Each year, students focus on a service topic for a year long study: immigration, public accessibility, natural disaster relief, and more. Recently our school has been putting in lots of time and effort into these topics. The eighth grade has lobbied at City Hall for ADA compliant playgrounds, raised over $40,000 for fire relief, gone to conferences with Bill Nye about minimizing our carbon footprint. We have also spent ten days in Nicaragua volunteering for community projects.
This year, eighth graders have been focusing on homelessness. Our work includes biweekly visits to the Gubbio Project, baking for At the Crossroads, and holding seminars that discuss our interests of actions.
Last Thursday, five students attended “Solving Homelessness,” a community workshop. Hosted by Friends School neighbors the Impact Hub SF, it was organized by The San Francisco Public Press. SFFS first grade parent Abigail Stewart-Kahn was also there to share her work with the city’s new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
This workshop focused on possible solutions to end homelessness within San Francisco. Upon entry, we were given name tags and handed bags with a reporter’s journal, articles on homelessness, and brochures. We came into an open room occupied by about 150 audience members, some formerly experiencing homelessness, radio producers, designers, and journalists. We were the only students.
How would you feel if you were ignored every minute of every day? We as an eighth grade are working towards revealing shared humanity between ourselves and people experiencing homelessness...
As the five of us took our seats in the swivel chairs that were scattered about the room, we noticed a man sitting in the row in front of us with a bearded dragon perched on his shoulder. Sitting next to us was a woman named Joy that told us about her nonprofit and who kept striking up conversations with different neighbors. The room of strangers most definitely made for a strong community that we could feel and made us want to take action. People buzzed around, taking food and drinks from the counter and mentioning how great it was that children were attending.
The workshop consisted of many panels, presentations, and brainstorming solution sessions, but we thought it fit to share our favorite parts of the workshop—possible solutions towards solving homelessness and a panel of people experiencing homeless that were willing to share their stories and experiences.
SFFS eighth grader Jiya said, “It feels odd to me to discuss an issue about someone without them being there. Hearing their stories motivated me further to want to help solve homelessness.”
Riley, also from SFFS, agreed, “I loved this workshop. I never thought that I would hear these things at an event like this—I assumed that we would listen to ideas from (a not very diverse set of) people who have never experienced homelessness.”
First-hand stories also made the experience of homelessness easier to empathize with. The speakers gave homelessness faces. There was Daniel, a guitarist with his bearded dragon Jupiter; JR, an art teacher for 13 years who lost his job when he was hospitalized; Cooper, a firefighter disabled on the job who lived in Diamond Heights and drove an Audi; and Moses, who spent twenty years on the streets of San Francisco. Homelessness suddenly felt more relatable—something that could happen to anyone, even us.
Another SFFS eighth grader, Dexter, said: “After listening to all of the presenters, I noticed this event had people of all races and genders; some homeless, some not. The variety really helped me get perspective and ideas on homelessness as a whole. I think that we all got more information that we expected and it really broadened our perspective.”
“We have to deal with invisibility,” was one line that really stood out to us. How would you feel if you were ignored every minute of every day? We as an eighth grade are working towards revealing shared humanity between ourselves and people experiencing homelessness, but hearing from a person living on the street that they feel invisible is so much more heartbreaking than hearing it from a teacher who as never had the experience of experiencing invisibility.
It was not only this quote that planted a seed for action in our hearts but many others as well, including, “Every step back feels like a mile and every step up feels like a quarter of an inch.” When JR said this and talked about substance abuse, we all knew that we needed to help make change.
When one of the brave panelists said that “human needs should be human rights,” there was a moment in the crowd when everybody pondered over what had been said. We were all at the workshop to make an impact, but why wasn’t anything being done?
“That is the problem with society. We are human, not things to be stepped on,” chirped in Daniel.
So how can we solve it?
Throughout the workshop, many ideas were mentioned. The first initiative shared was proposed by Ken Fisher, a film producer. The system was labeled as “Universal Basic Income.” UBI would be a dividend paid from government taxes and oil drilling profits to American citizens. In case of any financial instability within banks, the money would be paid in cash.
Despite the fact that Universal Basic Income is an ideal for San Franciscans, it’s real if you live in Alaska. Fisher’s strategy to solve homelessness was based on Alaska’s UBI system, which gives out around $1,000 per year per citizen. However, it had been set at $2,000, but because of oil production suddenly slowing down, this was recently cut down to only half. Universal Basic Income has also been run (experimentally and permanently) in the Netherlands, Finland, and Kenya. There are different opinions on if UBI has been working out well for its recipients, but it’s a fairly widespread thought that Universal Basic Income is somewhat idealistic.
Another proposed solution was “Village for Community.” Village for Community was brought up by architect Charles Durrett and was based off of Opportunity Village in Eugene, Oregon. The village would be made of tiny homes built by people experiencing homelessness and volunteers. Each village would have thirty housing units and was estimated to cost $420,000 as a whole. This makes the units $14,000 each.
With all of these stories, experiences, and possible solutions, we as a group of five reflected on our time and came to understand how meaningful our experience had been.
