I grew up in a tiny and overcrowded, but loving and hard-working, low income immigrant home in the Mission District. Despite having only attended school through 8th grade and speaking no English, my parents did everything they could to ensure that I had access to a good education. I remember how much they celebrated that they had successfully advocated for me to attend Buena Vista Elementary, a Spanish immersion school, but lamented that they could not afford to provide me with additional educational enrichment opportunities. Fast forward to today, I could not be more proud to be completing my first year as Executive Director at Horizons at SFFS which works to close the opportunity gap for students from low income backgrounds.
So many thoughts and feelings rush to mind as I reflect on my first year: I’m proud that Horizons pivoted to offer remote summer programming for 117 students, but I am crushed that nearly 75% of Horizons families experienced job loss. I’m excited that Horizons has expanded to provide more robust year round supports, but I am worried that Horizons students have not received in-person instruction since last March. The pandemic and the conversations lifted by the murder of George Floyd reinforced what I already knew: the work that Horizons at SFFS does is crucial to ensure a better future for all of us.
Educational equity is the assurance that every student has access to the resources and academic rigor necessary to their growth regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family background or family income. When we work towards educational equity, we work towards a better collective future.
- Improves our communities. An equitable education system helps all students develop the knowledge and skills they need to be engaged and become productive members of society. Our communities benefit from inspired and confident individuals who have the opportunity to pursue their talents and interests.
- Challenges the imbalance of power and privilege. The U.S. has a long and tired history of maintaining the power and privilege of the select few – usually white, male, upper-class citizens—by limiting access to education. Advocating for educational equity challenges this imbalance; implementing it can actually help redress the injustice.
- Strengthens the economy. There is a direct link between high-quality education and a healthy economy. Education has the power to improve individual lives and uplift entire communities by strengthening the overall economy. True educational equity has the potential to reduce poverty nationwide.
(Adapted from: GreatSchools Partnership.org)
Over the last few months at Horizons at SFFS we have been asking ourselves, what more can we do? What steps can we take to further dismantle roots of oppression in our program, our community, and beyond? To that end, we have expanded avenues for parent voices in program decision making, we are prioritizing racial diversity and connection to our students’ lived experiences in our board member search. We have started difficult conversations about race, privilege and the way we may accept systems that are deeply counterproductive to equity as the norm. In these conversations, we have started to learn about Community Centric Fundraising, a fundraising model that is co-grounded in racial and economic justice.
Our upcoming virtual benefit on February 11, at 6:00 p.m., We Are Made of Stars, will be our first venture towards this model. The hour-long program will be an opportunity to learn more about Horizons’ work and impact, as well as a celebration of the limitless potential of Horizons students.
The virtual event also strikes a particularly special note with me as it will officially mark the completion of my first year with Horizons at SFFS. I hope that you will join me on February 11 and that you will walk away feeling as inspired as I do to continue working towards educational equity. Together we are building a better future.
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)!
While sheltering in place and learning from home brought about great challenges for students (and their parents!), it also brought about exciting opportunities that the SFFS community may not have experienced otherwise. Our former 8th grade clerks—now our most recent SFFS alums—Maya, Ben, Erez, and Samara were some of those who found some silver linings and seized a special opportunity to learn, lead, and make a difference while at home.
They were selected to be a part of a new effort launched by the National Network of Schools in Partnership (NNSP) called the Student Task Force for Community Engagement. The goal of the project was to create a forum where students could share ideas and build capacity to help their community in this time of crisis. For seven weeks, they joined 70 students via Zoom from around the country (grades 8-12) to participate in a program that taught them advocacy and activism skills. Eventually they broke up into small teams based on shared interests for social entrepreneurship, and within the groups they were charged to develop a way to create change in their communities even while in quarantine. Midway through the process our clerks presented their work and facilitated conversations with the entire Middle School during a virtual Zoom assembly. The program culminated on their graduation day when they participated in a "Shark Tank" competition in front of judges to hear their ideas.
Ben and Erez were in a group that tackled gentrification and homelessness. Erez shared, "Our group created an organization, called the YFH, or Youth Fighting Homelessness. Our organization has a philosophy based around three actions: prevention, education, and advocacy." Follow them on Instagram!
Samara was part of a team advocating for food insecurity awareness and seeking local help and resources during COVID-19. Samara shared, "The issue is not something that can be put on pause because of the effects of coronavirus, it is so relevant and urgent to address. I was also drawn in because of previous work in the topic at Friends, volunteering at the SF/Marin Food Bank or Glide Memorial Church, and meeting people who relied on the services."
Maya was part of a team that examined environmental issues, in particular ocean pollution. “We made a website aimed at education,” shared Maya, “... with resources to help people reduce their negative impact on the oceans. My group has continued to work on the website, and will be launching it soon.” Her big take-away from being a part of this project: “... if you believe in something strongly enough, then you have the power to convince the world.”
And low and behold... (drum roll please)... Samara, Ben, and Erez were on winning teams! As a prize for winning, their teams now have the opportunity to work over the summer with a non-profit incubator designed specifically for students (CORE Foundation) to get their ideas off the ground!
