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Middle School

Eighth Graders Attend Community Workshop on Solving Homelessness

Thursday, February 1, 2018
Abigail Stewart-Kahn (far left) and the eighth grade attendees.

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.

Fond Farewell to Hilary

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

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. 

A reminder about technology use this holiday season

Friday, December 15, 2017

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.


Getting My Voice Heard About Accessibility at My Local Park

Monday, December 11, 2017

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.

New and upcoming STEM events at SFFS

Monday, November 20, 2017

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.

Math Mornings
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.

Parents can experience what it's like to have dyslexia in workshop

Monday, November 20, 2017

"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.


SFFS School Trips: A Photo Essay Brought to You by the Annual Fund

Thursday, November 16, 2017

We believe education provides our children with important building blocks they will use for the rest of their lives. At Friends, that education is grounded in the Quaker values of reflection, integrity, peaceful problem-solving, and stewardship. The Annual Fund is the woven into the fabric of a Friends education, touching every student, every day. Gifts to the Annual Fund help make class trips possible, support maintenance and upgrades of our facility, and support our incredible faculty as they work to meet our students where they are in and outside of the classroom.

For five days this past September, eighth graders journeyed into the Ansel Adams Wilderness area of the Inyo and Sierra National Forests. For many, it was their first backpacking experience, and one they’ll likely never forget. The 55 students joined 10 faculty and wilderness guides. Reflecting on the trip, one student noted: “Sleeping outside made me realize why people spend weeks on end away from their houses, and take time exploring the world, the mountains, lakes, and rivers. It seems like time is at a standstill, there is no deadline or due date, it’s just a place to be calm and free.”

Thank you to all of you who contribute to the Annual Fund and support enriching experiences such as these. Below are just a few snapshots this year’s eighth grade Sierras trip.

One group of eighth graders hiked more than 13 miles over the course of five days!


Weather experienced: thunder, lightening, rain, hail, snow, and lots of sun!


Wildlife spotted: deer, dragonflies, fish, and a marmot!​


Highest elevation reached: 10,000 ft (Timber Knob)


"I don't think I'll ever do this again, but I'm so glad I did it." - Eighth grade student


"Keeping calm and carrying on" in middle school

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fresh off mini-lessons about power foods and sleep hygiene, seventh and eighth grade advisories are currently learning about mental well-being. The goal is to expand a kid's toolbox of coping mechanisms in response to stressful situations. Recent events have produced what many term the "bad news blues" or "disaster fatigue" for both adults and kids. Reminding kids (and ourselves) to monitor and limit intake of news feeds and alerts and to focus on some of the good news can help alleviate stress and anxiety. Mister Rogers wisely counseled his young viewers to "look for the helpers" when something bad happens. Sound advice. This recent New York Times piece is a good reminder for adults of how to cope.

Last week, seventh and eighth graders discussed how stress has changed for them since fifth and sixth grade and also considered the roles of positive vs. negative stress. They also engaged in conversation about effective and ineffective ways to cope. Seventh grader Lucy L. noted that "People are nicer now, but homework and classwork is harder."

Pat E., also a seventh grader, described his positive stress as a feeling of "excitement and adrenaline." Discussions in advisories revealed that, for some students, social stress has increased, as has a fear of "not being successful." Pat shared that the most effective way he deals with negative stress is "to talk with peers and grownups." He added, "The least effective way is keeping it in."

Charlie B. added that he copes by thinking "about how there are a lot of people who have better reasons to feel stressed than I do." He also noted that "being violent isn't effective."

In the coming weeks, seventh and eighth grade advisories will be talking through some typically stressful middle school scenarios to determine what might be the best coping strategy: avoid, adapt, alter, or accept. We'll also experiment with some stress reduction techniques proven to provide relief. We're doing our best in advisory to give students strategies to nurture a "keep calm and carry on" mindset!


