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Middle School

Gaining New Perspectives & Building Skills

Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Max with Will Shortz of The New York Times.

Last spring, one of our current SFFS 8th-Graders, Max M. '20 first learned about the KenKen International Championship, which takes place outside of New York City and is sponsored by The New York Times and hosted by renowned Times puzzle master Will Shortz. His math teacher at the time, Kelsey Barbella, briefly mentioned it during class, Max remembers: "Since I really loved KenKens and am always up for a challenge, I got the details and entered."

KenKens, for those new to them, are math puzzles that are solved in a grid—puzzlers use basic math, critical thinking, and logic skills to resolve the KenKen grid. More than being a math exercise, many say that KenKens help puzzlers to build useful problem-solving tools and determination. 

Fast-forward a few months from that 7th Grade math class, and Max was in Pleasantville, New York, this past December for the big competition. "The tournament has a very upbeat ambiance when everyone is not competing," He says. "Between rounds, people get food from the food truck outside, and before the last round, Will Shortz has a word puzzle that we try to solve like the ones that he has on Sundays. When I was at the tournament, the puzzle was to find a four-letter word hidden inside of a given word. For example, if the word was 'ASTRONAUT,' the answer could be STAT, which can be spelled by removing the ARONU. I remember trying to solve the puzzles quickly enough, but there were only a few easy enough for me to get." Max ultimately came in 4th Place in the entire competition, and was the first finisher from the U.S. 

Max explains his love of puzzles and problem-solving: "I like puzzles because they make me look at things in different ways. Math puzzles in particular make me look on the logic side and also the common sense. I know that if I have only 1 more number in a row or column, I am able to figure that out, but if that number doesn't fit an equation I have to use my common sense to make the equation work. I like that it makes me use different parts of my brain to solve things all at the same time.

Want to try your hand at a KenKen puzzle? Click here, and good luck! 

Staffing News: Goodbyes and Hellos

Friday, May 31, 2019

Each year, we learn that we will be saying goodbye to colleagues who are moving on or retiring from their positions at SFFS. As we encourage risk-taking, lifelong learning, and growth in both our students and ourselves, we celebrate our Friends as they continue their adventures and journeys outside of 250 Valencia, and we thank them for their contributions to our community. We encourage you to help us honor and celebrate those who are departing, while also welcoming those who will soon be joining this special community of learners and Friends.



Garth Applegate
by Andrew Salverda

Few people in the world could make middle school students appreciate Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and their grandparents tap their toes to Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train. For 11 years, music emissary Garth Applegate has helped students as Friends find their groove and resuscitated many tunes adults in the community thought they’d never hear again. Garth always seemed to have time for students (and adults) who wanted to learn how to play something, or to play something better.

While Garth was not the first music teacher hired at Friends, he has been the program’s key architect over the years, and his vision for the program has shaped what it is today. Beginning with instrumental lessons with 4th Grade students and then various groups (orchestra, jazz, world band) throughout Middle School, Garth has worked with every single Friends student who has moved through Middle School in the last decade. Offering donuts as encouragement, Garth has steadily gathered middle-schoolers for morning jazz-making before school over the years, doing (again) what few others could—getting willing 12-year-olds out of bed early.

In addition to his engagement with students in the music studio, Garth has served as go-to accompanist for everything from Lower School plays to the Middle School Variety Show. Garth also championed a sing-along at the end of Meeting for Worship, often sitting in to play Simple Gifts or This Land Is Your Land. Serving as a basketball coach during his tenure, Garth’s teams were disciplined and played with the joy and creative spirit only a jazz musician could cultivate. This academic year, Garth has served as co-clerk of Friends professional community, facilitating meetings with an admirable blend of humor and seriousness of purpose. 

Along with all the roles Garth has leaned into during his tenure at Friends, the songs he’s adapted and written for departing colleagues has showcased his talent, kindness, and humor as well as anything else. Over the years, these songs have conveyed the love and appreciation of the entire faculty and have built a community tradition like no other. Among all the songs Garth has written, juiced-up, and transcribed, there are none finer than the Friends School song Simple Joys (below), which he wrote with colleague Jodi Pickering in 2011:

Simple Joys

A small school in the Castro 
Into the Mission grew
All along Committed
To the SPICES through and through

We honor one another
And serve all with respect
We may not all be Quakers
But as Friends we do connect

Simple joys and peacefulness
Humility and pride
We speak into the silence
Our voices not denied

When we find ourselves in the place just right
We've found we've done our best
'Tis a gift to be a part of
Good 'ol S-F-F-S

The lyrics of Spirit of the Radio, by Rush, Garth’s favorite band, who he’s seen in concert at least once a year for much of his adult life, remind us that “modern music/Can still be open-hearted”... “It's really just a question/Of your honesty, yeah your honesty.” Honesty and open-heartedness have never been in doubt during Garth’s time with us at Friends, and we wish him and Katie, his partner, all the best as they head to Seattle, where, once again, Garth will create a stellar music program for a small progressive school. Thank you, Garth. Rock on.


