SFFS alum Alexander Hirji '18 was a big hit with our 6th-Graders last week when he Zoomed in to talk with them about his involvement with the San Francisco Youth Commission. Alexander encouraged our students to "participate in democracy even if they can't [yet] vote," and our Friends left the conversation inspired about ways they can get involved in their local community and political scene.
SFFS alum Alexander Hirji '18 was a big hit with our 6th-Graders last week when he Zoomed in to talk with them about his involvement with the San Francisco Youth Commission. crediting Director of High School Transition and 8th Grade Advisor Kristen Daniel for encouraging he and his classmates to apply. 6th Grade Advisor and Humanities Teacher Evelyn Florin shared that Alexander recounted the awakening of his own activism in the spring of his 8th Grade year at Friends, when gun control was a prominent issue. That year, he and a number of classmates participated in a walkout from school; he remembers the action being a pivotal moment for him. 6th-Graders connected with his comments after recently studying civil disobedience during the fight for the 19th Amendment.
Evelyn noted that Alexander also engaged with 6th-Graders on the topic of Prop G, which would give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in local San Francisco elections. Our 6th-Graders were particularly interested in this topic, as they just wrapped up a series of debates on the issue. On November 3, Prop G was narrowly voted down, though Alexander noted that he strongly supported it.
Alexander ultimately recommended that 6th-Graders start getting involved in their communities now, and noted that participating in Board of Supervisor meetings or city department meetings is easier than ever in the days of COVID, as these gatherings are all taking place online. He encouraged them to "participate in democracy even if they can't [yet] vote."
Debriefing with a small group of students this afternoon, Evelyn said that many of our 6th-Graders agreed that they were so impressed to learn how involved Alexander is in municipal government, even at the age of 16.
Major thanks to Alexander for participating in this talk with the 6th Grade—connecting with alumni is so meaningful for our Friends, and we so appreciate it when our alums take the time to come back for a visit (even over Zoom)!
Last fall, we launched Among Friends, a biannual, digital magazine for the SFFS community, with an inaugural issue that came out in November. As we began to gear up for the spring issue in February, we decided on "connection" as a theme—and how appropriate that theme became as our campus closed the face of a global pandemic and we found ourselves grappling with both distance learning and maintaining the bonds of our community without having 250 Valencia as a gathering space.
In the Spring/Summer issue of Among Friends, which you can read here, you'll find an inspiring first-hand account of faculty collaboration, a treasure trove of book recommendations from Friends and colleagues, reflections on how we've endeavored to stay connected to one another throughout this strange time, and a Q&A from one of our recent Class of 2020 graduates who recently won an award for his first foray into documentary filmmaking, among other stories.
We hope you enjoy, and that you get involved with this publication, which has the power to become an important point of connection for our SFFS community! If you have an idea for a story, an alumnus we should profile, or a class note to submit (we always welcome more class notes!), please reach out to Alissa (director of communications) at email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!
This summer we are honoring your children's love of books by bringing you some TLLC: Take-Out from the Library Learning Commons! The program will start THIS Friday, June 26!
Here's how it will work:
- Select books, either from the summer resource reading lists we provided at the end of the school year OR from our Friends School LLC catalog, and search for books you and your child(ren) would like to read. See something you want but it is out? We can put it on hold for you.
- Email Suzanne for K–4 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Jason for 5–8 (email@example.com) with your "orders" by midnight on Thursday.
- We will pack up your bag of books (up to 10!) on Friday morning.*
- Pull up in the carpool lane or park and come to the gate at the yard between 12:00–2:00 p.m. on Friday for pick-up! (Due to COVID-19 restraints on building access and hours, the Friday 12:00–2:00 p.m. window is the only available pick-up time.)
- You may also return books from the past few months (as well as summertime checkouts) during the Friday pick-up time.
TLLC will be available every Friday through the summer (unless otherwise noted). It is important for families to note that things were a bit rushed during COVID closure, and we handed out books to some people without checking them out. Because of this, the catalog may say that a title is available, but it may actually be checked out; we'll let you know if it turns out that one of your requests is not actually on the shelves.
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. This year, I reached out to colleagues for some insight about our departures. The quotes you will read below are from unnamed faculty members who have years and decades of collaborative experience with our departing colleagues. I hope their words help convey a fraction of the debt we owe them as instructional leaders and community members. 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.