Red State Blue State

Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Jodi (bottom, second from right) and her eighth grade class 

Teens from SF and Oklahoma City build bridges

Waking up on November 9th in San Francisco, I felt unprepared to teach that day. How were we going to move forward as one country with such a palpable divide? In a search for understanding, I posted a call for pen pals, one that read like a dating ad: "Blue State students looking for Red State pen pals."

With the help of some colleagues and handy listserves, we found a willing partner to begin a correspondence with Friends School eighth graders by winter break. Below is my window into the exchange.

The first letters from Oklahoma arrive. “She’s me!” a student calls out noting that her pen pal is also a dancer, loves Christmas, has a sister and is 14. We laugh as another shares a part of his letter, a letter that states, numerous times, that “nothing ever happens in Oklahoma.” We learn the names of far-away pets, names like Oliver and Ruckus. We hear sadness and anger at the loss of Kevin Durant to the Warriors and a bit of joy from one student who insists that he isn’t even any good.

They read on and the room sobers. Now our pen pals are dipping into serious topics; they describe their beliefs in their right to own guns and the necessity of the death penalty. They share their value of honesty, hard work and effort. Some talk about the importance of family.

Eighteen students gather in a circle to discuss. We note the shared values, but reflect on how those values seem different when looked through a conservative or a liberal lens. We are struck by how many are undecided as to whether they identify as conservative or liberal; how some even have one Republican parent and one Democrat. A student asks the class whether here, in this liberal school in the liberal city of San Francisco, they would be able to respect and to listen to a classmate who believed in President Trump and no one has an answer. Another worries that few of them can even explain why they believe the liberal things they do.

I feel gratitude to the teacher who answered our school’s call for pen pals. For the first time since the election, I feel some semblance of hope. We write back immediately.

One student cries on my couch at break. I am wondering if I was naive in thinking that teenagers could find a way through the country’s divide. It is a while before we feel ready to write back.

A second round of letters! This time, more individual personalities take shape. It is clear that the students from Oklahoma do not all think the same way. A Jehovah’s Witness admits that she lacks confidence and doesn’t like to discuss politics. One student writes about unborn babies and how he is “obviously pro-life” because he thinks “it is wrong to murder a child before it is born,” and how he also loves to watch “The Walking Dead.”

The pen pals share that they can relate to being nervous about high school but not to the stress. They, too, have to take tests to get into high school, but they are confused by the anxiety we feel about whether or not we’ll get an acceptance letter. There, in Oklahoma City, “everyone gets in.”

Some tell us a bit about Oklahoma City; it is clear that even though the one student continues to insist that nothing ever happens there, there is pride in their hometown. Some kayak on the river that flows through downtown, while others zip line over it. Another rock climbs. For many, a local pizza place serves as a Friday night hangout spot. We laugh, reading how one boy really just cannot understand how someone could be vegan or shop for used clothes for fun, and how he wonders what a zine is.

This same student, however, shares that their class recently had a debate about poverty, one that asked them to choose whether poor people are victims or losers. He is confident that poor people are losers and that “the government shouldn’t help the poor, if the poor are done with living poverty then they can work hard enough and get out of poverty.” He is not the only one to talk about this debate. The teacher clearly instructed each of her students to share a position from the day’s class debate, and the opinions weigh heavily.

Losers. Victims. Losers. Losers. Not sure. Losers. Victims. Both. Losers. Losers. One student cries on my couch at break. I am wondering if I was naive in thinking that teenagers could find a way through the country’s divide. It is a while before we feel ready to write back.

Carefully, we write back to them from San Francisco. We begin our letters with thoughts about the Warriors, descriptions of family, confessions of fears of being on stage, a shared love of Kiera Cass, and the inability to get a volleyball serve in consistently. There is the debacle of The Oscars to discuss. Surely, we can agree on that, can’t we? We include copies of our recent projects, projects meant to capture the spirit of the city of San Francisco in the style of FDR’s Works Progress Administration, projects that include photography, music, radio, oral histories, travel writing.