Clarissa Ko
by Guybe Slangen

This year, Clarissa took the reigns of our K–8 dance program. From dancing with our neighbors at the Francis of Assisi Community to an integrated K–MS production of Beatrice’s Goat, to an all-school assembly that featured a dance troupe that performed with hard boiled eggs, Clarissa has brought new energy, ideas, and strengths to our program. When we gather on our last day of school she’ll also carry on the lovely Friends School tradition of our end-of-the-year buddy dance with Kindergartners and our graduating 8th-Graders. A passionate dancer and educator, Clarissa has helped our program grow and flourish. She is also one of the few that works with nearly every student in our school! We’re immensely grateful for her collaboration in working with multiple teams and teachers, her flexibility with a variety of spaces and schedules, and her deep commitment to bringing out the dancer in all of us. 

Earlier this year she completed her Master’s degree in Learning Design and Technology. Next year Clarissa is looking to build upon this work through her own practice and company, as well as explore new opportunities with dance organizations, schools, and students. “I am so grateful to the SFFS community who have welcomed me,” shared Clarissa. “I feel proud of the challenges the students and I have overcome and inspired by all the new things we've tried together. After my year at SFFS, I am hopeful for the future and the young people who will change the world because of their education and experiences here. I am sad to leave, but, I am never too far away in a city like San Francisco! See you around.” This is a bittersweet goodbye. We too are sad to see her go, but excited about this new journey. We wish her the best in her next chapter. 


Beth Pollak
by Andrew Salverda

Beth arrived at Friends in 2015 by way of New York City, where she previously taught middle school English and science for over a decade and received her Master’s from Teachers College at Columbia University. While at Friends, Beth served as a 5th Grade advisor and taught 5th and 6th Grade Humanities, where she was known for her willingness to experiment with innovative teaching methods in order to discover new and inspiring ways to connect her students to the curriculum. Evelyn Florin, one of Beth’s colleagues in the Middle School Humanities Department, says: “It’s a rare teacher who cares so deeply about their students as Beth does. She sees the best in them and helps cultivate their potential. Beth lives the belief that all children are learners, and she helps make that a reality.”

Beth has also worked to help our Middle School TAs find their footing while at SFFS, documenting effective strategies and practices for those new to the Friends faculty. She has also been a dedicated partner with the Admissions Office, partnering with Middle School applicants and their families throughout her tenure here. Over the course of the past year, Beth has developed an inspiring methodology to help Middle School students facilitate their own meaningful collaboration and book talks. Perhaps most importantly, she is beloved by both her students and colleagues at San Francisco Friends School, and she will be truly missed. We wish her lots of global travel, good books, and time for both writing and adventures as she strikes out to discover what’s next. 


Andrew Salverda
[excerpted from Mike Hanas and Andrew Salverda’s letter announcing Andrew’s departure this past fall]

From Mike:
… Gratitude is very much on my mind, but it is a bittersweet version I feel as I write to inform you that Andrew Salverda has decided it is time to begin a new chapter in his life and in that of the San Francisco Friends School Middle School.

Andrew will continue to serve in his role as head of our Middle School through this 2018–19 school year, and I consider it a singular gift to have had Andrew at my side as I have made my way into the SFFS community over the past two and a half years. We have been mistaken for one another and for one another’s brother, and I have felt honored by each of those “misreads.” In fact, I now think of Andrew as the brother I long wished I had, and I look forward to celebrating his unique role in founding the SFFS Middle School and his opportunity to claim time for his decision about how best to apply his gifts, so many and varied, next. 

Many of you have known Andrew for all or part of the 10+ years he has dedicated to Friends. If, as the prophet Khalil Gibran notes, “Work is love made visible,” then we are among the many students, alums, colleagues, parents, and friends who have benefitted from Andrew’s love and labor. He has played an extraordinary role in building the SFFS Middle School: its program; team; and culture of high, hopeful expectations. In doing so—and in partnership with his colleagues in the administration, faculty, and staff—he has contributed mightily to the cultivation of an unparalleled sense of identity and purpose that Friends enjoys, unique strengths on which we will build....

From Andrew:
… I have been honored to serve in this position and to be a member of this community over the last decade. During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from two gracious, humble, and wise heads of school, and with an inspiring administrative team. I’ve had the opportunity to lead and be led by a thoughtful, hard-working, and passionate middle school faculty. And I’ve enjoyed working with and learning from (both as an educator and as a parent) my lower school colleagues. 

