Mike swings by my office a few times a week, busts through the door and yells, “Trace! Coffee?” I used to look at the clock, figure out if I had time to walk to Mission Beach Cafe, look for my wallet—now I just get up and go. The five-minute walk to Mission Beach is not only a fun time to connect about important things like which one of our heroes we will be for the Blue Party, but it’s a time to connect about more challenging things that come up, too. The most important reason to go these days is to connect with our neighborhood community—the crew at Mission Beach. They know that Mike likes a coffee in the morning and a mocha in the afternoon; they know that I require a low-fat tea latte, a drink that I love, but am too embarrassed to order in earshot of others. They offer us high fives and advice that one can only gain from devoting time to human connection.
Recently one of our favorite baristas at Mission Beach, Brian, was telling us that he used to go to circus school. This is where I would normally have tuned out and thought, “I’m way too busy for this.” But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Mike this year, it’s that moments like this are when you need to tune in, not out. Brian goes on to explain circus school and that his trapeze teacher was this inspiring fellow who would always tell his students, “When you are letting go of one trapeze bar and have not yet caught the next, you need to ‘commit to the air.’” Mike and I looked at each other as if to acknowledge silently the golden nugget of advice Brian just delivered to us.
On our walk back to school, we talked about how we might apply this nugget to our day ahead. I figured I’d try to apply it to my biggest challenge—revising our daily school schedule. We know that our schedule, particularly our middle school schedule, does not reflect the way we want to spend our time; it doesn’t support teacher collaboration and it keeps our students moving, too quickly, throughout their day. I dare any of you to shadow a middle schooler through the school day and not fall flat on your face by 3:15pm. At Friends we’ve known we want a less siloed approach to time, but we’ve been unsure how to create exactly that. How could I commit to the air regarding scheduling? I could reach out to Ross Peters.
Ross is a guy who has a really informative and entertaining blog about education, music and travel. He is the Head of School at St. George’s Independent School in Tennessee and in addition to being a great writer, he has also guided a number of independent schools through a very successful schedule redesign.
I emailed Ross Peters and crossed my fingers he’d agree to a phone call. His blog posts and videos all pointed to someone who really understood leadership, community, school life, and time. Ross called me back and offered nugget after nugget of information and advice—take all administrators off of the committee, small change is just as hard as big change, and once the committee puts forth a schedule, close the door to the old schedule—no going back. He might as well quit his job and join the team at Mission Beach. His words not only made me feel confident that we could build a schedule on our own, but he convinced me that doing the work of building the schedule together, as a community, would be the single thing that made the schedule successful. The work is not just about the final product, but it’s about trusting the process and bringing people along.
Nick, Courtney, Amabelle, Jodi, Jason, Jennifer S., and David are leading us in redesigning time at San Francisco Friends School. They’ve been given just two criteria from the administration team:
- To deepen student engagement and offer more applied experiences in the interest of enriched understanding, the schedule should offer experiences less hurried and fragmented and more robust in coherence, depth, and application in all aspects of learning.
- In order to create an optimal culture and learning environment for students, the schedule should further support the development and collaborative engagement of the professional community.
The rest is up to them. They will be interviewing teachers, parents, and students, all while visiting schools and companies to look closely at their uses of time. We will implement a new schedule, designed solely by our own team, for the 2019-2020 school year. You’ll be hearing more from all of us in the coming months. And while we don’t exactly know where this work will lead us or what the 2019-2020 schedule will look like, we do know one thing: at this point, we’ve fully committed to the air.
The SFFS Equity and Inclusion Committee (E&I Committee) is a parent led committee comprised of members from various constituencies of the school community. The group meets monthly and provides input and feedback on a variety of initiatives intended to enhance our school's equity and inclusion efforts, with particular focus on parent education.
At the Table (ATT), a sub-committee of E&I, hosts a handful of Thursday morning parent ed events throughout the year. Over coffee, ATT aims to provide opportunities for parents to discuss how we talk to our children about topics that may be challenging to discuss. The hope is to have a chance for parents to connect to both build and sustain a school community that is inclusive, safe, and nurturing for all.