Niceties taken care of, it is time to address their poverty debate. Some start slowly, looking for shared political beliefs. “My family hunts, so keeping guns legal is a good thing for us because it is our roots.” One describes a fierce belief in equality for LGBTQ rights but admits that the “bathroom thing” makes him feel unsettled.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether they start slowly or dive in; all share confidently that they “strongly, strongly disagree” that they are “shocked” “horrified” and “surprised” by the poverty debate. “Labeling isn’t respectful,” they point out. Some write that they are working to use the phrase "people who are experiencing homelessness" rather than "homeless people" because “this way people who are experiencing homelessness aren’t being labeled, which is what they feel a lot of the time…they are more than just someone wrapped up in a blanket on the sidewalk.”

In some way or another, each student voices disagreement with the “belief that people in poverty are losers.” This consensus prompts one to end her letter, “At my school almost everyone is liberal, and everyone’s opinions are the same. That’s why I find these letters that our classes exchange so interesting, for the first time we actually are hearing about people who have different views than us. SF is a very diverse city, yet there is no difference in opinion…”

For a long time, we do not hear back from our pen pals. We wonder if the chain has been broken.

We are not cookie-cutter liberals, but a class of critical thinkers. Thank you, Oklahoma City.

The day’s lesson must be postponed. Letters have arrived! The pen pals do not start with musings on basketball or a book recommendation. Right away, we read that they enjoyed the projects we sent and have thoughts about the opinions we shared.

They share that they, too, did a project about the Great Depression, and recently they had another debate, this time arguing whether they believed in a safety net. Specifically, “Is it the responsibility of the national government to help its citizens from hard times during economic crisis?”

The word choice of the pen pals’ letters seems purposeful; they use new terms or introduce us to theirs or ask about others: “I found it very interesting that you had gone out and talked to and interviewed people experiencing homelessness...Your project was like something I’ve never seen before and it gave me more of an insight to the way they live.” “In Oklahoma there’s not as many homeless people...just a few panhandlers as we call them…”

Most are curious. One describes how he noticed that “San Francisco’s culture can be very independent but close together in the same way...I think that the world you live in is much more connected…I think you have a much different culture than Oklahoma’s; we seem to be very individual.” Another writes “I was very interested to read about the neighborhood called Castro. I really liked the idea of a neighborhood like that and wish the OKC had one.” Declaring the WPA projects interesting, one highlights the project “with the photos of the unique clothing of San Francisco citizens. They were all very different and something I have never seen. We do not have very many people wearing very unique clothing in Oklahoma.”

One pen pal’s statement produces a collective smile from the class: “We all came to the conclusion that all of you seem like really open-minded people.”

And then, the letters shift back into common experience of being a teenager: laughter at Westbrook and Curry’s shoving fight, a recommendation for Fanfiction, a complaint about a mom who only listens to Bon Jovi and Journey paired with a confession that he now likes both, a description of a walk and talk elective which is just what it sounds like, many pleas to contact them on Instagram and Snapchat with one apology that Snapchat has been taken away from her and a promise to let her know when she earns it back. And, yes, the Oscars were crazy.

A student asks me why we don’t ever do debates like they do. She tells me that we just assume that helping the poor is the government’s responsibility. She reminds me how often I talk about critical thinking. It is a good question.

Today, I have added a new lesson and they talk about abortion, leaving behind the labels of pro-life and pro-choice. Instead they are asked to wrestle with defining when (if ever) it is okay to have an abortion. At 1 week? At 15? At 20? At 25? They are given the standard visual comparisons—the size of pea, a kumquat, a honeydew melon. Flummoxed and frustrated at the lack of a clear answer, hesitant to mention that religion says it is never okay, absolutely convinced that it is a woman’s choice. We are not cookie-cutter liberals, but a class of critical thinkers. Thank you, Oklahoma City.

Today, we write back. We thank them for looking at our projects and ask for more details about what they mean when they say “safety net.” We try to answer their questions about our thoughts on the “Muslim ban.”

There are attempts to talk about race. Trying to explain how her sister is at the White Privilege Conference this week, a student struggles and ends by saying that she hopes she’s explaining it well, that she doesn't want her pen pal to think that “’s just a bunch of white people talking about how they have great lives.”

