This webpage was last updated on July 31, 2020.
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.
The school has a detailed communications plan and slate of online gatherings scheduled to both bring us together and prepare us for the year ahead. We hope that families will engage with these school communications and events in order to stay as fully informed as possible, and will reach out whenever questions arise.
Our first Ask Mike Anything Zoom meeting of the school year will take place on Tuesday, August 4, where Head of School Mike Hanas, Academic Dean Tracie Mastronicola, and COO/CFO Kim Plough will present on the school’s Friends@Home planning and take questions from parents. We will also include detailed information about the virtual opening of the school year in digital Back-to-School packets that families will receive in their inboxes in mid-August, including information about picking up Friends@Home Learning Kits for their students (more on the learning kits is included in the questions and answers below).
Finally, families will receive invitations to Zoom meetings with their student’s division heads in the coming weeks as an opportunity for a deeper dive into the Friends@Home academic planning, as well as more space for parent questions. And our Technology Department will be reaching out with information about a robust parent training and digital citizenship curriculum for our students.
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.
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 a number of 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.
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.
Understandably, kids have a lot of questions and might feel worried about what they hear on the news, as well as why their daily routines and schedules are suddenly coming to a halt. At SFFS, we will continue to try to maintain community outreach through a number of digital channels, including email messaging, our social media accounts, the school website and Wiki, as well as the burgeoning online classrooms we are creating for families as we embrace distance learning. We are ready to get creative as we imagine ways to try to connect and create some normalcy for our community—especially our students—in the coming weeks.
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.
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.
At this point, we know that the number of COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area continue to rise, and as of the end of July, Governor Newsom had declared the schools may not open until their counties had been taken off of the state's "watch list." All San Francisco schools are still on the watch list, and no waivers are currently being given out to independent schools (contrary to some rumors that have been circulating). At this point, it seems likely to presume that our 2020–2021 school year will begin in distance learning mode. Mike will send out a final decision on this on FRIDAY, JULY 31, 2020.
Community connections and the learning that happens on our campus, as well as the health and safety of our school and the community, are priorities for Friends, and as we evaluate whether we can open, we will weigh these factors.
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.