The opening school drive at San Francisco Friends School is a wonderful tradition we have that starts our school year off right and also makes a positive impact across the city. This year, we once again focused our efforts on our friends and neighbors at At The Crossroads (ATC). ATC is committed to helping homeless youth and young adults at their point of need, and works with them to build healthy and fulfilling lives. Over the course of this year's opening school drive, the SFFS community collected school backpacks, socks, and gift cards. The following are some words of thanks from our friends at At The Crossroads:
"Your contribution is immensely appreciated. These backpacks look amazing and will go a long way towards benefiting our youth. Thanks for literally helping our clients shoulder their burden." – Demaree Miller, Program Manager
"Backpacks represent different things for our clients. Not only are many of our clients full-time students who ask for school supplies almost year-round, but the fun-colored, sturdy bags you have provided them communicate a sense of belonging, style, safety, and care. Thank you all for the kind and thoughtful gifts for our clients!" – Anna Fai, Program Manager
To learn more about the At The Crossroads, please visit atthecrossroads.org. Next up: our candy drive! You can donate Halloween candy for our friends at ATC by "feeding the monster" in our lobby. Why donate candy? ATC 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 help them move forward in life. And don't worry, we hand out toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well." Thank you in advance for your donations!
Last year, then-seventh grade Friends School students Zeke, Simone, Riley, Summer, and Sophia were able to sit down with San Francisco District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee to discuss an issue that was very dear to them, accessible playgrounds for children with disabilities (Riley wrote about it here this past December).
Their efforts paid off. After meeting with our students, Supervisor Yee garnered additional neighborhood support from the Miraloma Park Improvement Club for the playground changes. His office then worked with SF Rec and Park to have the ADA swing installed.
"I was impressed with the students’ presentation. They were well informed, prepared, and shared personal stories about the impact this improvement would have on their families," Supervisor Yee said. "Civic engagement by youth is critical and I am proud of the students at SF Friends School for their advocacy and the measurable impact it has had on our City."
Guybe Slangen, Friends School's Director of Community Engagement, said, "Way to go Zeke, Simone, Riley, Summer, and Sophia! Your voice matters!"
Seated on a dark wooden bench in a dark wooden hall, my foot bounced up and down restlessly. My left hand held my crumpled page of questions, and in my right was a crushed paper cup that had once been filled with water. I kept checking the time on my phone: ‘What class was I missing now? How much work would I have to make up? When would…’ My questions were swept away as the double doors opened and the others sitting near me turned their heads. “Excuse me,” said the figure to me. “Are you ready?” “Yes,” I responded. Then I got up, and followed Mr. Derick Brown, assistant to the mayor of San Francisco, through the doors.
For several years, homelessness has been the focus of the eighth grade’s service work, and it’s opened the eyes of my fellow eighth graders to all of the challenges people experiencing homelessness face. After Mayor Ed Lee died on December 12th, 2017, our grade looked into some of the top mayoral candidates’ plans to end homelessness. They ranged from developing neighborhoods in South San Francisco, to adding 1,500 housing units every year. But even with all this research, no one in the eighth grade had a direct connection to a politician to ask about the city’s plans right now. So, when our Director of High School Transition, Kristen Daniel, heard about the 10 minute chats that the interim mayor Mark Farrell was hosting, she rushed around telling us all to sign up.
Weeks later, when I found out that I was accepted to speak to the mayor, my immediate thought was to tell Kristen or Guybe (the Director of Community Engagement). With my computer in hand, I ran around the third floor to find someone, which is how Guybe ended up with my laptop under his nose just a few moments later. “Look, I got it!” I cried. After congratulations from my teachers and friends, I pulled out a piece of paper and, throughout the next couple days, stacked up questions to ask the mayor with input from my parents and friends.
The morning of April 20th, when Derick Brown called me into the Mayor’s Office, my nervousness, which had been present throughout the week, had vanished and was replaced by determination to learn and enjoy the experience in the palm of my hand.
I was led into a large room with a round table big enough to sit 20, and Mark Farrell stood to shake my hand. After my mother took a photo of us, we sat down at the table. He asked me how old I was, where I went to school, and where I was going to school next year. With my carefully strategized questions, I segued into the discussion of homelessness.
I asked him what he thought the solution to homelessness was. “Housing, definitely,” he said.
“But how will you continue to develop areas and build up while preserving the history of certain neighborhoods, like the Castro?” I asked.
We talked about the beauty of the city, after I asked him how he wanted to preserve what people love about a city like San Francisco. We discussed the growing rent in both San Francisco and Oakland as middle class families have been drifting across the bay.
From there, our conversation drew to South San Francisco and the small towns in Silicon Valley. He told me that if towns like Brisbane were to develop, it would take a large weight off San Francisco’s shoulders because most of the influx in the population are people in the tech industry. If there was a well developed place for them to live, especially a location nearer to Apple, Fitbit or Netflix, there might be a less crowded/expensive city.