We are so proud of these students to take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn, connect, and make an impact, and to put our schools values into action during a time when helping others is more important now than ever. What amazing leaders and changemakers letting their lives speak. Can’t wait to see what the future holds in high school and beyond!
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!
When the Friends campus closed nearly five weeks ago due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, the shift was monumental for everyone. Faculty, staff, students, and families all needed to learn to adjust–within days—to innovative methods of teaching and learning, as well as to new ways of keeping our community connections strong. Safe to say, as we head into this Spring Break week, that our blue fire burns brighter than ever these days—and we couldn't be more grateful to everyone who's made this possible.
Faculty and staff quickly came together to begin planning a distance learning program that kept Quaker values at the center, with a gradual roll-out of increasingly interactive video lessons and synchronous online gatherings and class time. Our educational technology and integration staff built out both our Lower and Middle School Distance Learning Portals with access to class material, schedules, and distance learning tips for parents and students. Fortifying our online community-building, both Jennifer and Clarke have offered weekly support meetings for parents and we have also implemented advisory Meetings for Worship and meditation sessions to try to protect time to come together and reflect as we would at 250 Valencia. This week, our wonderful ED/A3 staff are offering a virtual Spring Break camp, with offerings ranging from origami to fitness classes for all of our Friends—you can check out the full schedule on the Portals.
The school closure and shelter-in-place order in San Francisco also meant that our beloved annual fundraiser, the Blue Party, needed to be re-imagined, and we took the celebration digital with an online auction, virtual cocktail party toolkit, and the establishment of our SFFS Emergency Relief Fund. In anticipation of far greater financial need among our families in the coming school year, we hoped that our community would come through—and did they ever. We far surpassed our goal for the event and the emergency fund, and the strength of this community in our efforts to support one another has been truly inspiring. Though the next couple of years may be financially challenging, we are so grateful to have Friends like you who continue to lift the community up, time and time again.
We continue to miss our colleagues, students, and community greatly; we miss our building and the communal silence of all-school Meetings for Worship. We miss the all-day laughter and shouts from the Front Yard, and we miss the buzz and excitement of our classrooms and assemblies. But we know we will be together again; and in the meantime, we remain undoubtedly connected in spirit.
To see some "Friendly Faces" or check out some of the cool ways our school has embraced distance learning, please check out our Facebook and Instagram accounts. And to learn more about our school's communications and response to COVID, as well as resources for families and ideas on how you can help—and take care of yourself—please check out our COVID-19 webpage, as well as our Wellness & Values page, both located on our SFFS website. Be well, Friends!
“I love this country. I consider myself American even though America doesn’t consider me that.” This is one of the many powerful quotes from a subject in the immigration documentary, Waking Dream.
The Spanish Committee of the San Francisco Friends School Parents Association hosted our first event on the evening of Friday, January 31, in the Black Box Theater at Friends. Waking Dream follows multiple college and graduate students around the nation fighting for their education in the midst of uncertainty under the DACA program. The majority of young adults in DACA were brought to the USA at a young age, and their futures currently hang in the balance—with the current political climate, DACA’s existence will be decided by the Supreme Court in the coming months. If these students are returned to their countries of origin, they will not be returning home, but to the places of their birth.
In showing this film, the PA Committee's purpose was to bring awareness to a topic so dear to the heart of many immigrants; something that we don’t talk much about is the fact that a change in DACA status would affect many members of the SFFS community.
At the end of the screening, we held a panel discussion. The guests on the panel were DACA students; parents of DACA students; and Theo Rigby P'27, the creator of the documentary and also a parent here at Friends. Some questions that were lifted up by the audience were:
- How can the community of parents at Friends support these families?
- Can we share this video with students at Friends and talk about this topic with them?
- How can we make space for more of these conversations at Friends?
This was a really powerful evening. The Spanish PA hopes to host more events like these, and we hope to see more of our community join us as we continue this important conversation and begin others.
San Francisco Friends School recently launched a biannual digital magazine, Among Friends, featuring articles that we have been posting to our website, continuing with this piece featuring one of our wonderful alums, Stella Malone, who graduated from Friends in 2017. To read more from the Fall 2019 issue of Among Friends, please click here. And please let us know what you think! Share your feedback, article ideas, and class notes with Director of Communications Alissa Moe at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to hearing from you!
San Francisco Friends School has many community partnerships that we hold dear, including with The Gubbio Project and St. Francis of Assisi. Often, the organizations we work with are locally-minded, with outreach focused on the Mission and San Francisco. At the Crossroads (or ATC) is one such organization that we at SFFS feel proud and grateful to partner with. ATC works with youth experiencing homelessness, giving them the support they need to access resources, build healthy lives, and achieve their goals. At the outset of the school year, Friends gathers backpacks and back-to-school gift cards for At the Crossroads in our opening year drive. These donations help ATC to support the young people they serve as they prepare for a new school year.
Says Guybe Slangen, the Director of Community Engagement at Friends: "Our partnership with ATC goes back about a decade, when they were our neighbors at 333 Valencia St. It's been a wonderful partnership - they have helped teach us about the issues and challenges these youth face, as well as what we can do to make an impact, be it through candy, backpacks, or greeting those on the streets with a smile and a hello. We look forward to many more years of supporting their efforts and we're grateful for the important work they do."
