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!