On February 1st, ATT had a parent gathering facilitated by parents Andrea Hartsough and SFFS Mental Health Specialist Katherine Preston to ponder the question of how we talk to our kids about race. Guest teachers Robelene Novero (fourth grade lead teacher) and Jasmine Redmond (middle school teaching assistant) shared about some of their recent classwork that turned a critical lens towards race and racial bias.
In the fourth grade classroom, Robelene shared the most successful conversations about race. These came about organically, initiated by the students themselves and fueled by their genuine curiosity. At this age, noticing differences between yourself and your peers is natural and developmentally appropriate. These differences are something to be celebrated, Robelene insists.
To steer such young students towards healthy and positive identity development, everyone is encouraged to look within themselves and consider: “What makes us look at the world through a different lens?” To support this introspection, Robelene stocks a diverse bookshelf that features perspectives from around the world. Particularly popular this year is The Hijab Boutique by Michelle Khan.
Jasmine recently held a guest lesson in eighth grade humanities that asked students a complex, potentially discomforting question: Can African-Americans appropriate African culture? Further, how do we recognize instances of cultural appropriation? What differentiates appropriation from appreciation? Students explored cultural symbolism within the novel This Side of Home, paying particularly close attention to the image of the Sankofa, a Ghanian bird representing the idea of return.
Parents shared many thoughts and strategies for speaking with our kids about race. What follows is some wisdom that was shared:
- If conversation with your child doesn’t go the way you had hoped, other opportunities will come up. When a parent wants to have a talk with their child, it is often more effective to ask a guiding question, rather than attempting to inform them of something.
- Engaging a child in what they notice or observe may actually open space for a conversation. With your guidance, students learn that conversations about race do not need to be burdensome or scary - it can be a discovery of who they are and what makes them special.
- We try not to create a sense of fear; we have fun with conversations about race. Students don’t need to have the same ties to conversations about race that we do, especially the negative connotations.
Our next ATT will be Thursday, March 8th, from 8:30-9:30am in the Meeting Room, facilitated by SFFS parent Andrea Hartsough and SFFS Mental Health Specialist Katherine Preston, LMFT. We will be facilitating a follow up to the February 1st conversation. We welcome newcomers, so please join us!
As part of our long-term commitment to the career of educators, Friends School provides an opportunity to apply for what we call our "mini-sabbatical" program. The mini-
sabbatical offers a teacher a short time away to pursue an area of professional inspiration, and to research and practice outside of the footprint of the regular school day.
As many of you may have heard from your children, music teacher Kent Jue is the recipient of a mini-sabbatical this year, and he is currently off on deep dive into choral music for the next three weeks.
Our long time performing arts substitute teacher (and also an SFFS parent), Jennifer Perfilio, will be stepping in during this time to cover Kent's classes. She and Kent have collaborated and planned together, and Jennifer is now serving as a "professional guest teacher," delivering some of the same aspects of Kent's music program in K-8, but also offering a unique experience during this period, focusing on choral movement. Kent returns after February break, on March 2nd. Friends School thanks you, Jennifer!
A few years ago, as part of their study on homelessness, our eighth graders read an article in the Chronicle about Dede Tisone. Overwhelmed by the homelessness crisis here in our city,
Dede decided to use her art as a way to raise awareness and inspire positive action. We invited Dede to speak to our eighth graders about her work. It was powerful for them to hear her passion and purpose. From this, we wondered if we would be able to share her artwork with our school community.
This curiosity has turned into reality. Caren Andrews, who along with Jennifer Stuart, curate our second floor community art space, and have coordinated with Dede to display her work for the next several weeks. While installing her artwork in our second floor gallery space, we asked Dede what she feels is important about her work. She said, “It is my intention to have the art viewing audience take a close look at what we avoid looking at on the streets of San Francisco. By elevating what we find uncomfortable, I hope to raise awareness while raising funds for a cause I care deeply about.”