It is the student who tries to respond to her pen pal’s enigmatic question about Donald Trump and animal abuse who ends up reflecting on the project as a whole. “I haven’t heard much about that, but I agree that sometimes all of us, no matter our political affiliation, we can try to find a scapegoat and then blame everything on them...I eagerly await your reply and I’m glad we have been able to discuss our differences and hope that we can continue to find things we disagree upon (I know it’s sounds crazy, but I think it’s the only way that either of us will grow and understand the other side of the issues).”

Not all are serious. One laughs at his pen pal’s story about the thumb-biting monkey, and another suggests that her pen pal should listen to Enrique Iglesias. After asking what his pen pal would change about Oklahoma, one writes that if he could change one thing about San Francisco that he would make it “way hotter than it is because it’s freezing 24/7” and admits that “with the end of the year coming closer, I watch and play more sports than I do homework.” Many write about “13 Reasons Why.”

Our pen pals received our last letters and, according to their teacher, they loved them! Video hello to come.

We don’t receive a video hello, but they do send a class photo and a crowd quickly forms around it. Turns out that many know which one is their pen pal; in their free time, they have moved from our required medium of letters to their world of Snapchat and House Party. Still, they crowd around to see this group photo. “They are so pretty,” sighs one girl. “They are so white,” points out another. “No, I think that one might be Asian.”

Students from Oklahoma City

I am told that there was a long group snap chat last night, but no one will give me specifics. They exchange looks that imply that the details are not something I want to know. I plead, and one student feels bad for me. She offers me the story of how, after sending a video of herself dancing, the pen pal snapped back, “No time for dancing. There’s a rat in my house!” The group laughs and dances and then fades away. They have another class.

Tomorrow, we’ll make a quick video saying “happy graduation” because they’ll be walking across the stage weeks before we do. Next year, we’ll open up a new set of conversations between two new groups of kids. Bit by bit, we continue.

(Thank you, Annie Gwynne-Vaughan and Ruth Ann Regens for being my colleagues of communication and to Guybe Slangen for helping bring us together.)


Staffing News - New Faces At SFFS

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We're delighted to welcome a number of new faces to our team for the 2017-2018 school year. We hope you'll enjoy reading about these unique new members of our faculty and staff, and we encourage you to help us in welcoming in full force these new teachers and learners who will soon be joining us! 

Kelsey Barbella, Middle School Math Teacher: Kelsey Barbella is a New Jersey native who followed her heart and moved to the city four years ago. While living on the east coast, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering at the University of Connecticut. She then volunteered with AmeriCorps, where she not only served as an ambassador for the watersheds of New Jersey, but also educated over 2,500 students, pushing them to explore, analyze, and solve water issues themselves. This work sparked a love of teaching and a hunger for adventure outside of the program. As soon as the program ended, Kelsey moved to SF to begin teaching middle school math at Convent Elementary School. Kelsey strives to bring real-world, 21st century math into her classroom and integrates play as much as possible. She believes all students are able to learn math at the highest levels and views collaboration and values exploration as fundamental to learning. Kelsey lives in the Sunset with her boyfriend Shaun and two cats, Harrison and Patty Cake.

Anhvu Buchanan, Second Grade Teacher: Anhvu served for two years as a Bay Area Teacher Training Institute (BATTI) intern in both 2nd and 3rd grades at Friends before spending two years in the lead teaching position at The Berkeley School (TBS), where he has thrived in a combination 1st and 2nd grade classroom. Hailing from Virginia, Anvhu has two master’s degrees, one in Education from UoP, and one in Creative Writing from SF State. A published writer, he spent several years as a Writer’s Corps volunteer in the Juvenile Justice Center teaching poetry. Anhvu has been drawn to Quaker education for some time; while he was here, he committed himself to the ideals of the school by working with Horizons. While Anhvu has truly enjoyed his time at TBS, he describes Friends as a pull he could not deny. We are so happy to welcome him back to the team.

