracking what we’ve needed to postpone in our curriculum and we are creating a plan to address these components over the course of our students’ time at Friends. While we faced challenges last spring as we transitioned and adjusted to online learning, the shift to smaller class sizes and better use of tech tools such as Zoom, Seesaw, and Google Classroom in the fall helped us to meet most of our planned curricular goals.
It is also important to note that the Friends curriculum is not mapped out by benchmarks; rather, our curriculum is spiraled, meaning it introduces topics, concepts, and skills, that our students will return to many times over the course of many years, allowing them to build understanding in context appropriate to where they are developmentally. Extending the school year, especially this year if we remain under the same health restrictions through June, would not give us the time or the freedom we need to solve for all the variables. Our academic administration team, including Lower School Head Jennifer Arnest, Middle School Head Clarke Weatherspoon, and Academic Dean Tracie Mastronicola, continue to work closely with teaching teams to address these curriculum components in meaningful ways for this year and for the future.
Yes, remote learning will continue even as more of our students move to 4:1—and even after all grades move to 4:1 mode—for a number of reasons. Among these is that though most of our students are returning to campus in Friends@Valencia mode, many are not able to do so because of their own personal circumstances. These students will continue to learn, interact with their teachers and classmates, and join in larger school activities virtually until it is possible for them to safely return to campus in person. Additionally, some of our teachers will similarly need to continue teaching from home due to their own circumstances, and will be Zoomed into classrooms and/or will lead distance learning groups throughout the next several months. In these cases, there will be a teacher’s aide on hand to facilitate teaching and learning between the teacher and the students in the classroom.
Though SFFS takes the advice and guidance of numerous trusted public health agencies—both national and local—into account when developing our reopening protocols, we consistently look to the San Francisco Department of Public Health for guidance in making final decisions about our reopening processes and safety on campus. The SFDPH issues its guidelines with the particular circumstances of our city in mind and is constantly updating its resources with new information and advice for San Francisco schools. As always, we ask families to follow these guidelines in support of the healthy and safety of our SFFS and broader communities.
You can find their most current guidelines for San Francisco’s TK–12 schools here.
ALL LOWER SCHOOL STUDENTS WILL START THE DAY @ 8:45 A.M.!
LOWER SCHOOL DISMISSAL:
Kindergarten: 2:15 p.m.; 1st & 2nd Grades: 2:30 p.m.; 3rd & 4th Grades: 2:45 p.m.
ALL MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS WILL START THE DAY @ 8:30 A.M.!
ALL MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS WILL DISMISS @ 3:00 P.M.!
In the case of siblings, they will dismiss at the older sibling's later dismissal time. Additionally, the earliest any student can be dropped off at school, whether Kindergartner or Middle-Schooler, is 8:15 a.m.!
M, T, Th, F:
Kindergarten/1st Grade: on campus, so no Friends@Home schedule
2nd Grade: 8:45 a.m.–2:30 p.m., with virtual ED programming to follow
3rd& 4th Grades: 8:45 a.m.–2:45 p.m., with virtual ED programming 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 Grades: 8:15 a.m.–3:45 p.m.
5th–8th Grades: 8:15 a.m.–1:15 p.m.
In the Lower School's 4:1 schedule (which Kindergarten and 1st Grade will transition to on 12/7, with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Grade following after Winter Break), Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday will be on-campus learning days, while Wednesday will be a fully remote Friends@Home day. Wednesday will provide both essential planning time for all our teachers to collaborate and for thorough cleaning on campus.
In a 4:1 schedule, we will still need to maintain our small stable cohorts and the distancing protocols issued from SFDPH—this means each class section will continue to be split into small subgroups and the whole grade will need several new spaces to spread out. In order to do this, Kindergarten and 1st Grade will be using the whole first floor, and 2nd Grade will begin a staggered move to the second floor. Teachers can still move between subgroups and use technology to share lessons across rooms. Our 3rd and 4th Grades will remain on the 2nd floor, though they will be spread out over more spaces, including the Meeting Room and 234.
Lower School learning specialists Frances Dickson and Kim Gitnick will continue to coordinate the parallel learning programs for our fully remote Lower School students, incorporating technology as a tool and several other teachers and TAs to support the @Home experience. They will also continue to work with teachers to schedule a plan for @Home that has inclusion and connection top of mind, as well as sustaining learning goals with the rest of the class. Each child who is @Home full-time—whether in Lower or Middle School—has unique circumstances and supports, and we aim to personalize their learning plan as much as possible, while keeping kids connected to their teachers, classrooms, peers, and goals.