“Do you think they will ever agree to develop?” I asked.
“Not unless it’s by force,” he said.
But the city will soon need another place for middle income families and tech workers to live as the numbers continue to rise. From 2010 to 2016, San Francisco’s population grew by almost 60,000, and the housing costs skyrocketed. In the past month, 1,558 homes in San Francisco sold with price tags of $1 million or more.
Yet, small towns like Brisbane believe that developing their towns would change their image and take away what makes them unique, just as building a high rise in the middle of North Beach would take away from what makes our city so amazing.
Our talk was flying by, and I had forgotten about the time and the worry that I would run out of questions to ask. I was building on what he said, drawing more information out, so I was stunned when Derick Brown stopped the conversation.
“Alright,” he said, “it’s time to wrap up.”
“San Francisco needs better safety for bikes! If we managed to create more bike lanes, there would be a big impact in injuries from bike riding.”
“I disagree. I think that the needles littering the streets and all those people addicted to drugs that aren’t getting the help they need are a greater problem than bike safety in our city.”
“Well, San Francisco also has a big problem with housing and housing costs. I mean, it’s getting REALLY expensive to live here, and that’s a humongous problem!”
And so it went, back and forth. After weeks of decision-making, the seventh graders had finally decided on a topic for their service project that benefited San Francisco in some way. We decided to focus on people experiencing opioid addiction and figure out ways to help them.
We split into groups, each with one student as our leader. Every group was given a topic that concerned people experiencing addiction, and we then set out to find a way to make a project out of our subject.
The first group, led by Lucas Dilworth, focused on the opioids’ effect on the brain. More specifically, they focused on the fact that when on drugs, the brain releases an overload of the chemical that is responsible for a person being happy—dopamine. Dopamine can be released when say, eating a pizza when you’re hungry, or playing a sport you really like. However, when on drugs, the brain releases an overload of dopamine, too much for your body to handle. Now, you feel a need to do the drugs because your body can’t satisfy you without the extreme amounts of dopamine that the drugs give. In response to this, you need to take more drugs to handle the need, and this turns into addiction. Their action plan was to create posters about this process, and put them out in the community for everyone to see, because not everyone is educated about this subject.
The second group, led by Titus Cabezas, were focused on Narcan, a nasal spray that can help prevent an overdose. After doing some research, they found out that not many people besides emergency services are educated in the use of Narcan. In a city like ours, with drug overdose problems happening every day, it would be especially important to get more people trained in the use of Narcan. The group decided on a place that they thought would be best for employees to be trained in Narcan. They chose Starbucks, because it’s a very popular spot and thought they could have an impact. They wrote letters to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson about this topic, and they suggested the idea.
Another group, led by Olivia Robbins, focused on raising awareness about the locations of places to help with ODs—hospitals, Walgreens, and other places where you could get help if you needed it. They thought this was important because so many people who need help don’t know where to find it, and if they did they would be so much better informed. The group made maps disclosing locations where people could get the help they need and deserve.
Another group, led by Adelaide Tranel, was focusing on the different kinds of treatment for drug addiction. After doing some research, they found out that a great way to get people off of drugs is to get them a pet, because then the person knows that they have to have better self control in order to take care of their pet. They collaborated with the Ohloff organization to learn more about how the effect of a pet can really help people experiencing addiction, taking their input and putting it into their own research.
One group that Sonia Esteva led focused on children in families with addicted members. After doing some research, they decided to create a children’s coloring book for the kids of those currently in treatment or rehab. They collaborated with the Epiphany Center, an organization that takes care of kids while their parents are being treated, to make sure that their coloring book got distributed.
Hanna Wheeler’s group concentrated on needle disposal. They researched how dirty, used needles are extremely dangerous, especially if a different drug user then uses an already-used needle. They decided to make posters to educate people (both random pedestrians on the street and drug users) about the importance of needle disposal. The posters include a site that tells you nearby needle disposal places and its phone number, along with some other information.
So, the seventh grade has really been working hard this year to make a difference in the community. They’ve split up into different groups, come up with their own ideas, and executed an action plan successfully. They’ve shown the leadership and resolve that they need to have in this world, and will continue to use all of these abilities in the future. Next step: head to city hall to discuss these matters with their district supervisors!
We’re honored to be hosting another exhibit that lifts up the voices and perspectives of those experiencing homelessness here in our city. The "Everyone Deserves a Home" project is currently on display in our second floor gallery. This exhibit features portraits of formerly homeless individuals paired with text of participants’ personal stories. The subjects photographed have experienced homelessness and significant health issues prior to finding their current home in supportive housing communities operated by an organization called Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing (DISH). Their origin stories here are laced with challenging themes – struggles with trauma, neglect, substance abuse and the corrosive effects of poverty and racism.