During my time at Friends, I’ve been inspired and humbled by more than 500 middle school students, many of whom I taught, advised, coached, and/or traveled with. And I’ve been fortunate to get to know so many generous and supportive parents, without whom Friends would not be the school it is today. I’ve grown as an educator, a parent, and a person...

I will miss walking into school every morning, being around bright and thoughtful students, and working with such wonderful people. With my own kids going into middle school next year, the timing feels right for me to step aside (and out of their way), to make room for someone new to serve in this role and to explore another path for myself….


We are also saying goodbye to beloved teaching assistants Vicky Bui (2nd Grade), Adam Macalister (Middle School), Jessie Mitchell (Middle School), Max Raynard (1st Grade), Jasmine Redmond (Middle School), and Ami Sciarillo (3rd Grade), as well as our Horizons / Americorps VISTA associate Blackberrie Eddins.



Frances Elsberry, Middle School Math
Frances is an experienced Bay Area educator who has worked extensively with Middle School-aged students, most recently teaching fifth- and sixth-grade math at Children’s Day School, where she also advocated for students in the admissions process; collaborated with colleagues on the creation of a 5th grade advisory program; and helped to organize student social justice events, including a climate strike. She previously taught 5th grade at San Francisco Day School, was a head instructional coach at the Breakthrough Collaborative, and received her Master’s of Education and California Certification from the Bay Area Teacher Training Institute (BATTI). 


Andrea Green, 3rd Grade Lead
Andrea has taught in lower schools, both public and independent, for over 20 years. Most recently, she was a lead 1st-Grade teacher at San Francisco Day School, where she collaborated on curriculum design, mentored new lead and co-teachers, and imagined innovative ways of incorporating technology into her teaching practice. Andrea also taught at Live Oak and received her Bachelor’s, Master’s, and teaching credential from the University of San Francisco. She is trained in Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) and Universal Design Thinking, and has attended numerous conferences on teaching math and integrating technology in elementary classrooms. 


Liam McCarthy, Americorps VISTA 2019–20
by Abby Rovner
Liam McCarthy was born and raised in San Francisco, California. He graduated from Boston College last May with a BA in English and Secondary Education. While in college, Liam worked on a number of research projects studying youth basketball coaching and emergent bilingual curriculum. Through these projects, Liam developed a passion for positive youth development and social justice through education. He previously worked as a Teaching Fellow for Citizen Schools, an after-school program for middle-schoolers located in Redwood City. With Citizen Schools, Liam helped volunteers teach their passions like coding and yoga. Outside of work, Liam loves music and reading. He is looking forward to working with Horizons to bring quality educational opportunities to children in San Francisco!


Maureen Ray, 4th Grade Lead 
Maureen arrives at Friends with over two decades of experience working with children as a camp counselor, volunteer mentor, teaching assistant, and lead teacher in public schools throughout California, as well as Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley. She has taught grades 3–6 over the course of her career, and for 18 years served as the director of Contra Costa Civic Theatre Summer Drama Camp. Maureen has also served as a member of numerous committees and professional organizations, including the Common Sense Media Professional Learning Network and Black Pine Circle’s Staff Diversity Committee. 


Jesse Scott, Middle School Music
A Bay Area native, Jesse pursued an education in music at the Boston and New England Conservatories, where he received both Bachelor’s and graduate degrees in Bass Performance and Music Education. For the past 20 years, he has served as the music director at Brandeis Marin in the North Bay, where he founded and built the music program there from the ground up. At Brandeis Marin, Jesse conducted seven different choral and instrumental ensembles and also taught a general music course. 


Clarke Weatherspoon, Middle School Head
[excerpted from Mike Hanas’s letter announcing Clarke’s hiring]

… I am delighted to announce that, after an extensive national search and consideration of nearly 40 applications, Clarke Weatherspoon has been selected and has accepted the invitation to serve as the next head of the San Francisco Friends School Middle School...

Clarke brings nearly two decades of experience working with 5th–12th grade students. His professional wellspring includes teaching courses in Comparative Religion and Middle Eastern, US, and World History. He has taught at schools including Phillips Exeter Academy, Marin Academy, Sacred Heart Preparatory School, and the Urban School of San Francisco since 2006. At the Urban School, Clarke has maintained classroom responsibilities and more recently served for five years as a 9th & 10th grade class dean before assuming the role of dean of equity and inclusion in 2016. He is a graduate of Phillips Exeter, earned his undergraduate degree with honors in History and Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara, and then his master’s degree in Computing in Education at Columbia University. A devoted coach, Clarke has also served as a program director for the Stanford Water Polo Club. He also identifies as special interests photography, film-making, yoga, meditation, and cycling.