Victoria Bui, Teaching Assistant: Victoria was born and raised in Pennsylvania. She received her bachelor’s in international relations in 2012 from the University of Texas at Austin and her master’s in international studies in 2015 from the University of San Francisco. Most recently, she worked at the University of San Francisco as a grants assistant where she assisted professors funding their research projects as well as funding scholarships for students. Victoria is passionate about increasing educational opportunities for women and ethnic minorities. She has worked for two summers at the Summer Institute for the Gifted as a teaching assistant and resident counselor. In her free time, she works as clue staff in escape puzzle rooms; she also enjoys traveling, practicing improv and spending time with her family.

Nina Eckoff, Teaching Assistant: Nina started working with children in 2010, when she become part of the Glenridge Cooperative Nursery School community. Since then, she has worked at Pacific Primary School, and in 2016 joined SF Friends as a substitute teacher in the lower school. Nina lives in San Francisco with her husband and son, and enjoys camping and baking with her family. Most weekends, you can find Nina attempting new moves in a big dance class.

Eliza Kingsley-Ma, Teaching Assistant: Eliza is thrilled to join the SFFS community as the 5th grade Middle School Teaching Assistant. Eliza spent the summer working as the Program Coordinator at Horizons at SFFS, supporting students, faculty and program staff. For the past two years, Eliza taught at Prospect Sierra School in El Cerrito as the 5th Grade Assistant Teacher. Before teaching at Prospect Sierra, Eliza gardened with students at Slide Ranch, taught writing at Breakthrough Collaborative and produced youth radio at WESU Middletown. Eliza earned her B.A. in American Studies and Latin American Studies from Wesleyan University. Born and raised in San Francisco, Eliza finds great pleasure in thick fog and hidden city trails.

Grecia Lacayo, Admissions and Lower School Assistant: Grecia was born and raised in Los Angeles. She initially moved to San Francisco to attend the University of San Francisco and majored in Biology where she discovered a passion for conservation biology. After working as a marine research assistant in Thailand, she went on to receive an MSc in Primate Conservation from Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom. It was during this time that she worked in Colombia on her MSc thesis and realized that she had a passion for both conservation biology and education. For nearly 10 years now, Grecia has worked as a tutor and as site coordinator for an afterschool program. She is excited to work in a school that teaches its students to engage the world with kindness and one that teaches the importance of an environmentally aware, just society. Grecia loves traveling, reading crime and science fiction novels, spending time outdoors, and is a film enthusiast.

Ben Lopez, Teaching Assistant: Ben is a Bay Area Teacher Training Institute student. He earned his B.A. in English at San Francisco State University. Ben was the caretaker of his grandparents for ten years, helping him to develop compassion, empathy, and patience. More recently Ben worked for six years as a bookseller at Christopher’s Books, where he found joy in community and art. Ben strives for balance within himself and the outside world, practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly. An avid reader and Giants fan, Ben lives with his partner Ema and their daughter Mika in Potrero Hill.

Adam Macalister, Teaching Assistant: Adam is a New England native, having spent most of his life living in the Boston suburbs before deciding to move to the West Coast at the opportunity to work at the San Francisco Friends School. After studying film photography in New York City, Adam transferred to Wesleyan University in Connecticut where he graduated with a degree in Government. In his free time Adam enjoys running, cooking, hiking, kayaking, photography, and gardening. In the past he has worked on a variety of different farms around the country, and he periodically packs up his bags to go camping in the wilderness. Adam first fell in love with teaching while working as an English language teacher in a fifth grade Dutch classroom during a semester abroad and hopes to one day lead his own classroom.

Nick McGrane, Kindergarten Teacher: Nick has been an independent school teacher for more than 12 years. He began in the early childhood classroom for grades K through second in Colorado at Stanley British Primary School, then taught a mixed age second and third grade class at The Friends School in Boulder. For the past six years, he has been serving as lead second grade teacher at the Live Oak School here in SF. Nick’s reputation among some of our faculty precedes him; he has practiced Clearness Committees, participated in Harvard’s Project Zero workshops, and dove into Structured Word Inquiry. Nick has been eager to return to the early childhood kindergarten classroom experience and has been drawn to our Quaker pedagogy and community for some time. He is a bright, progressive educator full of ideas and committed to developing a coherent program from it’s roots. He is also a Spanish speaker who is proficient in Japanese.

