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.
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.
School year after school year, our Director of Facilities Ed Hewitt continues in a long tradition at Friends School, the stewardship of our building and all that it provides for a nurturing learning environment. And in keeping with our Quaker value of simplicity, he makes sustainability a priority by using what we already have. Nowhere was this more apparent that this summer, when Ed renovated our sandbox using original douglas fir boards that once lined the floors of the old Levi's Factory—a place that we now call home.
As Robert D. Haas, Chairman Emeritus of Levis Strauss and Company said at Friends School's ribbon cutting ceremony in 2008:
"If the building could talk it would say 'I'm so happy! Happy that my massive timbers can still be doing their job; happy that my maple floors glisten and creak under the footsteps of all who enter; happy that once again I am a place where people can develop friendships and grow.'"
Thank you to all of you who contribute to the Annual Fund and support the maintenance of so many of our facilities projects, many of which build upon sustainability initiatives such as the re-use of historically sourced wood. Below, find a few snapshots of places where Friends School has maintained the original Levi's Factory timber. Recognize any of these?
The yellow clapboard siding on our building's exterior is made of redwood sourced from Marin, circa 1904.
Our stairs, as well as this bench, both contain original douglas fir from the Levi's Factory days.
Former SFFS parent and emeritus trustee Stuart Kogod helped build the benches in our Meeting Room with help from friend Jack Soman. The benches are also made of original douglas fir timber.
Did you know that the same douglas fir can be found throughout the school as well?
Ed's saw (with douglas fir boards in the background). Using historical wood helps connect us to the past. Ed says, "The kids are richer for it."
"We are truly stewards of this great place, it is on us to preserve it and save it for the future," Ed says (shown here, putting the finishing touches on the sandbox this summer).
Established in 2016 with generous support from our community, the Cathy Hunter Fund for the Future (CHFF) supports our faculty with transformative professional development experiences at key moments in their careers. Encouraged to think beyond workshops and conferences, teachers submit an application seeking support for a professional development experience that will enrich future programs, our school culture and greater community.
In 2016, humanities teacher Jodi Pickering sat down with former Head of School Cathy Hunter to brainstorm on how to make her 25th year of teaching “transformative.” Deciding to set aside time to study writing and publishing while also teaching, Jodi developed a better writing practice that culminated in a reflective journey to England and France, where she visited Quaker sites and joined Meeting For Worship abroad. Below is just a piece of her writing from that experience.
Relying on the Silence of Strangers
After an hour of driving, we turn onto the Avenue des Quakers. It is the second-to-last day of our journey, and my plan to have my family attend Meeting for Worship here, the day before we tackle ten hours of driving and two flights, does not seem as wise as it had when I was mapping out our travels months ago.
It is hot, around 95 degrees, and we are early. With no town center in sight, we wander into the graveyard. As my husband reads words on the gravestones, my daughter and I walk briskly around, moving our legs in anticipation of the 60 minutes of sitting that await us.
Sweaty now, we enter the gate of the Quaker House to look for the Meeting Room. An older woman is bent over a browning end-of-season garden and, without looking up, she says to us, in English, “It’s through there,” as if people come through looking for the Meeting Room with some frequency. The room has the feel of a conference room, with books on the shelves, pamphlets on the table, and a door leading to the kitchen. About 15 chairs form a circle, many occupied by quiet, older people. In an effort to seat us together, my husband approaches two chairs that have been stacked, one on top of the other, and begins to separate them. A woman leans forward, smiles and shakes her head, asking him not to, whispering that that chair (or set of chairs) is for their friend with the extra long legs. She shifts her seat so that three chairs might be open side by side.
And so we join them.
There is no fan, but the door is open and in a few minutes, the gardener enters and, after her, a couple joins them. They too try to separate the chairs and are told of the not-yet-arrived man of long legs.
I often have trouble settling into the silence, and that day is no different. My curiosity is peaked and my stomach is rumbling an embarrassingly loud rumble, a rumble which everyone save my daughter pretends not to notice. Desperate to settle, I focus my energy on conquering the growl, but my stomach roars and my sweat is now a nervous sweat.
The friend of the lengthy legs arrives. His legs indeed are long and his hair is surprisingly red; he shuffles his way to the stacked chairs and settles in. Watching him, I have given up trying to control my stomach grumblings and they stop. We settled into the silence together. Strangers bound by tradition.