What the content above (and more from Clarke’s résumé) does not convey is the combination of warmth, wisdom, and commitment he brings to his work in schools. In his own words: “My goal is to continue working in a progressive school that values life and the struggles that make our personal and communal journeys valuable. I strive to co-create school communities that are willing to walk with students and families as they push themselves to be more powerful, engaged, capable, and caring.” We are thrilled to lean into those struggles, and to walk through and celebrate life with Clarke at SFFS…


We are also thrilled to welcome new Lower School TAs Cale Nickerson and Sydney Shannon, as well as Middle School TAs Marcell DeBarros, Marc Kim and Patrick Smith; we will share bios and photos of all of the new Friends joining our professional community this summer. 

Fantastic Stories and Where to Find Them

Thursday, May 9, 2019

When San Francisco Friends School 7th-Grader Ariel received an email from Middle School teacher Beth Pollack about writing contests, there was one that stuck out: it was a Scholastic-sponsored contest focused on the style of young adult author Rick Riordan, and it was specifically for students in 6th–8th grades. Ariel figured she would give it a shot, though she didn’t expect to place, as the Rick Riordan Writing Contest is open to students nationwide and is considered to be highly competitive. Parameters for the contest included that the story include a scene in which the student meets a parent… who also happens to be a mythological god. Scholastic stated that winners would be chosen based on “the equally weighted criteria of originality, creativity, and execution.”

Ariel decided to write about the Egyptian goddess Maat, an intriguing figure who is less well-known in the ancient mythological world, but whose power and influence was formidable in the ancient Egyptian world. She likes creating narratives for more mysterious characters and underdogs, which is perhaps what draws her to the fantasy genre. “What I like to read mirrors what I like to write—fantasy!” Ariel’s favorite authors include: J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame; celebrated YA writer Rick Riordan (she likes how he mashes together Greek mythology with real life); and Cynthia Kadohata, who wrote the award-winning The Thing About Luck

She found out she was a finalist earlier this semester when she received a letter from Scholastic. For her accomplishment as a finalist, Scholastic sent her a coveted Rick Riordan library—“I was so excited about that!” For Ariel, this was affirmation of a passion she has honed for some time: “Ever since I was little, I’ve liked to write stories,” she says. “Outside of school, I write fantasy… I like writing fairy tale-type things. When I was little, I wrote this story about the Land of Sweets, and I wrote about the sweets as people with personalities—I created a whole world for them.”

Ariel also has some advice for younger students who want to write, but have a hard time getting started: “Look around you, look at books by authors you admire—that’s always where I get my inspiration. [Your stories don’t have to be perfect from the beginning]—just get started and you can revise later.” She acknowledges the challenges of getting words down on the page: “Writing can be hard at first, but it gets really fun when you get into it. I may enter more contests in the future if I have time!”

To read Ariel’s story, entitled The Escapade of the Pizza, the Soccer Ball, and the God in Disguise, please click here.

Community Ties

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

To be a private school that serves a public purpose is a principled aspiration shared by the vast majority of independent schools. At SFFS our established commitments to Horizons, adjustable tuition, service learning, and the Friends Community Scholars exemplify that principle in practice and contribute to our role as a school community not only in but of our neighborhood, the Mission. – Mike Hanas, Head of San Francisco Friends School

SFFS enrolled its first Friends Community Scholars in 2013, after the Board and administration determined that instituting this program was essential to continuing our community’s commitment to diversity. Established for “high-achieving, economically disadvantaged middle school students from neighborhoods surrounding the school,” the Friends Community Scholars program (or FCS) is funded through the $2 million raised to begin the program during the Building Friends capital campaign, and underwrites all that goes into a well-rounded Friends experience, lasting the duration of middle school. Beyond tuition, SFFS covers the costs of everything from laptops to field trips to tutoring to hot lunches to extracurricular activities to music lessons to athletic gear and uniforms. Supporting the breadth of our scholars’ experience promotes the ideology of inclusivity that FCS was founded on and encourages students to get involved in numerous facets of life here. Former trustee Shannon Cogen reflects: “SFFS’s founders conceived of a program like FCS from the beginning. It advanced the mission in so many ways: providing diverse voices and perspectives that are so essential to education, deepening our ties to our neighborhood, and addressing, even in a relatively small way, educational inequities.” 