Sara Melman, Middle School Science Teacher: Sara is a native San Franciscan and graduate from University High School. She attended Cornell University and graduated in 2006 with a degree in geological sciences, teaching middle school science in NYC while earning her master’s in secondary science from City College of New York. In 2008, Sara took a teaching position at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning High School (WHEELS), where she taught high school earth science, started a drama program, a student government program, and developed an outdoor education program. Sara moved back to SF in 2015 and began teaching high school biology; recently, she’s been focused on integrating technology into science labs and projects as a vehicle for student thinking and problem solving. We are delighted to have Sara on our team here at SFFS teaching middle school science. Sara lives in the city with her partner and 8-month old son.

Veronica Oberholzer, Horizons at SFFS AmeriCorps VISTA member: Veronica was born and raised in Oakland, California. She has recently returned from a four-year sojourn on the East Coast where she earned her B.A. in Economics with a minor in Philosophy from Smith College. Volunteer work, especially in the fields of food justice and education, has always been her passion, and she enjoyed serving on the Student Executive Board of the Community Service Office at Smith. She has volunteered with children on both coasts and is excited to continue helping students realize their dreams as Horizons at SFFS’ first ever AmeriCorps VISTA Associate. When not at work you can find her reading, swimming, or playing the violin.

Max Raynard, Teaching Assistant: A native of San Francisco, Max grew up in the Mission and Sunset Districts. After receiving a degree in history from San Francisco State University, he moved to Japan where he worked as an English teacher in rural Japanese public elementary  schools for two years.  Later he moved to work at an international school with a heavy arts and project based learning focus, teaching at the kindergarten level.  He is passionate about a career in education and returned to San Francisco in 2017 to pursue this dream.  Max's interests include Japanese culture and history, baseball, and music.

Jasmine Redmond, Teaching Assistant: Jasmine is a San Francisco native beginning her first year with Friends as a Middle School TA. Jasmine graduated from International High School in San Francisco and went on to attend Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. Her academic interests include African-American literature, social-emotional development in early childhood, and contemporary social justice movements. In her free time she enjoys listening to podcasts and exploring local farmer's markets.

Carrie (Caro) Spring, Middle School Spanish Teacher: Caro grew up in SF and earned her bachelor’s degree in history at Dartmouth College. During a stint as a National Park Ranger guiding tours at the Statue of Liberty, she realized that she wanted to be an educator. Caro got her master’s degree in Spanish at Middlebury College School in Spain and taught Spanish for the next 12 years at the Julia Morgan School for Girls in Oakland. While there, she engineered a more robust Spanish program and shifted the pedagogy toward Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) and started a flamenco dance program and a salsa dance team. For fun, Caro listens to podcasts, cooks (poorly), and teaches salsa rueda to adults in the Mission. Caro lives in the city with her favorite people: her partner Camilo (also a middle school Spanish teacher), her son Roque, and her daughter Belén. They love to spend summers at the beach and visiting relatives in Argentina, Spain, and Hungary, but during the school year they can be found most afternoons playing soccer in Golden Gate Park.

Courtney Wilde, First Grade Teacher: Courtney grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated from Tulane University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree. She began teaching elementary school in the New Orleans charter school system as a Teach for America corps member. Courtney then grew as an educator, union organizer, comedian, and meditator. A spiritual calling to focus on her meditation practice brought her to Green Gulch Farm in Marin for a year and a half of Zen practice. Courtney really impressed us with her intellect, intuition, pure joy, thoughtfulness, and her way with the children in her teaching practice. We a re thrilled that she has decided to join us and the first grade team at SFFS this fall, and she is excited to be of service to our school community and home.