This workshop was insightful, informative, and eye-opening for us. After the workshop, we thought of homelessness as an issue that was more than statistics. Those experiencing homelessness are real people with personalities and lifestyles, and it motivated us to become a part of the solution.
Every year a portion of the faculty/staff appreciation gift given by our Parents Association goes to support a local organization doing impactful work right here in our city. This
year, the recipient of that gift was Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC).
E4FC is a local organization based in the Mission dedicated to empowering undocumented young people to achieve their educational and career goals. Educators for Fair Consideration transforms lives and fuels broader changes. With resources and support, undocumented young people are able to get an education, pursue careers, and build a brighter future for themselves and our country.
E4FC’s executive director (and current SFFS K parent) Katharine Gin joined us at our Winter Celebration to accept the gift and share a bit about the work she and her organization does. She was joined by E4FC scholar and former staff member, Denia Perez, who shared the impact E4FC had on her path to and through college, and eventually on to law school.
“It is such an honor to be given this gift and have an opportunity to reflect upon how E4FC’s core beliefs relate so closely to Quaker values” said Katherine. “We also envision a world where all of us—including undocumented people—has the freedom to pursue their dreams. When everyone realizes their full potential, we all benefit and shine. This generous gift will be used to support E4FC’s local scholarship, which helps amazing undocumented students here in the Bay Area.”
This donation is a wonderful tradition at our school that puts its Quaker values into action, right here in our own community in a very direct and powerful way. If you want to learn more about how you can get involved with E4FC please visit their website.
This month, the SFFS Service Committee joins forces with Project Night Night to support youth experiencing homelessness and their families, one book, blanket and stuffy at a time.
According to their website, “Project Night Night donates over 25,000 Night Night Packages each year to homeless children 12 and under who need our childhood essentials to have a concrete and predictable source of security and an increased exposure to high-quality literacy materials during their time of upheaval.”
You can support this impactful initiative in a few simple ways. Starting Monday, Nov 13th, Friends School will place a donations box at reception that will accept new books, blankets and stuffies. Families can also pick up entire tote bags from reception to custom-fill with books, blankets and stuffies of their choice, to return to school for drop-off throughout the month. The drive culminates December 2nd at the Craft Fair, where a table will be set up for a final round of design and drop-offs, after which all totes will be delivered to Project Night Night for distribution. Please note, all items must be new.
These items, placed in Project Night Night totes, address directly, and in a loving way, the anxiety, depression, poor sleep habits and behavioral issues experienced by families experiencing homelessness. They are also cherished opportunities for children to bond, through reading, with equally stressed parents, family members or caregivers who are also navigating these difficult paths.
SFFS parent Jennifer Maeder, a mother of two at Friends School and a Mother/Baby Nurse and Lactation Consultant at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, has been supporting Project Night Night independently for a while now.
“Project Night Night has been a simple, straightforward way my kids can connect with other SF kids,” says Maeder Jennifer, who serves as co-clerk of the Service Committee at Friends. “As we’ve participated over the years, my children have been able to see and touch the books, blankets and stuffies, and know they are going straight into the hands of a kid probably just about their age.”
Maeder added that her children’s added personal touches, “Notes and the things they say – like ‘you matter’ and ‘you are loved’ – really show that they are thinking of these kids and wish the best for them.”
“I’m excited to see our school community support Project Night Night,” said Guybe Slangen, Director of Community Engagement at Friends. “It builds upon the good work that students and classes are also doing to support those experiencing homelessness here in our city.”
To learn more about Project Night Night, visit ProjectNightNight.org.
August seems like a lifetime ago, but you may recall a message in Circle Back that shared our focus this year to examine current gender policies and practices throughout the school. We launched this work at our opening faculty/staff meetings with Joel Baum from Gender Spectrum, who walked us through part one of a two-day workshop. Joel’s presentation provided the professional community with a shared understanding of the issues, challenges, as well as opportunities for us in and out of classrooms. Many questions were lifted up highlighting things such as preferred pronouns, rooming assignments on trips, and bathrooms, to name a few. We were also joined that day by members of our SFFS board, Parents Association, and Equity and Inclusion Committee, who added important parent and board insights to our conversations. We knew there was work to do and we were eager to get started.
With an eighth grade trip to the Sierras occurring right after school started, we focused our attention on being more intentional with our rooming/tent assignments. On our past overnight trips, students have been divided into boy/girl tents and rooms. We researched what other schools were doing, then looked closely at our program and landed on a new practice. Going forward, prior to the overnight trip, students will be asked to make a list of 3-4 students they would feel comfortable rooming with, regardless of gender. Teachers will take this information into consideration and craft groups based on a variety of factors—including friend groups, classroom or advisory groupings, and group size. This approach is consistent with ways the school has created groups in other programs like Arts Electives, MS Activities, and some sports teams. We will also strive to refrain from unnecessary, inappropriate, and unhelpful binary gender configurations. We tested this new approach with our eighth graders in the Sierras and found it worked well.