The FCS program was first inspired by Germantown Friends School’s Community Scholars program, and the ways in which the program showed Germantown Friends’ commitment to its surrounding Philadelphia community. As SFFS stated in its initial case for support to launch the program in 2012, “Friends Community Scholars… will add to the diversity of voices and talents at Friends School.” Today, 21 students have matriculated at SFFS through the Friends Community Scholars program (with nine already graduating). Not only have these students made a profound impact at Friends, but their contributions and development has notably continued into their high school careers. Says Kristen Daniel, SFFS director of middle school and high school transition: “From my perspective, the Friends Community Scholars include some of the hardest working students we've had in our middle school. When I hear about them succeeding in high school on a robotics team, on the volleyball court, or as a leader of an affinity group, I hope that Friends had a small part in helping them discover their voice and talent and pursue it with passion and commitment.” 

For Friends alumni who went through the program, the tools and relationships they garnered during their time here have proven invaluable: “All my teachers and all the SFFS staff have played big parts in the development of who I am today… I brought my determination, my culture, my grit to learn, and my voice [to my high school]—all of which I learned, and which people helped me realize about myself, at SFFS,” says Gaby Garcia (SFFS ‘18). Fellow FCS and Friends alum Sassy Mosely-Wise (SFFS ‘16) agrees: “A large part of my personality and moral ethics are shaped around the values I learned at Friends School. When there were conflicts or problems within my community, we were taught to solve them keeping these values in mind. These approaches have shaped the way I handle issues today, and I am forever grateful for the ethics lesson in and outside of the classroom.”
Perhaps as important is the sense of belonging that graduates feel during their time at SFFS. “Even though I only spent three years at Friends School, compared to the majority of my grade that spent nine years attending Friends, I felt welcomed into the school. Students and faculty made me feel included,” says Sassy. Gaby echoes this sentiment: “Friends' allowed me to share a piece of who I am, my culture and my soul, with the school. This was, and still is, very meaningful to me, because before I was very timid and Friends gave me the support.. to find my powerful voice. What I love about Friends is that the community is eager to see that powerful voice in its students, and [to watch students grow].” 

• 2013: First class of Friends Community Scholars was enrolled in the SFFS Middle School

• $2M: Initial total of funds raised to create the FCS program

• 21: Number of students who have now matriculated at the SFFS Middle School as Friends Community Scholars

• Nine: Current total of alumni of the Friends Community Scholars program





Preparing to Launch Our Weather Balloon!

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Friends School is a school that values interactivity with lesson plans, allowing facts and figures not only to exist on paper but right before us. Sure, learning about the stratosphere’s impact on marshmallows could be digested while seated, but our school takes it to the next level. 

The 8th graders have been introduced to the weather balloon, a large helium balloon that comes equipped with resources to measure the atmosphere. Our weather balloon holds a CanSat, which is a research tool to help us collect the data we find, a camera, and seven different experiments chosen by 8th, 4th, and Kindergarteners. The three 8th Grade classes brainstormed and discussed possible items to put into the payload of the balloon, and figured out what items would get impacted by the change in environment. The three groups chose marshmallows, sound, and multiple forms of water, then connected with their buddy grades of 4th grade and Kindergarten. The 4th graders and Kindergarten also discussed what they wanted to put into the balloon and decided on brine shrimp eggs, popcorn, seeds, and salt water. “I thought that this really brought us together and collaborated really well and I thought this brought us closer with our buddies because we were able to collaborate with something together and have a a bonding time as a grade,” said Clara (SFFS’19). 

Each 8th-grade section has split into groups, each dedicated to a different part of the launch. There are six teams: Flight Management (looking at weather patterns, and looking for an optimal launch day, Engineering (the craftsmanship and mechanics of the project), Communications (talking with teachers, newspapers, etc.) Data Science (researching how to execute the experiment most efficiently), Event Logistics (picking a location), and Science (researching and creating the hypothesis). Rylan (SFFS ‘19) of the Engineering team noted that the teams have all come together to work through obstacles: “The most fun part of this project has been the problem-solving. Whenever we are presented with a problem, we come together to solve it.” Each team has a responsibility in making sure that the flight will go smoothly. As the launch date nears, each group continues to work hard and secure the launching time, location, and payload. 

What We Hope to Learn/Impact: 
The results of this experiment will lead to an even deeper understanding of air pressure, density, temperature, humidity, and their effects. This is a really special opportunity that we are able to participate and experience, and we are all excited to see the results. As Mary (SFFS’19) on the Science team explained: “We have written the hypothesis for the two aspects of our experiment, the tone that we are creating and the ambient sound that we are recording. We’ve also not found that much research on what we are trying to find out so this experiment will give us brand new information.” Many students are expressing gratitude and enthusiasm. In one student’s words: “I was so excited and interested when first heard of the project! I had never heard of anything like this and when we saw a video of the balloon, and how we could see the curve of the earth from the balloon’s camera. I was even more interested,” said Communications team member Taevin (SFFS’19). This lesson extends beyond the classroom, as our science teachers announced that we would be seeing this effect in real life. Along with this, the independent work and collaboration skills we are able to learn from this project will be important to our high school experience. The project itself is extremely memorable.