Dede’s work is for sale with all proceeds going to Food Runners, an organization that picks up leftover or extra food from businesses, churches, non-profits, etc. and delivers them to shelters or pantries serving those experiencing homelessness. Additionally, Dede’s art is a teaching tool for our students. This exhibit is an example of how art, social justice, and action intertwine and intersect. Dede’s artwork shines a light on injustice and empowers others to make a difference.
Please take the time to come into school to visit this exhibit in our second floor gallery.
Each year, students focus on a service topic for a year long study: immigration, public accessibility, natural disaster relief, and more. Recently our school has been putting in lots of time and effort into these topics. The eighth grade has lobbied at City Hall for ADA compliant playgrounds, raised over $40,000 for fire relief, gone to conferences with Bill Nye about minimizing our carbon footprint. We have also spent ten days in Nicaragua volunteering for community projects.
This year, eighth graders have been focusing on homelessness. Our work includes biweekly visits to the Gubbio Project, baking for At the Crossroads, and holding seminars that discuss our interests of actions.
Last Thursday, five students attended “Solving Homelessness,” a community workshop. Hosted by Friends School neighbors the Impact Hub SF, it was organized by The San Francisco Public Press. SFFS first grade parent Abigail Stewart-Kahn was also there to share her work with the city’s new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
This workshop focused on possible solutions to end homelessness within San Francisco. Upon entry, we were given name tags and handed bags with a reporter’s journal, articles on homelessness, and brochures. We came into an open room occupied by about 150 audience members, some formerly experiencing homelessness, radio producers, designers, and journalists. We were the only students.
How would you feel if you were ignored every minute of every day? We as an eighth grade are working towards revealing shared humanity between ourselves and people experiencing homelessness...
As the five of us took our seats in the swivel chairs that were scattered about the room, we noticed a man sitting in the row in front of us with a bearded dragon perched on his shoulder. Sitting next to us was a woman named Joy that told us about her nonprofit and who kept striking up conversations with different neighbors. The room of strangers most definitely made for a strong community that we could feel and made us want to take action. People buzzed around, taking food and drinks from the counter and mentioning how great it was that children were attending.
The workshop consisted of many panels, presentations, and brainstorming solution sessions, but we thought it fit to share our favorite parts of the workshop—possible solutions towards solving homelessness and a panel of people experiencing homeless that were willing to share their stories and experiences.
SFFS eighth grader Jiya said, “It feels odd to me to discuss an issue about someone without them being there. Hearing their stories motivated me further to want to help solve homelessness.”
Riley, also from SFFS, agreed, “I loved this workshop. I never thought that I would hear these things at an event like this—I assumed that we would listen to ideas from (a not very diverse set of) people who have never experienced homelessness.”
First-hand stories also made the experience of homelessness easier to empathize with. The speakers gave homelessness faces. There was Daniel, a guitarist with his bearded dragon Jupiter; JR, an art teacher for 13 years who lost his job when he was hospitalized; Cooper, a firefighter disabled on the job who lived in Diamond Heights and drove an Audi; and Moses, who spent twenty years on the streets of San Francisco. Homelessness suddenly felt more relatable—something that could happen to anyone, even us.
Another SFFS eighth grader, Dexter, said: “After listening to all of the presenters, I noticed this event had people of all races and genders; some homeless, some not. The variety really helped me get perspective and ideas on homelessness as a whole. I think that we all got more information that we expected and it really broadened our perspective.”
“We have to deal with invisibility,” was one line that really stood out to us. How would you feel if you were ignored every minute of every day? We as an eighth grade are working towards revealing shared humanity between ourselves and people experiencing homelessness, but hearing from a person living on the street that they feel invisible is so much more heartbreaking than hearing it from a teacher who as never had the experience of experiencing invisibility.
It was not only this quote that planted a seed for action in our hearts but many others as well, including, “Every step back feels like a mile and every step up feels like a quarter of an inch.” When JR said this and talked about substance abuse, we all knew that we needed to help make change.
When one of the brave panelists said that “human needs should be human rights,” there was a moment in the crowd when everybody pondered over what had been said. We were all at the workshop to make an impact, but why wasn’t anything being done?
“That is the problem with society. We are human, not things to be stepped on,” chirped in Daniel.
