Fifth- and sixth-graders at San Francisco Friends School recently wrote to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) with concerns about water quality in our city. The students were inspired to take action after reading an article about the water crisis in Flint, MI; learning more about the injustice that Flint residents faced as they have fought for clean water and answers; and discovering that Mari Copeny, also known as "Little Miss Flint," became a nationally-respected activist at the age of eight after writing her own letter to President Barack Obama.
Our students expressed their concerns to Juliet Ellis, chief strategy officer at the SFPUC, and raised questions about how crises like the one in Flint happen. Ellis responded to each student individually with a hand-written letter, reassuring them of the safety of San Francisco's drinking water, and lauding their interest in the health of not only themselves, but also the community at large. When discussing their activism and Ellis's response, the students were clearly energized.
"I felt sad [when I learned about Flint], because they didn't have tap water. And it made me feel like I was very lucky to be able to drink my tap water here," said Eli. "It made me feel kind of scared—because what happened there, could happen to us. We never think, hey, our water could become [unsafe]," agreed Mia. Rami closed the discussion with an important take-away: "Something I learned, is that even when you're younger, you can still make a difference."
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!"
THE CASTRO- Lively, filled with LGBTQ flags hanging proudly on every doorstep. The famous “gayborhood”, with history marked on every corner that you cross. Then why is this historical neighborhood is being flooded with hetereosexual people? Why are historical LGBTQ bars being replaced by Whole Foods? What’s the LGBTQ community doing about this?
In previous years it’s been rallys, or speeches, or presence in the government, but another form of activism is street art.
Although the Castro is a changing neighborhood, you can still find murals scattered across the neighborhood reminding us of the open, loving community in the Castro. On the corner of 18th and Noe, is the mural entitled “Love is Love” by muralist Deb, painted in 2016.
Deb has murals all across the city, but this is one or her most well-known pieces. The mural depicts two gay men, one black and one white smiling at each other with the words “Marry Me?’ in between them. Behind them is a city with two other interracial same sex couples and a couple feet away is a much smaller mural of a straight interracial couple.
Deb, born in Melbourne, Australia, moved to the Bay Area to continue her art endeavors. We reached out to Deb, and asked her why she thought the mural was special for the Castro.
“I think that it was special for many reasons. It highlights first and foremost.. LOVE is LOVE and it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, whether you were born male, female, or any other way. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what color your skin is. Love is Love and everyone equally deserves love and that message is hopefully the strongest through the mural.”
This mural was painted close to when the law of same sex marriage was changed, so it has been very important to keep screaming that message loud and clear. This helps spread it to other places that still aren’t able to marry the same sex yet. The mural is just one more thing for the public to see every day and to make them remember the message that love is strong.
Deb commented on how her acclaimed mural may be sparking this new change:
“I really hope that people have been encouraged to take inspiration from this mural to use their art to make a stand on an important issue and topic in this complex world we are living in.”
This street art is growing and it’s dominating the streets of the Castro spreading the message that the Castro is still the famous “gayborhood”, and there is no stopping it.
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!
Earlier this year we chatted with SFFS alum Trinity Lee about her life after Friends and her love of all things STEM. Trinity was recently awarded a prestigious full-ride scholarship through The Posse Foundation to attend Lehigh University!
Trinity graduated from Friends in 2014 and is currently a senior at Convent of the Sacred Heart. At Sacred Heart, she became interested in computer science, including programming languages and the Innobotics Club (innovation and robotics) on campus. Trinity’s interest led her to seek out more opportunities, which led her to the “Missfits”—an all girls, community based, robotics team that was started to help address the gender disparity in the engineering field. The team competes in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, a six-week intensive where high school students build industrial-sized robots that face off for a championship title.
Though Trinity came from a programming background, once she joined the team, that all changed.
“Surprisingly, once I joined the team, I didn't do any coding at all,” she said. “I actually specialized in the design and mechanical build aspect of the robot….I have so much more experience than when I started, but there is still a world of knowledge out there.”
Part of the Missfits mission is to bring STEM to youth in the community, which for Trinity is just an extension of her life at Friends. She credits the “well-rounded science background [I got] from SFFS and...the culture of inclusivity and integration of the SPICES” as being important aspects of her successful high school transition and career.