Inspired by Flint, Middle-Schoolers write to the SF Public Utilities Commission

Monday, September 17, 2018

Fifth- and sixth-graders at San Francisco Friends School recently wrote to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) with concerns about water quality in our city. The students were inspired to take action after reading an article about the water crisis in Flint, MI; learning more about the injustice that Flint residents faced as they have fought for clean water and answers; and discovering that Mari Copeny, also known as "Little Miss Flint," became a nationally-respected activist at the age of eight after writing her own letter to President Barack Obama.

Our students expressed their concerns to Juliet Ellis, chief strategy officer at the SFPUC, and raised questions about how crises like the one in Flint happen. Ellis responded to each student individually with a hand-written letter, reassuring them of the safety of San Francisco's drinking water, and lauding their interest in the health of not only themselves, but also the community at large. When discussing their activism and Ellis's response, the students were clearly energized. 

"I felt sad [when I learned about Flint], because they didn't have tap water. And it made me feel like I was very lucky to be able to drink my tap water here," said Eli. "It made me feel kind of scared—because what happened there, could happen to us. We never think, hey, our water could become [unsafe]," agreed Mia. Rami closed the discussion with an important take-away: "Something I learned, is that even when you're younger, you can still make a difference."

Friends School Students' Talk with Supervisor Leads to ADA Park Improvement

Wednesday, May 23, 2018
The new ADA swing in Miraloma Park

Last year, then-seventh grade Friends School students Zeke, Simone, Riley, Summer, and Sophia were able to sit down with San Francisco District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee to discuss an issue that was very dear to them, accessible playgrounds for children with disabilities (Riley wrote about it here this past December). 

Their efforts paid off. After meeting with our students, Supervisor Yee garnered additional neighborhood support from the Miraloma Park Improvement Club for the playground changes. His office then worked with SF Rec and Park to have the ADA swing installed.

"I was impressed with the students’ presentation. They were well informed, prepared, and shared personal stories about the impact this improvement would have on their families," Supervisor Yee said. "Civic engagement by youth is critical and I am proud of the students at SF Friends School for their advocacy and the measurable impact it has had on our City."

Guybe Slangen, Friends School's Director of Community Engagement, said, "Way to go Zeke, Simone, Riley, Summer, and Sophia! Your voice matters!"


Headed to High School: An Update from the Transition Team

News Type: 
Friday, May 11, 2018

Watching Riley R. welcome middle schoolers from around the city to our first Youth Summit highlighted the sheer energy and motivation possessed by this year’s graduating class. They are activists! Take a swing through the eighth grade morning meeting space and look at their work from this year. The learning they’ve done around the topic of those experiencing homelessness this year is deep and impactful. They’ve also taken notable action around gun control and #metoo. These teenagers have stepped outside themselves over and over again to engage in real world issues even throughout the long, stressful and emotional process of applying to high school—which is very much focussed on “self.”  Now it’s May, everyone has a place to go to high school, and the class is still planning more work; a subset will present what they’ve learned about city government’s role in homelessness crisis to the third grade and all will accompany kindergarten buddies to Mission Neighborhood Health Center at the end of the month.

San Francisco is unique among major cities in terms of the high school landscape. New York, LA, DC, and Chicago, for example, have many more K-12 independent schools and more parochial options. The capriciousness of our public school lottery system can be very stressful for families. Asking a 13 or 14 year-old to manage the high school application process in San Francisco while also juggling school, sports, activities, friends, and family, is a gargantuan expectation. To help manage the load, parents are essential partners. Seventh grade parents are just beginning the process now by completing questionnaires about their child(ren) and their hopes for high school. A few weeks ago, seventh graders took their practice SSAT and on May 17, they’ll gather to hear wisdom from a panel of eighth graders and their parents about their experience with the process.

This year’s SFFS graduates will attend 24 different schools next fall. The list includes:

Convent of the Sacred Heart
College Preparatory School
Galileo High School
Head Royce
Marin Academy
Marin Catholic
Mission High School
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Saint Ignatius
San Domenico
Stuart Hall
Tamalpais High School
The Marin School

Congratulations to the members of our eighth graduating class. At Friends, it means so much more to be an eighth grader than just applying to high school. The legacy of this class will be their ability to “let their lives speak” in such a powerful way in their final year at SFFS. We could not be more proud of the students who will represent SFFS at their chosen high schools.