So how can we solve it?
Throughout the workshop, many ideas were mentioned. The first initiative shared was proposed by Ken Fisher, a film producer. The system was labeled as “Universal Basic Income.” UBI would be a dividend paid from government taxes and oil drilling profits to American citizens. In case of any financial instability within banks, the money would be paid in cash.
Despite the fact that Universal Basic Income is an ideal for San Franciscans, it’s real if you live in Alaska. Fisher’s strategy to solve homelessness was based on Alaska’s UBI system, which gives out around $1,000 per year per citizen. However, it had been set at $2,000, but because of oil production suddenly slowing down, this was recently cut down to only half. Universal Basic Income has also been run (experimentally and permanently) in the Netherlands, Finland, and Kenya. There are different opinions on if UBI has been working out well for its recipients, but it’s a fairly widespread thought that Universal Basic Income is somewhat idealistic.
Another proposed solution was “Village for Community.” Village for Community was brought up by architect Charles Durrett and was based off of Opportunity Village in Eugene, Oregon. The village would be made of tiny homes built by people experiencing homelessness and volunteers. Each village would have thirty housing units and was estimated to cost $420,000 as a whole. This makes the units $14,000 each.
With all of these stories, experiences, and possible solutions, we as a group of five reflected on our time and came to understand how meaningful our experience had been.
This workshop was insightful, informative, and eye-opening for us. After the workshop, we thought of homelessness as an issue that was more than statistics. Those experiencing homelessness are real people with personalities and lifestyles, and it motivated us to become a part of the solution.
For the past four years Hilary Palanza has led our K-8 dance program. From first graders dancing with our neighbors at the Francis of Assisi Community to seventh graders choreographing their own dance creations, Hilary has taught a broad range of students and styles. She carried on the lovely Friends School tradition of our end-of-the-year buddy dance with Kindergartners and our graduating eighth graders. Hilary has also been one of the few that works with every student in our school! She adopted a program that was still young, and has added her own flare and energy to it, helping it grow and flourish.
We’re deeply grateful for her collaboration in working with multiple teams and teachers, her flexibility with spaces and schedules, and her commitment to bringing out the dancer in all of us.
For the past year she has also been pursuing a Masters in public policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, focusing particularly on how to support and advocate for the arts. This passion has evolved into her next project where she’ll be working on her long-held dream to develop and open the first ever interactive dance museum! Hilary shared, “I cannot help but feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the San Francisco Friends School. The opportunity to articulate and grow the dance program and teach such a wide range of abilities and ages continues to help me grow as an artist, teacher, and friend.”
This is a bittersweet good bye. We’re sad to see her leave Friends School after this school year ends, but excited to hear about her big plans. We wish her the best in her next chapter, and have launched a search to fill her dancing shoes.
We suspect that many of you are considering technology devices for holiday gifts this season and thought it might be a good time to revisit some of the work around technology at San Francisco Friends School. SFFS continues to adopt a measured approach to rolling out new technology and to be attentive to the usage of the tech we already have. Our hope is to avoid gimmicky gadgets and try to meaningfully use technology as a tool for teaching and learning.
...there is healthy food and there is junk food. We don’t want to get rid of all of the food. We want to keep the nourishing bits.
The Quaker tenet of Simplicity is often at odds with 21st century life. Threshing with the complexity of 21st century distractions and harnessing the core value of a tool is hard work! And, this wrestling is—in many ways—a defining characteristic of this generation students and our school. At school we often describe technology consumption with a food analogy: there is healthy food and there is junk food. We don’t want to get rid of all of the food. We want to keep the nourishing bits. I guess we are all waiting for an Alice Waters ‘California Cuisine’ inspired moment when we can appreciate the tasty wholesome stuff and recognize the junk food for what it is. We all indulge in the occasional sweet, but the whole foods help us thrive.
