I grew up in a tiny and overcrowded, but loving and hard-working, low income immigrant home in the Mission District. Despite having only attended school through 8th grade and speaking no English, my parents did everything they could to ensure that I had access to a good education. I remember how much they celebrated that they had successfully advocated for me to attend Buena Vista Elementary, a Spanish immersion school, but lamented that they could not afford to provide me with additional educational enrichment opportunities. Fast forward to today, I could not be more proud to be completing my first year as Executive Director at Horizons at SFFS which works to close the opportunity gap for students from low income backgrounds.
So many thoughts and feelings rush to mind as I reflect on my first year: I’m proud that Horizons pivoted to offer remote summer programming for 117 students, but I am crushed that nearly 75% of Horizons families experienced job loss. I’m excited that Horizons has expanded to provide more robust year round supports, but I am worried that Horizons students have not received in-person instruction since last March. The pandemic and the conversations lifted by the murder of George Floyd reinforced what I already knew: the work that Horizons at SFFS does is crucial to ensure a better future for all of us.
Educational equity is the assurance that every student has access to the resources and academic rigor necessary to their growth regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family background or family income. When we work towards educational equity, we work towards a better collective future.
- Improves our communities. An equitable education system helps all students develop the knowledge and skills they need to be engaged and become productive members of society. Our communities benefit from inspired and confident individuals who have the opportunity to pursue their talents and interests.
- Challenges the imbalance of power and privilege. The U.S. has a long and tired history of maintaining the power and privilege of the select few – usually white, male, upper-class citizens—by limiting access to education. Advocating for educational equity challenges this imbalance; implementing it can actually help redress the injustice.
- Strengthens the economy. There is a direct link between high-quality education and a healthy economy. Education has the power to improve individual lives and uplift entire communities by strengthening the overall economy. True educational equity has the potential to reduce poverty nationwide.
(Adapted from: GreatSchools Partnership.org)
Over the last few months at Horizons at SFFS we have been asking ourselves, what more can we do? What steps can we take to further dismantle roots of oppression in our program, our community, and beyond? To that end, we have expanded avenues for parent voices in program decision making, we are prioritizing racial diversity and connection to our students’ lived experiences in our board member search. We have started difficult conversations about race, privilege and the way we may accept systems that are deeply counterproductive to equity as the norm. In these conversations, we have started to learn about Community Centric Fundraising, a fundraising model that is co-grounded in racial and economic justice.
Our upcoming virtual benefit on February 11, at 6:00 p.m., We Are Made of Stars, will be our first venture towards this model. The hour-long program will be an opportunity to learn more about Horizons’ work and impact, as well as a celebration of the limitless potential of Horizons students.
The virtual event also strikes a particularly special note with me as it will officially mark the completion of my first year with Horizons at SFFS. I hope that you will join me on February 11 and that you will walk away feeling as inspired as I do to continue working towards educational equity. Together we are building a better future.
Did you know that summer is often called the “most unequal time of year?” I was motivated to join the Horizons at SFFS Board upon learning this. Incredibly, summer learning loss in elementary school alone accounts for two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap between low-income and middle-income children. Horizons reduces this summer learning gap by giving Mission kids the academic support and enriching experiences that more affluent parents can typically provide. Read more about Horizons in this recent KQED story: “How Can Private Schools Contribute to the Public Good?”
I am teaming up with kindergarten parent Shalinee Thakur (Myles) to encourage parents to attend the upcoming fundraiser for Horizons on January 31, 2019. This is a fun, inspiring event to meet other Friends parents and directly support low-income kids growing up in our Mission neighborhood.
Shalinee also felt an immediate connection to Horizons when she became a part of the greater Friends family last year. “The values of inclusion and community ring very true in the work done by Horizons,” Shalinee says. "Supporting kids who can benefit most from summer learning feels like creating an extension of the environment we are trying to cultivate at Friends. Most significantly, Horizons builds confidence in kids whom we hope will share their love for learning with their peers into the traditional school year.”
The benefit will have an educational and inspirational lineup of speakers. The keynote this year will be given by Dr. Alejandra Rincón, the chief of staff of UCSF’s Office of Diversity and Outreach and an advocate for educational equity. The event takes place at 6:30 p.m. on January 31 at SOMArts, a gallery and cultural center located close to the school. Wine, small bites, and desserts will be served, and lots of Friends School parents as well as members of the greater community will attend. Early bird tickets are on sale now—get yours before prices go up on January 14.
Please be in touch if you have any questions about the event. And, if you can’t attend the event but would still like to learn more about Horizons, please reach out!
The end of the school year at Friends signals the beginning of another exciting time at 250 Valencia: Horizons at SFFS’s fifth summer of providing free programming to low-income students in our neighborhood. Almost all Horizons students—99%—will return from last summer, and we will welcome a new class of 17 kindergartners from Buena Vista, Marshall, and Mission Prep elementary schools. With the addition of this new class, 85 students entering grades K–5 will learn, explore, and challenge themselves at Horizons this summer.
As the program expands, we have exciting new offerings like kayaking and rock climbing in store for our students. Of course, all students will continue with their favorite activity, swim lessons, and we will repeat other beloved experiences like our Exploratorium and Academy of Sciences field trips. The most important component of our program, three hours of academic instruction each day, will be enhanced by the growth of our specialist staff to include a full and half-time reading specialist and a half-time curriculum and instructional lead. Another exciting and much-needed new program element is a partnership with the Columbia Park Boys & Girls Club that will allow us to provide working parents with aftercare.
SFFS will be well-represented at Horizons this summer. Our summer staff of 16 will include SFFS teachers Tanya Cotom and Angie Gonzalez; former SFFS TA Erick Reyna; and David Rupright, a Friends School alum. There will be other familiar faces around the program as Jennifer Arnest, Kristen Daniel, and Anhvu Buchanan have volunteered to teach elective classes with our kindergartners, and Horizons’ 2017–2018 AmeriCorps VISTA member Veronica Oberholzer will be taking over as our summer program coordinator as she finishes her VISTA year. A new VISTA member, Blackberrie Eddins, will join our staff at the end of June. We are proud that our staff is majority bilingual and includes several teachers who attended the same elementary schools as our students. Learn more about our staff on our website.
Sixteen generous high schoolers, almost all of whom are Friends School graduates, have volunteered to spend their summer as classroom assistants at Horizons. Many of them cite positive experiences in their classrooms at Friends as their inspiration to give back, and look forward to their own teaching careers.
We love to showcase the learning that happens on the Friends School campus when school is out. Please contact Horizons Executive Director Abby Rovner to set up a time to visit Horizons and see our students in action. And be sure you've liked us on Facebook so you can follow all of our adventures this summer!