Mysteries of the Unseen World: Thinking Like an Artist/Scientist

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. So the unknown, the mysterious is where art and science meet.”
~Albert Einstein

In mid-march, we attended the National Art Educators Association (NAEA) conference hosted in Seattle, WA. This is the ninth year that we attended, and the third time that we co-presented at the conference, which has been an amazing opportunity not just to share the unique approach to the arts at SFFS with independent schools from across the country, but to gain inspiration from other visual art instructors as well. While at the conference, we celebrated ten years of collaborative work at SFFS by presenting a hands-on workshop that illuminates how the visual arts and scientific inquiry are intertwined by sharing two interdisciplinary units—one third grade, the other seventh and eighth grade.

Integration is a natural way in which we experience the world. True integration in the classroom serves all of the disciplines involved and makes connections to ‘real life’ experience outside of the walls of our school. As in our classroom/studios, participants in our (sold out) workshop were introduced to a series of artmaking routines to investigate a question that is relevant to both scientists and artists. Those attending the workshop came away with a clearer sense of how this approach builds understanding in both disciplines while providing experiences that invigorate a spirit of inquiry, connecting to the real world of artists and scientists.

Here is a small sample of the brilliant student work that we showcased at the conference:

Three examples from the third grade of a two-minute warm up drawing.
The prompt: Draw yourself as an artist/scientist.


Seventh/eighth grade art inspired by the Hubble Telescope images.
Students used embroidery in order to focus on line, shape, and patterns. 


More seventh/eighth grade art inspired by the Hubble Telescope.


Third grade computer virus drawings. Prompts: What is the story of our computer virus?
What kind of computer virus will we craft? 

A closer look at third grade computer virus drawings.


A closer look at third grade computer virus sculptures.


Staffing News: New Faces at SFFS

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

As we begin the season of lifting up the comings and goings of our staff and faculty, we hope you will embrace our spirit of growth and community. We encourage you to help us in welcoming in full force the new teachers and learners who will soon be joining us:

Clarissa Ko, K-8 dance and drama: Clarissa comes to Friends with a depth and breadth of experiences in the dance world. Clarissa has been teaching within Pre K-12 schools in the Bay Area since 2014. She’s a graduate of University of San Francisco where she studied Performing Arts and Social Justice. It was this focus that drew her to SFFS where she’s eager to explore opportunities to promote social change via critical thinking and reflection, and build community through empathy and action. Clarissa is also a MSEd Learning Design and Technology candidate at Purdue University. She currently teaches with ODC’s Youth and Teen Program and HeartBeat Dance Academy. In 2016 Clarissa founded Five Feet Dance, a modern dance company. She is excited to join the Friends School community to build upon the firm foundation laid by Hilary, as well as find innovative ways for curriculum integration, movement exploration, and work collaboratively with colleagues.

Tanya Cotom, LS Spanish: We are happy to report that after an unexpected departure of our beloved Karina (we are losing her to Peru!) we made haste in our search for a new spanish teacher in the lower school. After several applicants were considered, lessons shared and conversations had, we have are thrilled to report that Tanya Cotom will be  staying on in this new role and responsibility. We are all typically very discerning about why or when a new teacher might be considered, but Tanya simple rose to the top among our contenders. We see such potential to grow a gifted young teacher who has proven herself in several realms; over summers teaching with Horizons, three years on our lower school team, as someone who knows our school community deeply, who is familiar with our programs widely, and our spanish program in LS particularly. Tanya is a native speaker, with a self expressed and confident passion to take this next step in her career. She is an incredibly hard working and bright community member, with a masters degree in elementary education. She has been our lead TA lead clerk for two years, showing leadership, and high emotional intelligence as well. She feels drawn to using what she has learned, and teaching the language she loves, as an expression of her true voice as a teacher. We are lucky in so many ways, and are currently planning her on-boarding and summer professional development and transition with Karina; we are quite sure she will enhance the wonderful work the spanish department has been doing, and sustain, enhance and honor the program. I have such faith in this team.

Please welcome her into her new role when you can this week, hopefully in person.

Jenn Cusworth, Middle School Humanities Teacher: Jenn is excited to move to the Bay Area and join the SFFS community! After living most of her life on the East Coast, she's looking forward to more sunshine and less snow. Jenn graduated with a BA in Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2011, and went on to receive an MS in Education from Bank Street College of Education in NYC. It was here that she developed her passion for teaching project-based, progressive pedagogy. After graduate school, Jenn moved back to Western Massachusetts, where she worked as a 5th and 6th grade teacher at the Greenfield Center School (the birthplace of Responsive Classroom) and grew her skills and appreciation for socially and emotionally responsive learning environments. Surrounded by the valleys and mountains of New England, Jenn loved the opportunities for outdoor education: hiking, rock climbing, and just playing in the woods! For the past year, Jenn has been back in NYC, teaching 6th grade history at Brooklyn Friends School. Here, she was able to grow her passions for social justice-based learning opportunities. Jenn sees education as a form of activism and loves connecting history with our world today. Soon, she will live in the Bay with her partner and two dogs, and she can't wait to continue on in a Quaker school at SFFS. 