Lauren Hall founded DISH and is a true change maker in our city. Our eighth graders recently spent time with her engaged in service learning in the Tenderloin as part of their study on homelessness. I also had a chance to connect with Lauren to learn more about her work, this collection, and what we can do to make an impact.
Please explain who are you and what do you do.
My name is Lauren Hall and I am one of the leaders of an organization that believes “everyone deserves a home.” I started DISH with my colleague Doug Gary in September 2006. We wanted to create a property management organization that welcomed people home who were experiencing homelessness with a focus on health, well-being and community.
Why do you think this exhibit is important?
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with students from SFFS at one of our buildings. We were sharing some of our takeaways from the afternoon and one young man talked about how his experience interacting with one of our tenants had given him greater insight into how he thought about people experiencing homelessness. His compassion and clarity was so striking to me. This exhibit gives people the opportunity to connect and consider the impacts of homelessness, and the importance of home. We want people to think about the way we have criminalized poverty, capitalized on racism and created a separate class of people in our country who deserve our respect and compassion.
What do you want people to take away from this?
We want to offer alternate views into the lives of people who have experienced homelessness by providing their image as they want to portray themselves, and a brief part of their story. We hope ultimately that it fosters understanding, as well as the desire for action to address the systemic causes of homelessness such as our affordable housing, criminal justice and foster care systems. In this exhibit, we hope people see that homelessness is an experience that can happen to anyone and has more to do with communities impacted by poverty and trauma than individual challenges. Everyone deserves a home and it is on all of us to make that happen.
How can people get more involved in making an impact?
Vote and hold your representatives accountable! Support affordable and supportive housing in your neighborhood and on your ballot! Show up at community hearings for supportive housing and navigation centers and say YES IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD! Volunteer your skills or donate your funds to organizations working on solutions to homelessness so they can do more to address this crisis. Be kind to your neighbors who are forced to live on the street.
In addition to the photos, there is also a board nearby with the sentence starter, “Home is….” All are encouraged to share their thoughts and perspectives. You are also invited to a meet-and-greet with Lauren Hall on April 10 at 4:30pm. All are welcome! To learn more about DISH and how you can get involved, please visit dishsf.org.
When I stood to speak in our Community Meeting for Worship on Wednesday morning, I wanted to share how I thought about time, and reflect on how it's changed the way I think about our queries. I awakened on that morning looking forward to our opportunity to host the SPEAK Event with Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of Real American, a fearless memoir on growing up a black woman in America.
I also woke up feeling sick, only head cold congested, but in that way that makes me feel tired and painfully aware that I'm not at my best. On Wednesday morning the feeling made me want time to pass more quickly, so the evening event I looked forward to would come more quickly.
And then before we settled into silence, our students reminded us of our three queries: How do I listen to the truth in my inner voice to guide me? How do I honor the inner light in others even when we may disagree? How do I turn my truth into action?
And I found myself thinking about time.
No longer about how quickly I hoped it would pass, but how helpful it can sometimes be. How do I turn my truth into action, for example, becomes a different question when I add "today" or "in my next meeting" or "at home or in my neighborhood tonight."
I thought of my daughter Kyle and her inevitable dissatisfaction with the duration of vacations or reunions; she wants the long weekend we've managed to claim to add a fourth day or the the week together to be ten days or two weeks.
And thinking about reunions reminded me of "Three Minutes," a short, poignant video I discovered on Swissmiss, a design blog run by Tina Roth Eisenberg. It asks: If your family reunion lasts only three minutes, what will you do? I hope you'll take a look.
And know I'm grateful for the time you share with us at SFFS.
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.
I didn't grow up going to church, synagogue, or a traditional place of worship. My brother and I "swore to Mother Nature" when it was really a serious truth instead of swearing to God, and our place of worship was the American river canyon or the open granite of Desolation Wilderness. These places did and do fill my soul's longing for that awesome perspective of being part of something bigger, but my moments in them don’t always come with the rooted-in-community part of worship that I imagine is a huge part of many peoples’ experience with religious traditions.
Going to the SF Friends Meeting (not to be confused with the SFFS Meeting for Worship) has given me the chance to spend a Sunday both to re-ground myself and to feel that I am part of something big and rich. I realize now that I have been subconsciously seeking this during the often breakneck pace of my family’s complex and urban life.
The commitment to social justice and the process of grappling with messiness are a part of our school’s Quaker DNA, and I loved getting more of a window into that at the Friends Meeting.
Part of why I love SFFS so much is because every time I walk into the school, I feel a sense of rootedness and community, and unexpectedly, I really appreciate how tied this sense feels to a deeper tradition of spirituality and worship. Visiting the San Francisco Meeting for the shared January Meeting for Worship for the last two years has both scratched the chance-to-worship itch I didn't know I had, and also helped me to understand how SFFS grows forth from the deep roots and values of the Religious Society of Friends.