For me, it is not silent long. The voice of my inner teacher begins to make itself heard. Slowly at first, a reassuring soft voice quietly reassuring me that I will find my way after I send my daughter off to college. There is more to me than mother and wife, the voice reminds me. My daughter will depart soon after we arrive back home, and my thoughts shift to reviewing our two-week trip, and soon a cacophony of inner teachers are shouting, each urging me to examine a truth. One urges me to go ahead and call myself a writer, another pushes me to find ways to teach the stories of those behind the scenes, and yet another yells at me for not being present.
I turn my attention to the possibility of a new identity. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I’ve been ashamed of my lack of ambition. If you read, you’re a reader. If you write and get published (I thought), then you’re a writer. I wrote my first children’s book, Larry the Land Shark, when I was 18, and since then I’ve written essays, short stories, and a young-adult novel, but I have never called myself a writer. Until this past year, no one but close friends or family had ever seen my words. With a week-long conference and four workshops and dedicated time set aside for writing, I worked diligently to transform from caterpillar to butterfly, and there, listening to the silence, I realize that I have my wings. One of my teachers had started her course by lauding us all for being there, encouraging us all to shed the scales of insecurity we carried with us. She asked how many of us considered ourselves readers, and all of our hands shot up. Shifting the question to ask how many of us considered ourselves writers, a smaller number of hands raised, many of them with trepidation. “If you read, you’re a reader,” she said, “and if you write, you’re a writer.” And with that sentence, I was free to love my writing for the joy it gives me and not carry the weight of responsibility to publish or even to share if I didn’t want to.
I think about how this freedom opened the door to sharing. I shared Larry the Landshark with second graders to get their feedback; I shared short stories with friends and bosses who are friends. I pushed myself to write seven short stories for the seven sins, and though I may never share “Lust” with anyone, I think I can share “Wrath” with my seventh graders next year as they tackle their own short stories.
I reflect on how, when traveling this summer, I wrote daily, most often first thing. I remember most fondly the Gulf of Poets in Italy, chosen because I wanted to write where D.H. Lawrence, Lord Byron and Percy and Mary Shelley had written years ago, and it was immediately evident what made the place so fruitful for them. The light, the boats, the cliff hugging homes—they all slowed life down. I rose early and wrote, and there the words flew more quickly.
I flush with pride at the memory of easily reaching my daily goal of 1,000 words and how, with extra time before the family awoke, I added to my morning routine a swim. Across the empty plaza, chairs stacked up at the restaurants that had been so lively before. I had walked down to the harbor to a spot on the rocks where four old women in bikinis were socializing. Presumably a swim was also in their future, but their day began together. They welcomed me with a nod and “Bongiorno” and smiled as I gasped a bit, sliding into the water to began my swim.
I remember how this idyllic scene at the harbor had been tainted when I learned that, in the 16th century, the Jews of this picturesque town were locked in a ghetto, blamed for the plague that had struck the city. The quaint gate I had passed was no longer quaint. The inner teacher reminding me that we have to learn the stories of those behind the scenes begins to clamor for my attention.
I shift in my chair and wonder if anyone else’s mind is racing. I see one man’s chest rising up and down, up and down. He’s going to speak soon, I think, and sure enough he begins. He speaks slowly and sadly, and it is all in French. I hear something that sounds like civilization and then Egypt? Did he just say Egypt?
History teachers are often drawn to must-sees, must-knows. At the beginning of our trip, when we were headed to London, I was eager to go to Westminster Abbey, the site of all coronations since William the Conqueror in 1066. However, my husband, ten years older than I, had not set his alarm clock for 4:30 in the morning on July 29th, 1981; had not sat mesmerized watching Diana walk down the red carpet, long train trailing behind her, on her way to becoming Princess Di. And though my daughter could capably demonstrate her Friends School learning, remembering Henry the VIII and some other medieval facts, she, too, wondered what the fascination with royalty was. With their help, I ditched the sites of those whose stories are often told and saw instead the Roman walls, the rocks and those who had put them there and the Museum of Fashion, filled with one woman’s story of realizing a dream to incorporate history into textile and send it down a runway for the world to see while she stayed behind the scenes.
I find myself wondering how anyone ever decides what history to teach. In the midst of a city that had literally thousands of years of tales to tell, how did the Brits build their curriculum? What was it about that monument that we stumbled upon as we walked along the Thames—a monument to a group of low ranking fliers who fought for twenty days during WWII to protect London from Germany— that was so captivating to all of us?