It is important to emphasize that we rely on your close communication so we can plan our subgroups and staff to support the students who will remain at home full-time. We ask families to be decisive regarding which mode works best for their circumstances and remain in that mode. If you would like to change your student's status long-term, please let your division head and Melina in the Registrar's Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) know ASAP. Having this information is central to our planning processes. Thank you!
We understand that this has been an extremely challenging time for families and students across the grades, and we very much want to provide as much connection and normalcy for this community as possible, while also, as Mike has alluded to in his Friday updates, preserving community wholeness. We are currently working on getting Kindergarteners and 1st-Graders on a 4:1 schedule starting Monday, December 7 (which the SFDPH just approved); this is also the week that, in our staggered start, our 5th and 6th Grades will return to campus on a 2:3 schedule. Having the 5th and 6th Grades return the week of December 7 was always our plan, as was bringing the 7th and 8th Grades back after Winter Break in order to provide more academic consistency for the older two grades, especially, as they tackle high school transition work. This was something that our Academic Admin team was especially mindful of when making transition plans for our Middle School students.
Though we are planning to bring back Kindergarten and 1st Grade on a 4:1 schedule in early December, please know that this is not causing a slowdown in planning for the Middle School's return in any way, and we are eager to have 5th and 6th Grade back after Thanksgiving. Once the 7th & 8th Grades return to campus in hybrid mode after Winter Break, and as long as transmission rates in San Francisco remain low and we have the approval of SFDPH, we will set our sights on transitioning the rest of the grades to a 4:1 schedule, as well.
If a child falls ill at school, a teacher will accompany them to the Health Office, where our health coordinator, Allie, will conduct a health screening and take the student's temperature. If it is determined that the student is unwell and needs to go home, Allie will call the student's parents and arrange for them to pick the student up from school as soon as possible. To minimize potential risk to other community members, a student waiting for their parent or caregiver will remain in the Health Office with Allie. Once a parent or caregiver has arrived, Allie will walk the student out to their car, as we cannot allow families and visitors on campus at this time.
If Allie has noted that a student is displaying symptoms of COVID, SFFS will request that the family have the student tested for COVID and keep them home until they have confirmation that their student has tested negative.
Come rain or shine, we plan to eat snacks and lunch—and enjoy recess—outside for the foreseeable future, and inclement weather will not mean that we eat inside. Our Friends should dress for the weather and wear layers so that they can stay comfortable throughout the day (please keep in mind that doors and windows remain open throughout the day, as well). SFFS has set up tents on the Front Yard so that we can eat outside—even when it's raining!
If your student has been in contact with someone who has been exposed to COVID (for example, if they have a sibling at another school where a case of COVID has been confirmed), we ask that you reach out to your division head and Allie (email@example.com) as soon as possible to let us know. If your child is asymptomatic, they may continue to come to campus for Friends@Valencia.
If you learn that your student has been in direct contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID (for example, if they have a sibling at home who has tested positive for COVID), we ask that you immediately reach out to Allie for guidance about next steps and testing.
As much as we would like to be in a position to offer more care to SFFS students, we are unable to do so at this time due to SFDPH guidelines around consistent, stable, small student groupings and our need to allow our custodial staff to immediately begin the process of cleaning and sanitizing our campus as soon as school ends, in preparation for the day ahead. It is important to note that virtual ED programming continues for our Lower School Friends.
Our current cleaning and sanitizing procedures, as well as spacing and staffing constraints, are also reasons we have not yet been able to extend our current proctored Lower School sibling care to all Friends students during their Friends@Home school days. For now, we are focused on planning for a safe and successful transition to a 4:1 schedule in order to enable all SFFS students to enjoy more time on campus.
A staggered approach to re-entry was SFDPH’s number one recommendation for reopening schools. We will be reorienting students and staff for a new experience at Friends, and a stagger allows us to focus on the health and safety protocols for each grade as they re-enter the building. Two weeks between each group returning to campus was also a recommendation set by SFDPH—this allows schools to track cohorts as they re-enter and pinpoint health issues related to a particular grade and cohort.