Another area that we have revisited is the common practice of various moms/dads and sons/daughters events throughout the year: Moms/Dads Nights Out, Mother-Daughter Book Groups, Father-Son Campouts, etc. Again, we found these groups often dividing along strict binary gender lines, and not leaving room for those who identify differently, be they parents, guardians, or students. Members of our administrative team, along with our Parents Association and E&I clerks met and discussed this. We then reached out to our friends at Gender Spectrum for helpful guidance. We were reminded that community is created in many ways and these events are just one way we do this work. One just has to look at the number and diversity of potlucks we host at Friends to see this is in fact what we’re aiming to do: Spanish speakers potlucks, E&I affinity potlucks (single parents, adoptive parents, LGBTQ parents), grade level potlucks, Learning Support Alliance potlucks, mix-it-up potlucks, and on and on…WOW! In addition, we have film nights, Booktopia, parent education speakers, Blue Party, Winter and End of Year Celebrations, service projects, the Craft Fair, and many sports and arts events. We may not always get it right, but our intentions are to create connections in a variety of ways and we do that a lot!
To move forward, we’ve updated the E&I Checklist to include better gender guidelines and language, and are now calling it the "Parents Association Event Checklist" as it will be helpful for any committee or group as they look to plan events. With regard to moms/dads/daughters/sons events specifically, Joel favored a “both/and approach,” meaning that we can still offer gender specific events, but also encourage more general parent/guardian or guardian/kids events open to all. We know the challenge is often in the sheer number of events we offer (“More potlucks? What?!”), but we feel there is room to step away from some events in an effort to make room for others. Lastly, we’re also asking folks who do host these affinity types of events to add the language that says “and all are welcome.” This will allow those who are “allies” interested in sharing with and learning from others the opportunity, while still respecting the affinity connection of the group. Our SFFS team appreciated all this and will look for ways to create space in the months ahead.
Our efforts have reminded us that this is indeed difficult and ongoing work. At times we can feel confused, or that we are giving up something, or not being valued or heard. But if we are going to continue to strive to be a diverse and inclusive community of learners and families, this work is essential. We need to continue to ask difficult questions, embrace hard conversations, listen to and care for each other, and lean into this journey together.
Stay tuned for more updates as the year moves on, and if you have questions or comments please reach out to either your PA, E&I clerks or administrative team. You’re also welcome to join our At The Table conversation on Thursday, Nov. 9 from 8:30-9:30am, where we’ll be talking about gender issues and opportunities.
Horizons at SFFS Executive Director Abby Rovner has a new colleague in the Horizons office this year. Veronica Oberholzer, an AmeriCorps VISTA whose role is to focus on capacity building, will help Horizons grow as an organization. Below, Veronica and Abby share some of the exciting things happening in their office this fall.
Veronica: How about we start by explaining what Horizons at SFFS is?
Abby: Yes! Horizons is a free six-week summer learning program that’s housed at and fiscally sponsored by SFFS. We receive lots of generous in-kind support from SFFS, but we rely on donations and grants from the community to fund the program. Horizons serves low-income public school students from the Mission District who are referred to the program by their teachers. Because their families don’t have the means to send them to camps, tutoring, and special programs during the summer, students like ours are disproportionately impacted by summer learning loss, which research has shown to be a major contributor to the achievement gap.
Spending six weeks each summer reading, exploring, and learning at Horizons has a significant impact on our students’ skills, confidence and school success: this past summer, instead of losing ground, they gained an average of 3.8 months in literacy and 1.4 months in math! Horizons’ children enter the program the summer after they complete Kindergarten, and they return year after year through 8th grade. In 2018, Horizons will serve 85 K-4th grade students, and each summer we’ll add a class until we have 153 K-8th graders on campus every year.
Veronica: One of the students I worked with advanced from the 3rd to 44th percentile on his literacy test from the beginning to the end of the summer — I was so happy!
Abby: Yes, every summer we see incredible growth in our students, not just academically but also socially and emotionally. As we enter Horizons’ fifth year, we hope our new website conveys the program’s powerful impact on the children and families who participate. You can check the site out here to see tons of beautiful photos and great videos of Horizons’ students and teachers in action!
Veronica: Every so often I enjoy going back to the website and looking at the pictures of our kids, like the one of them performing for their parents at our annual “Back to Program” night — they were so proud! I can’t wait to see them again in November, when we have our first Saturday family event at Slide Ranch. We’ll have five other events throughout the year – family learning activities that are great opportunities for our families to stay connected.
Abby: I love our families! The majority of them live in our neighborhood and working with them has been one of my favorite parts of running this program for the past four years. I consider parents essential partners in the work we do and Horizons’ families involve themselves in the program in a wide variety of ways. At the end of every summer, we ask for feedback from parents and guardians and we use their input to inform the program’s design for the following summer.
Veronica: The results of the survey were so uplifting. Parents really confirmed how much their kids love our program. I definitely saw that this summer, when the kids would run through the front gate with huge smiles each morning.
Abby: Horizons summers are magic and we’re so grateful for the resources, time, and talent that many members of the SFFS community have shared to support the program.
Just one final note, I want to let all of our readers know that I would love for them to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if they have any questions or would like to learn more. They can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget to glance at our new website!