And then, my small voice reminds me, there was the Pont du Gard, a Roman Aqueduct, a site we almost skipped because we were tired of touring and had already seen Roman arenas and crypts. Yet again we were all entranced. Yes, there was appeal in the grand expanse, its golden color and the cool swimming waters underneath, but what awed us was its functionality. The idea that an instrument of engendering could transform a few river-sided cities into a connected empire. When we later saw pipes that were used to continue the path of the water over valleys, we wondered how they did not get lead poisoning; it was the power of the engineer, not the emperor, that was the story we wanted to hear.
The man in the Quaker meeting room standing finishes talking and sits down. I have missed most of what he has said, but he looks up at my three-person family and asks if we would like him to restate it in English. He had spoken for a while. My husband, without looking up, shakes his head no. The implication that we speak French hangs there for a moment, and I feel the three of us stifle a laugh. We are bonded in a way that we weren’t before this trip.
I enjoy the rest of the silence, feeling the wisdom of the voice telling me to be present, to notice and appreciate the way a member of the group stands and retreats into the kitchen, returning through the swinging door with a tray carrying a pitcher of water and a stack of glasses. I am not brave enough to reach forward to take one; I consider that lack of courage.
The meeting ends, and instinctively I want to run. The end of meeting always makes me feel that way, and the feeling is intensified by the awkwardness I feel in having shared an intimate moment with strangers.
Be present. Okay, I will, and I wait for someone else to leave first. Not quite present, but a start. Only no one leaves.
Instead, one woman suggests, in English, that we introduce ourselves. When it is my turn to speak, I reveal that we do not speak French. This is not news. The man with the long legs claims to be the most Quaker of all: his Parkinson’s a testament.
One member remarks to the others that we should let our visitors know that an ancestor of the original Quakers is with us, and all eyes turn to a woman who does not smile. She is French and does not speak English; we learn the story of those before her from others that seem to know the story well. We learn that that the English had come and pillaged Congenies, and that a man had regretted the actions and written the townsfolk explaining that, as a Quaker, their actions did not reflect their beliefs. We learn that someone wrote him back and told him that they weren’t Quakers but that they were interested in meeting a man of such integrity and would he like to come visit?
They tell the history without speaking over each other, and without the awkward pauses that come when people wish they could interrupt but are too polite to do so.
And, the man with the long legs adds, this is how these Quakers also came to leave the door open because it is the English Quakers who do that. When Quakers have had to hide, they met behind closed doors, but true Quakers leave the door open to new truths.
It is still awkward when we leave, but less so than it would have been had we run out immediately after. I feel giddy as we make our way to car. Our trip is over tomorrow, but I no longer look at the travel day as just a day to get through. Tomorrow, as all days, will be a day to leave the door open and to be present. By doing this, I might get lucky and learn some hidden history. And, once having learned it, I’ll do my best to write it down.
This month, the SFFS Service Committee joins forces with Project Night Night to support youth experiencing homelessness and their families, one book, blanket and stuffy at a time.
According to their website, “Project Night Night donates over 25,000 Night Night Packages each year to homeless children 12 and under who need our childhood essentials to have a concrete and predictable source of security and an increased exposure to high-quality literacy materials during their time of upheaval.”
You can support this impactful initiative in a few simple ways. Starting Monday, Nov 13th, Friends School will place a donations box at reception that will accept new books, blankets and stuffies. Families can also pick up entire tote bags from reception to custom-fill with books, blankets and stuffies of their choice, to return to school for drop-off throughout the month. The drive culminates December 2nd at the Craft Fair, where a table will be set up for a final round of design and drop-offs, after which all totes will be delivered to Project Night Night for distribution. Please note, all items must be new.
These items, placed in Project Night Night totes, address directly, and in a loving way, the anxiety, depression, poor sleep habits and behavioral issues experienced by families experiencing homelessness. They are also cherished opportunities for children to bond, through reading, with equally stressed parents, family members or caregivers who are also navigating these difficult paths.
SFFS parent Jennifer Maeder, a mother of two at Friends School and a Mother/Baby Nurse and Lactation Consultant at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, has been supporting Project Night Night independently for a while now.
“Project Night Night has been a simple, straightforward way my kids can connect with other SF kids,” says Maeder Jennifer, who serves as co-clerk of the Service Committee at Friends. “As we’ve participated over the years, my children have been able to see and touch the books, blankets and stuffies, and know they are going straight into the hands of a kid probably just about their age.”