One of the standout technology (junk food) concerns at school, and probably home, are digital distractions. It is nearly impossible for a classroom teacher or parent to compete with Youtube! We know that media companies exist to captivate our time and attention. To address this we are building on a strong foundation of digital citizenship curriculum that promotes responsible student behavior with technology. We are pleased that our Quaker values translate to the digital realm and we are working hard to leverage them for continued responsible use. Yet, we also recognize that digital devices have an undeniable ability to pull our time and attention in unproductive ways. Admittedly, many of us tech committee members and faculty struggle with efficient use of technology in our professional and personal lives.
Some of you may have heard about “Net-ref.” In order to help our Middle School students focus, we have introduced a pilot of a tool called Net-ref. Our Middle School faculty can use Net-ref to monitor network usage and help students avoid online distractions. If needed, our faculty can temporarily put students in a “Focus” mode which limits access to a few dozen core academic (wholesome food) websites. Students can request to be put into a “Focus” mode or faculty can review their data and nudge them into “Focus” if deemed necessary. So far, we have found that Net-ref works pretty well. A key to the Net-ref pilot’s success has been communicating to our students that we can and will “pull the internet plug” when it seems helpful.
Perhaps a similar approach could be useful in your home? I have previously tested two consumer products with similar functionality. Several vendors have made tools with parental control features, such as Disney’s “Circle” and Google’s “Wifi” *(both ~$100.00). They both have a small hardware box that provide a lot of utility. They allow parents to control the type of content (e.g. block hate groups, violence, etc.) and the time that internet is available. This makes it easy to “pull the internet plug” at bedtime for all of the children's devices in the house. Both devices are pretty flexible with time extensions (easy to temporarily extend the cut-off time in 15 minutes increments). And, also worth sharing that the setup is not much more complex than plugging in a wireless router.
So, if you are adding more digital devices at home this holiday season, please consider a tool to help manage them. Having a similar strategy at school and home may go a long ways in both locations. We hope that having a similar technology conversation and tools at home will be helpful with you managing your family's relationship with the wholesome food version of technology and media. We look forward to continuing this conversation and sharing additional resources in the near future.
Last year, the school year ended with my seventh grade class going to city hall to lobby for more accessible playgrounds. I was in the District 7 group, and we met in our district supervisor's office to share our ideas. We asked to replace one of the swings on the set with an accessible one that had a back and buckle. We also asked to replace the sand all around the playground with a squishy rubber surface so that people who are using wheelchairs or walkers could access the playground. Norman Yee, our supervisor, seemed attentive, though not very open to our ideas. But, later he followed up and emailed us information about some people who could possibly make these things happen. To our surprise, they followed up in the summer, emailing us to ask if we could meet at the park to discuss the changes.
Although my fellow classmates in the District 7 group couldn’t find time to meet, I decided to go to the Miraloma Park Improvement Club myself to learn about changing the playground at Miraloma Elementary to make it more accessible for kids (and parents) with disabilities. This is very important to me because I’ve seen how access and issues like these can affect people with disabilities.
My brother, Logan, used to attend Miraloma Elementary (he graduated last year). His disability doesn’t affect his mind at all, but it affects other muscles. He can’t walk, so it was sometimes a challenge for him to play with his friends after school, especially when they wanted to play in that playground. The school was very supportive of him and his needs. It’s a public school, so they provided classroom aids for him and lots of other resources. But, the playground has sand and other surfaces that he couldn’t get on to, so he sometimes couldn’t play with his friends, and this was very isolating.
Even though he has since graduated from Miraloma, I still wanted to make a change for other kids that may be experiencing the same situation. I met with the Miraloma Park Improvement Club, a group that includes Geoffrey Coffey and Daniel Homsey. I wanted to make some changes to the playground to improve the access, like replacing some of the sand with a rubber surface and making the new addition of an accessible swing.
It was a very casual meeting, but Mr. Coffey and Mr. Homsey said they would try to change it and they would do something about it. They told me they would keep me posted with details and new developments, and invite me to any meetings they had on the subject of access in the playground.
I hope those changes are made, and that some people’s lives will change, if only in what seems to be a small way, for the better.