We first attended the San Francisco Meeting and pancake breakfast two years ago. I remember that everyone was wonderfully accommodating and friendly during our kids’ not-so-quiet participation in the first 15 minutes of group Meeting for Worship. Then the kids went upstairs while we enjoyed another (much calmer) spell of time for reflection and insights together with the remaining grown-ups. This was an unexpected delight on a Sunday morning to be able to sit next to my partner in silence and reflect. Again, not having grown up with any formal religious traditions, I had a light-bulb moment about why parents love Sunday school! When the kids returned to join our group the first year we attended, they brought with them colored candle holders they had made to represent each of their inner lights, and the boldest of them shared something about their individual inner light with the group.
Last year, our January Meeting together was the day after the Women's March—a great time to sit in silence and reflection together with a group of people who count a commitment to social justice as a core part of their beings. This time, when our kids came back they came with postcards they had written to their elected representatives about changes they would like to see to improve their communities and the current political and social discourse. I remember Doug (my partner) commenting on “this definitely being San Francisco” with an appreciation of the great delta between his experience in Sunday school on the Upper East Side (and some resulting *slight* discomfort at the idea of his 6 year-old writing a protest letter the day after joining a protest march). His discomfort came with a hearty willingness to embrace this new experience (one of the many reasons I love him). And I remember thinking this isn’t just a San Francisco thing, this is a Quaker thing.
When a teacher friend of mine recently roamed our school’s hallways, he said he couldn’t believe the level and depth of engagement that Friends students have regarding social justice issues. It struck him that our teachers and students were not only raising, but really grappling with, the messiness and complexity of issues that faculty at his school wouldn't feel comfortable discussing. And as a teacher, he was jealous of this real discourse. Because we all as community members are living through this hard stuff together, to me, it seems weird not to talk about it. The commitment to social justice and the process of grappling with messiness are a part of our school’s Quaker DNA, and I loved getting more of a window into that at the Friends Meeting.
Each time I go to a Friends Meeting, I am reminded of how grateful I am for the tenets, values, and spiritual compass that guide our kids’ education—and the deep roots that tie us to a broader history and community. I treasure these minutes of communal reflection and seeking each year, for myself and for my family.
And there are great pancakes!
This year's San Francisco Friends Meeting and pancake breakfast will be held from 11am-1pm on Sunday, January 28 at 65 9th St in downtown San Francisco.
Kids zoom around in circles, bright orange shirts like beacons. They jump off the steps and play with each other. Their little chins are stained with grape, cherry, and blue raspberry syrup from icy snow cones. Glowing smiles light up their faces as they behold the giant minion. Seven feet tall and neon yellow, the minion dances, much to their delight. Everywhere you look, there are happy children. Even the adults are smiling.
That was the last week of the Horizons at SFFS 2018 program. A parent had decided to lead a celebration and got her family to dress up as minions and make snow cones.
Horizons is a six week summer learning program that is held at Friends School. The main goal of Horizons is to help prevent summer learning loss by providing students with academic classes as well as enrichment programs they normally wouldn’t have access to. Horizons serves low-income students from three local public schools: Marshall Elementary, Buena Vista Elementary, and Mission Prep. Through Horizons, they participate in swimming classes, fun field trips, and many more activities that fill their summers with exciting, challenging experiences that show them that learning can be fun and get them ready for the new school year.
I first got into contact with Abby Rovner, the executive director of Horizons, last winter after I heard about a similar program but for middle school students. Since then, I’ve been volunteering every Thursday after school to help prepare for the summer. I’ve worked on many projects such as labeling dozens of goggles and raising money in a bake sale to buy bilingual books. Recently I have been working on organizing all of Horizons’ books and and creating a digital list of them to make searching for books by subject or title easier for the program’s teachers during the summer.
Because I volunteer with Horizons, school-wide awareness of the program has increased. Several of my friends have become aware of and interested in the program, especially my friend Jiya, who now volunteers with me on Thursdays.
Working with Horizons has been an eye opening experience for me. I had never been truly conscious of how economic inequalities affected student learning. Horizons has become such an important part of my life, and has affected me greatly. I was very lucky to be given many resources for success, and the chance to give the same opportunity to other children means a lot to me. The opportunity to give back makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. By organizing books and raising money, I am giving other kids the possibility to learn how to swim or have dance class—both of which were regular activities for me when I was little.
Although I have only met the children enrolled in the program once, when I volunteered at Horizons’ Family Math Day in January, the opportunity to do something that helps someone means a lot to me. Looking forward to the future when I’m in high school, I hope to return to Horizons during the summer as an alum volunteer.
Jiya K contributed to the writing and editing of this post.
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.