Maeder added that her children’s added personal touches, “Notes and the things they say – like ‘you matter’ and ‘you are loved’ – really show that they are thinking of these kids and wish the best for them.”
“I’m excited to see our school community support Project Night Night,” said Guybe Slangen, Director of Community Engagement at Friends. “It builds upon the good work that students and classes are also doing to support those experiencing homelessness here in our city.”
To learn more about Project Night Night, visit ProjectNightNight.org.
August seems like a lifetime ago, but you may recall a message in Circle Back that shared our focus this year to examine current gender policies and practices throughout the school. We launched this work at our opening faculty/staff meetings with Joel Baum from Gender Spectrum, who walked us through part one of a two-day workshop. Joel’s presentation provided the professional community with a shared understanding of the issues, challenges, as well as opportunities for us in and out of classrooms. Many questions were lifted up highlighting things such as preferred pronouns, rooming assignments on trips, and bathrooms, to name a few. We were also joined that day by members of our SFFS board, Parents Association, and Equity and Inclusion Committee, who added important parent and board insights to our conversations. We knew there was work to do and we were eager to get started.
With an eighth grade trip to the Sierras occurring right after school started, we focused our attention on being more intentional with our rooming/tent assignments. On our past overnight trips, students have been divided into boy/girl tents and rooms. We researched what other schools were doing, then looked closely at our program and landed on a new practice. Going forward, prior to the overnight trip, students will be asked to make a list of 3-4 students they would feel comfortable rooming with, regardless of gender. Teachers will take this information into consideration and craft groups based on a variety of factors—including friend groups, classroom or advisory groupings, and group size. This approach is consistent with ways the school has created groups in other programs like Arts Electives, MS Activities, and some sports teams. We will also strive to refrain from unnecessary, inappropriate, and unhelpful binary gender configurations. We tested this new approach with our eighth graders in the Sierras and found it worked well.
Another area that we have revisited is the common practice of various moms/dads and sons/daughters events throughout the year: Moms/Dads Nights Out, Mother-Daughter Book Groups, Father-Son Campouts, etc. Again, we found these groups often dividing along strict binary gender lines, and not leaving room for those who identify differently, be they parents, guardians, or students. Members of our administrative team, along with our Parents Association and E&I clerks met and discussed this. We then reached out to our friends at Gender Spectrum for helpful guidance. We were reminded that community is created in many ways and these events are just one way we do this work. One just has to look at the number and diversity of potlucks we host at Friends to see this is in fact what we’re aiming to do: Spanish speakers potlucks, E&I affinity potlucks (single parents, adoptive parents, LGBTQ parents), grade level potlucks, Learning Support Alliance potlucks, mix-it-up potlucks, and on and on…WOW! In addition, we have film nights, Booktopia, parent education speakers, Blue Party, Winter and End of Year Celebrations, service projects, the Craft Fair, and many sports and arts events. We may not always get it right, but our intentions are to create connections in a variety of ways and we do that a lot!
To move forward, we’ve updated the E&I Checklist to include better gender guidelines and language, and are now calling it the "Parents Association Event Checklist" as it will be helpful for any committee or group as they look to plan events. With regard to moms/dads/daughters/sons events specifically, Joel favored a “both/and approach,” meaning that we can still offer gender specific events, but also encourage more general parent/guardian or guardian/kids events open to all. We know the challenge is often in the sheer number of events we offer (“More potlucks? What?!”), but we feel there is room to step away from some events in an effort to make room for others. Lastly, we’re also asking folks who do host these affinity types of events to add the language that says “and all are welcome.” This will allow those who are “allies” interested in sharing with and learning from others the opportunity, while still respecting the affinity connection of the group. Our SFFS team appreciated all this and will look for ways to create space in the months ahead.
Our efforts have reminded us that this is indeed difficult and ongoing work. At times we can feel confused, or that we are giving up something, or not being valued or heard. But if we are going to continue to strive to be a diverse and inclusive community of learners and families, this work is essential. We need to continue to ask difficult questions, embrace hard conversations, listen to and care for each other, and lean into this journey together.
Stay tuned for more updates as the year moves on, and if you have questions or comments please reach out to either your PA, E&I clerks or administrative team. You’re also welcome to join our At The Table conversation on Thursday, Nov. 9 from 8:30-9:30am, where we’ll be talking about gender issues and opportunities.