This school year, Friends School has ushered in an array of STEM-related events and, we hope, strong new traditions. Middle school math teachers Kelsey Barbella, Diali Bose-Roy, and David Louis organized our first ever “Taking Chances with Friends,” a series of probability games that connected middle school students of all grade levels. More events are on the horizon through December, with a PA Meeting on Wednesday, Nov 29 that will focus on lower school science and middle school math. More details can be found below.
Taking Chances with Friends
Last week, middle school students enjoyed a math experience called "Taking Chances with Friends," investigating and exploring probability beyond the normal classroom experience. The event lasted two hours and integrated sports, simulations, science, and technology. In the gym, students calculated experimental probability as fellow students shot hoops on the basketball court or played cornhole. Other games that flooded the halls and classrooms incorporated throwing giant dice and predicting outcomes, such as in the game "horse racing." Another probability game included "catch and release," a simulation of taking random "samples" of fish from a lake. All students had a chance to host games as well as play each other's games. It was a great community building activity for the entire middle school.
This month we launched our annual series of “Math Mornings” in the lower school. Parents are invited to drop in to join their child’s classroom for math games that reflect some of the problem solving that students have been working on throughout the school year. Up next: Friday, Dec 8, third grade teachers Jake Ban and Amabelle Sze will hold a math morning from 8:30-9am. On Friday, Jan 12, second grade teachers Anhvu Buchanan and Jessie Radowitz will hold a math morning from 8:30-9am; and on Thursday, Jan 18, Kindergarten teachers Noah Bowling and Nick McGrane will hold hold a math morning from 8:30-9am.
PA Meeting: Focus on math and science curriculum
Parents are invited to a special PA meeting on Wednesday, Nov 29, from 6-8pm in the Meeting Room. Lower school teachers Rich Oberman and Courtney Wilde will highlight new lower school science projects and learnings from the year thus far. In addition, the middle school math team will take parents on a tour of the curriculum from blocks to algebra, highlighting a newer approach to teaching mathematics this year.
Hour of Code
At Friends, we choose to carefully integrate technology as a learning tool that complements our curricular goals. The lower school faculty’s inquiry and constructivist based approaches to teaching have also influenced how technology is used in the curriculum. One example of our evolving technology integration is a national program called the Hour of Code, hosted by Technology Integrator Beth Espinoza and lower school librarian Suzanne Geller. During Computer Science week in December, all K-4 students will take part in the Hour of Code, which gives students exposure to various programs that offer the initial steps of programming and coding: putting together instructions, conditionals, and loops. Students will work with a collaborative partner to troubleshoot commands and strategize mazes. Check out these resources to explore some great coding apps at home.
"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid." ~Albert Einstein
On the evening of Tuesday, December 5th, SFFS parents will have a unique opportunity to participate in a free "Experience Dyslexia" workshop. Developed by the International Dyslexia Association, Northern California (IDA Nor Cal), this 90-minute interactive workshop simulates the challenges of reading, writing and listening comprehension that can accompany dyslexia.
Parents who have done the simulation say it was a helpful experience to get them back in touch with what it's like to learn something new, and how hard it can be! So if your child has a learning difference, or just struggles with learning something new on occasion, this is a wonderful opportunity for parents to both challenge their brains and have an experience that could help deepen their understanding of their child's learning experience.
This workshop may be especially of interest to parents of kindergartners, first and second graders as it is often during these years that learning differences, including dyslexia, are discovered.
Frances Dickson, SFFS Developmental Support Coordinator and Learning Special for grades K-4, as well as Mitch Neuger, SFFS Learning Specialist for grades 5-8, helped develop the most recently revised workshop for the IDA Northern California. We encourage you to check out this video from the IDA Nor Cal (featuring Frances!) to get a first hand look at what parents say about the workshop and to learn more.
The Learning Support Alliance (a PA Committee) and the SFFS Developmental Support Department are excited to bring this opportunity to you and we hope you will join us on December 5, from 6-8pm in Room 234 for this exciting opportunity of the "Experience Dyslexia" simulation workshop.
Unfortunately, we can only accommodate 30 people, so please reserve your spot on the parent wiki soon. This event is only for adults; free childcare will be provided for SFFS students.