One component that did elongate our staggered approach was the decision to keep all students and faculty remote following breaks such as Thanksgiving and Winter Break. SFDPH recommended that students and staff should follow San Francisco Health Orders regarding quarantine after travel and that schools should consider asking staff and students to stay at home to quarantine before returning to schools after travel to areas with high levels of COVID-19 transmission, even if not required by local or state health orders.
We did not make this decision lightly, and recognize the desire for many to return to campus as quickly as possible. However, with the health and safety of our community at the center of our decision-making, we decided to implement remote programming following a break often associated with travel and mixing with extended family and friends.
Our distance learning team is comprised of Beth Espinosa, Kim Gitnick, Rebecca Mallabone, and Frances Dickson. They will be partnering with classroom teachers, TAs and Teaching Aides to provide programming for our students who will remain at home. Students at home will be given a structured schedule to follow for each day, much like they experience in the current Friends@Home programming. That schedule will include live lessons where students at home connect with their teacher and other students in the classroom using Swivl cameras and Smartboards. The schedule for students at home will also include asynchronous work on Seesaw as well as check-ins and small group interactions with one of the distance learning team members. On the three days per week when a cohort is at home, Friends@Home programming will continue as usual for all students.
Yes. SFDPH provided strict rules around students staying within their cohort and not mixing with students from other cohorts; however, adults can move between cohorts, and our lead teachers will—with safety precautions in place—in order to connect with all of their students.
There were many competing interests along the path to reopening. A staggered approach to reopening, coupled with Friends@Home programming and upcoming school breaks scheduled in the fall and winter months, were in line with SFDPH’s guidelines for how to safely reopen schools. With those factors in mind and a focus on bringing back our youngest learners first, we knew that our oldest students would rejoin after the completion of the fall semester.
There is no doubt in our minds that having our 7th- and 8th-Graders back on campus is important for each of them, as well as our entire Friends community. However, we have also given great consideration to the fact that both grade levels will benefit from having a stable fall semester—transition is a large component of a 2:3 hybrid schedule, and for our 7th- and 8th-Graders, there is already a tremendous amount of transition associated with the high school process. Seventh grade reports are shared with high schools during the application process and our 8th Grade students are currently hard at work on their high school applications as their teachers are busy writing their recommendations. We wish to provide the 7th and 8th Grade students and teaching teams with as much stability as possible throughout their fall semester, and avoiding the transitions between Friends@Home and Friends@250Valencia provided the best option for that.
No. Specialists will Zoom into classes during the days when students are in Friends@Home programming. Our specialists in the Lower School work with five distinct grades, and so keeping specialists remote allows them to continue to safely connect across the various cohorts and grades.
Public health guidelines prohibit us from gathering in large groups for the foreseeable future, although we hope that will change. However, we hope to maintain as many of our Friends’ traditions as possible, even if they require some changes! With our focus on re-opening, we’ve postponed (but not cancelled) GrandFriends Day. This will be a virtual event in the new year, with more details coming soon. Winter Celebration will also be virtual. There will most certainly be a graduation celebration for our 8th graders, although it is too soon to predict what shape that event will take.
Parent feedback was incredibly valuable in the spring to enhance our Friends@Home programming this fall. Before the start of this school year, we surveyed parents to have a better understanding of their comfort level in sending their students back to campus before the creation of a vaccine. The majority of responses (about 75%) indicated they would be comfortable sending their students back to 250 Valencia; the remaining quarter were unsure or not planning to have their student return at that time. In addition, the comments from families helped us better understand themes of concern in the parent community (social and emotional well-being of students, health protocols, ventilation in the building, siblings, care for faculty, etc.) Our most recent survey is helping guide us on a more granular level by allowing grade level teachers to prepare their classrooms, schedules, and technology to support students both in and out of the classroom.
In addition to formal surveys, we’ve listened carefully to parent feedback we’ve received in a host of other channels: through FriendsConnect conversations, questions in AMAs, emails to communications@sffriendsschool and administrators, and direct conversations across the community. We’re grateful for the many forms of feedback we’ve received as we navigate the complexities of this situation.
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.
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.
Yes, SFFS has asked all families to sign a Community Agreement, and will require that any family wishing to send their student(s) back to campus for in-person learning, sign and return this form. The agreement details 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.
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.
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.
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.