Neal Donovan, Middle School TA: Neal was first introduced to Quaker pedagogy at Brooklyn Friends School, where he spent a year as a substitute and after school teacher. Upon returning home to the Bay Area in 2015, he sought out a school with similar values and found SFFS, which he has grown to love for its emphasis on teaching empathy and conflict resolution. He has worked at SFFS as an ED teacher, substitute, and spent a year as a kindergarten TA. He is a graduate of Oberlin College. When he isn’t at school, Neal spends his time playing guitar and making ambient electronic music. He also enjoys hiking and camping in California’s many beautiful landscapes.

Christopher Gonzalez-Crane, Middle School Humanities Teacher: Christopher is a native of San Francisco. After graduating from The Urban School, Christopher moved to Minnesota to attend Carleton College.  He graduated in 2002 with a degree in English and American literature.  After working for a year in New York City in publishing, Christopher began teaching middle and high school English at The Thomas Jefferson School in Concepcion, Chile. After moving back to San Francisco in 2004, Christopher was a middle school teacher at The Children’s Day School where he taught traditional black and white photography, assisted with the high school application process and developed the middle school study hall program.  For the last nine years, Christopher has been teaching and studying in London.  In 2010, he received a Masters of Research from The London Consortium. He is currently in the final stages of his PhD in Humanities and Cultural studies. While in London, he taught BA level humanities and critical studies at The University of London. Christopher has ​specialist​ knowledge in English and American Literature, photography, cultural studies and social history. His own academic work is concerned with the historical origins of self-help culture in the American West. He has a particular interest in the construction of the responsible, ethical self. Christopher is excited to bring digital archives alive in his classroom. Christopher is delighted to be returning to San Francisco and joining the SFFS community. 

Dianne Hurvitz, Lower School Music Specialist: Dianne is thrilled to be joining the SFFS community! She is a New England native; she has lived and taught in the Midwest, the Rockies, and the Northeast, and is now having a wonderful time settling here in California. After earning a BA in music from Oberlin College, where she played any and all musical instruments she could get her hands on, Dianne then spent time in the worlds of musical theater production and filmmaking. A love of working with students, from working as a ski instructor to conducting the local town band, inspired Dianne to return to Oberlin to earn a Masters in Education. She began her classroom teaching experience as a kindergarten teacher in Boston, MA. Dianne was then able to combine her love of teaching and music as the founding music teacher for a K-8 charter school. She was drawn to the Bay Area by friends and family, and the opportunity to help build the Khan Lab School as the music and wellness teacher. Dianne is passionate about coaching students to embrace their curiosity, wonder, and imagination, and to foster a lifelong love of learning. She is so excited to join the music department at SFFS, and eagerly looking forward to meeting students as well as the community!

Alissa Kinney-Moe, Director of Communications: On June 6, we'll welcome Alissa Kinney-Moe as our new Director of Communications. Alissa is no stranger to schools: she started her career as a high school history teacher at Emma Willard School in upstate NY, and later found her true calling in school communications, first at the Nightingale-Bamford School in New York and later at University High School here in San Francisco. After a brief stint in Atlanta, Alissa is looking forward to returning to the Bay Area with her husband and two young sons. 

Andrea Snyder, Second Grade Teacher: We are very excited to be welcoming Andrea Snyder to our SFFS community, and to the Lower School team as our new second grade lead teacher. Andrea will be working alongside Anhvu Buchanan next year as they build on the great work that the team has developed. Andrea is a seasoned educator, having taught many grades from fifth to kindergarten. She has been working at international schools for the past seven years in London and most recently Hanoi, where she further developed ways of bringing peaceful conflict resolution, global perspectives, stewardship, and responsibility to the classroom, which ties in beautifully with Quaker values. Originally from Philadelphia, she has also lived in Nashville and Atlanta, and taught for several years at Packer Collegiate School in NYC. Andrea was really searching for the “right next step” for her career, and a home in San Francisco and at Friends felt right, almost right away. She sees herself as an advocate for children, and we know that her deep pedagogical background will contribute so much to our team. Andrea loves fresh air, hiking and baking, so we are confident she has made the best choice in coming to SF. Moving here from Hanoi this summer is no small feat, so we are already working on helping her land on her feet once she arrives. We know she will be a great addition to our school and community.