MIDDLE SCHOOL GOODBYES:
by Clarke Weatherspoon
Christopher departs Friends after two years of teaching in the Middle School Humanities Department and acting as an advisor in both the 6th and 7th Grades. Christopher is a thought leader who cares deeply about people and justice. One colleague notes that “Christopher is passionate about advocating for kids.” Another peer expressed a similar sentiment: “Christopher can be an advocate for the underdog, reaching out to help a student who is troubled or struggling with an issue.” He is currently completing a term as a member of our Steering Committee on Equity and Inclusion, and he has continually pushed the group to thoughtfully consider the details that will allow us to be most effective in reaching our goals.
Christopher is also known for his critical and incisive academic work. He is deeply committed to creating meaningful content. A fellow faculty member noted that: “Christopher always seeks out resources that help me expand my curriculum—he's always leaving books in my room that support what I am teaching.” His capacity to partner with and lead others is born out of his “intellectual curiosity and passion about language and history. His sensitivity comes across so clearly and engagingly in class and in morning meetings.” Christopher’s presence and dry sense of humor are also notable and appreciated; he is never afraid to speak up, and his contributions are always from the heart.
On Christopher’s leaving, one Friend put it simply: “I got to say, I love the guy and will really miss him.”
by Clarke Weatherspoon
We also say goodbye to David Louis, who came to Friends as a founding member of the Middle School and has played a key role in shaping the math program and overall school culture at SFFS, in addition to being a lead 8th Grade advisor. David is a community leader, SFFS parent and meticulous communicator. He is also a baseball fanatic and master teacher.
David's capacity for leadership seemingly comes from his quiet confidence and understanding of what matters most. A Math Department colleague said of him: “David always brought me back to reality and reminded me that teaching was one of the most challenging and respectable professions out there.” Another collaborator noted that “David is the epitome of the Quaker catchphrase, ‘love and trust.’ With students you can witness this as he crafts class discussions and draws on individuals' strengths in order to create a rich and elegant flow.” “David is generous with his time and heart—always willing to give more time to students and colleagues and offer real praise or tough feedback in a loving way, whichever is needed.” Through years of developing classes, teaching teachers, and supporting students, David has remained humble. “He's willing to help with everything—moving furniture, writing reports, solving math problems—and he is constantly working to make his own practice better.”
The departure of a teacher like David is an important and pivotal moment in the life of a school. “David’s high standards, coupled with his warmth are part of what makes him such an incredible educator, role model, and friend. David is authentic with students and colleagues alike. He is creative, kind, and trustworthy as they come.” We are all grateful for the time, energy, presence, and wisdom that David has brought to our school. He has inspired a generation of students and teachers (including many SFFS alumni who have decided they wanted to pursue teaching because of David’s influence), and he has helped to make Friends an educational leader in our city. We wish him luck and rest as he moves into retirement.
MIDDLE SCHOOL WELCOMES:
Elissa “Lissie” McAlvey
Lissie will join the SFFS faculty as the 8th Grade math teacher in August. Lissie joins Friends after five years at the Nueva School. A native of Michigan, she brings a host of skills and experiences to Friends. Among her previous responsibilities at Nueva, Lissie served as a grade level dean, scheduler, and equity and inclusion leader. She was also an official Equity and Inclusion Representative for the middle school and the leader of Girls Adventure in Math, which helps young women get more involved in the realm of mathematics and leadership. Lissie is fluent in Spanish and brings experience as a collegiate basketball player to 250 Valencia. We are excited to bring in a curious, mathematical thinker to help us in the next chapter of designing meaningful learning experiences at Friends. We look forward to Lissie joining us in the fall.
Gabby returns for a second tenure as the interim middle school art teacher. Gabby was last with us in the 2014–2015 school year and returns to rekindle and deepen meaningful bonds with the community. Gabby holds a MFA from UC Irvine and has extensive experience in youth arts education, advocacy, and engagement. Gabby has taught at UC Irvine, the Oxbow School, and Millennium School, and has served as a Board member of Dhamma Dena Mediation Center since 2018. In addition, Gabby served as a Board member and as Program and Outreach Coordinator for Bay Area Girls Rock Camp. Gabby brings experience as an independent artist, lecturer, published author, and inspiring leader back(!) to SFFS. Welcome home, Gabby!
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
[excerpted from Mike Hanas and Andrew Salverda’s letter announcing Andrew’s departure this past fall]
… 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....
… 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.
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.
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
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.
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."