This week, we are collecting fun-sized candy for ATC to share with their clients in celebration of Halloween—and also of fun. At the Crossroads explains: "Our work is bolstered by the fact that we hand out a variety of snacks, not just the standard fare found at soup kitchens and shelters. Food distributed to the homeless population is usually geared toward things other than fun; the fact that we sprinkle candy and other treats into our mostly healthy options sends the message that we’re trying not just to help these young people survive, but to be happy and have pleasurable things in life. Handing out the candy packs really helps us bring clients into the fold, and build trust with our youth. Only at that point do these kids really let us in, allowing us to help them move forward in life. And don't worry, we hand out toothbrushes and toothpaste as well." If you have candy donations for ATC, please bring them to school and feed them to our famous Candy Monster, located in the lobby near our reception desk. To learn more about our candy drive, please click here.
And if you'd like to learn more about the work that ATC does each and every day with San Francisco youth, please click here. Thank you!
I have been speaking to many parents, colleagues, and often Mike, about how challenging—and sometimes exhausting—it has been in the last few years to be in the field of education. It’s noisy out there, and every parent is wondering and worried about how the tone and the onslaught of media and global events are impacting our children—and how these factors should inform their education. I’m grateful in those moments to be part of a community that insists on infusing the practice of deep reflection, heart, and reason into decision-making on behalf of our children. It’s a blessing to work at Friends for this, among many other wonderful reasons.
4th Grade Lead Teacher Amabelle, upon her return from a Quaker education workshop a few years ago, reminded us that the SPICES (the six testimonies we’ve adopted in Friends schools) are among the core Quaker values—but they are not finite, not things that we check off a grocery list. One of the testimonies we reflect on is the continuous revelation of Truth. Kindness is another. We can also lift up personal testimonies that might guide us for particular reasons at particular times. They can become helpful, reflective guideposts for our lives and learning, both in our school and the outside world. With these two thoughts in mind—the times we live in and the idea that the testimonies are more than 6 finite terms known as the SPICES—I invite you all to muster a new personal testimony for yourself this year. As for me, I offer you two that I’ve been mulling over: the testimonies of CHILDHOOD and COURAGE.
CHILDHOOD: I have deep faith in the process of childhood. It’s messy and weird and full of as many joys as mistakes. It’s uncomfortable, too—much of the time. In fact, learning is supposed to be a little uncomfortable; that’s how change happens in the brain. And it works if you have faith and allow the time and space to let it happen. Adults sometimes show wavering faith in our children’s ability to dig themselves out of challenges—we aim to protect them and to right the wrongs we see. Instead of letting them experience things on their own terms, to muddle through and give them time to reflect and make sense of the world, we rush to rescue them with our solutions, solutions that are based on our own experiences, knowledge, and adult minds. My favorite poet Emily Dickinson expressed it more beautifully: Experience is the Angled Road, Preferred against the Mind. We often say here that it is better to be a curious parent, rather than a “fixer.” When your child is struggling through any social or academic experience, listen more, be genuinely curious, deliver them a sense of agency, and aim to give a little less advice. Through this kind of support, children sense we believe in them and their ability to get through. That’s how autonomy works: by having faith in the messy process of childhood and experience.
Sometimes, of course, we must step in—when they are crossing the carpool bike lane, for example. Good idea. Other times, we do not and should not. We ought not tell them what to think or how to act on their convictions. When we do, we make them fearful of what they wonder, think, or believe; they will always on the look-out for what is expected or acceptable. The development of an educated voice comes from within and requires mistakes and reflection on experiences. This takes time—a lot of time—to light up. Adults can’t steamroll this, no matter the urgency we feel. Have faith in the process of childhood—it is much bigger than any one of your answers. It’s why we sing “This Little Light of Mine” every year, over and over. And why you all hold back tears every time your children sing it. Don’t let anyone snuff it out.
COURAGE: This one really has me going. Some days, it can take an awful lot of armor to get up in the morning. Complex ideas are relegated to sound bites and they go viral—it’s easy when someone else has already done the thinking for you! Educating our children to grapple with complex ideas requires that they become accustomed to sifting through lots of experiences and opinions—and confident enough to challenge commonly-held beliefs. At Friends, we aim to deepen their commitment and habit of being curious and to remain open to new ideas. Being truly engaged, vocal, and innovative requires not just creativity, but courage. We want our students to know how to push beyond the bubble and ask what more is out there. It requires courage to make our way down roads less traveled, even more to allow our children to, but it’s up to us to help them become confident enough to do so.
One wise Quaker educator once reminded me that “for the privilege of attending our Friends School, we hope our children will go out and do some good in the world.” What or how they might do that may be as unique and diverse as each of our children and families are. All of us here at Friends are committed to providing our children with robust, joyful, and even provocative experiences. As they cultivate curiosity and open their perspectives, hearts, and minds to possibility—and even to doubt—we have armed them with self-knowledge and the courage of their convictions, and we’ve aimed them in the right direction to bring reason and heart to their educational experiences and the world beyond.
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