Trinity was kind enough to share some advice for our current 8th grade students as they transition to high school:
“Find something you are passionate about and stick with it! Try to go outside of your comfort zone and do things that you never considered doing. I liked the idea of robotics but I didn't know anyone who did it. Sure, I was scared to try it out but in the long run I really benefited from the experience...I have met a whole new group of people and have a great common interest with them. Ultimately, it's scary to leave Friends after a lifetime of friendship. Finding a passion will allow you to transition into your new school and find some great people to be friends with.”
At the end of last semester, drama teacher Jon Burnett helped a cohort of newly minted third grade voice actors produce their very own radio plays. Each of the 10 total shows, in just under two minutes, contains elements of action, horror, comedy, and the absurd. There’s even a historical drama!
“Discovering our voices” is the theme this year for the third grade drama class, and creating radio plays allowed students to make choices, figure out their theater voice, and create soundscapes. As a fun classroom exercise, students learned how to set the scene or create an environment using only their voices. In groups, students presented scenes like “a forest at midnight” or “downtown San Francisco during the day” and other groups had to guess what the environment was that they were listening to.
Students also worked hard on character voices, utilizing speed, pitch, tempo, volume—no small feat for third graders that just want to make drum sounds with their hands and feet.
For Jon, introducing radio plays in the third grade is a joyous endeavor because it is also something he discovered around that age. Growing up, Jon spent countless hours with his best friend Mark creating their own tape recorded radio shows. They kept it up until junior high.
“So much is visual today, so to focus on sounds is a unique experience,” says Jon. “It’s nice to say ‘cover your eyes or turn away, and just listen.’ But beyond that, many important 20th century playwrights grew up listening to radio and cite that in their development of story. So it is important to think about how words are used first to convey story.”
Jon notes that there was “some really nice creativity this year” with plays like “The Orchard Ghost,” a “cute, but very haunting” tale. “The Sacred Dungeon” is also a good use of voice with its creepy echo effects.
We hope you haven’t missed out on these very special radio plays, some of which lead with “Our story takes place at an office desk” and some with clever commercials like “Taco Burgers: only in New York!”
And you may never know “The Real Reason Why the HMS Titanic Sunk” unless you listen to the story below!
The Big Pencil Sharpener - Cooper, Henry, Margaret, Xochi
The Cursed Lollipop - Cassidy, Della, Leithian, Minjae, Theo
The Day the Sheriff Went Missing - Aman, Lea, Lucas, Nora, Selimah
Donkey Death - Kiran, Moses, Nathan, Ruby
The Fire Demon - Ava, Benji, Bram, Eliza
The Orchard Ghost - Francesca, Hazel, Jackson, Lev
The Real Reason Why the HMS Titanic Sunk - Cole, Lela, Marc, Mira, Oliver
The Sacred Dungeon - Bridger, Ryder, Tenley, Xavier
Train of Horror - August, Clay, Lucia, Lucy, Santi
Where Is the Hamster? - Juny, Maddy, Minyoung, Riley
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.
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.
Last year, the school year ended with my seventh grade class going to city hall to lobby for more accessible playgrounds. I was in the District 7 group, and we met in our district supervisor's office to share our ideas. We asked to replace one of the swings on the set with an accessible one that had a back and buckle. We also asked to replace the sand all around the playground with a squishy rubber surface so that people who are using wheelchairs or walkers could access the playground. Norman Yee, our supervisor, seemed attentive, though not very open to our ideas. But, later he followed up and emailed us information about some people who could possibly make these things happen. To our surprise, they followed up in the summer, emailing us to ask if we could meet at the park to discuss the changes.
Although my fellow classmates in the District 7 group couldn’t find time to meet, I decided to go to the Miraloma Park Improvement Club myself to learn about changing the playground at Miraloma Elementary to make it more accessible for kids (and parents) with disabilities. This is very important to me because I’ve seen how access and issues like these can affect people with disabilities.
My brother, Logan, used to attend Miraloma Elementary (he graduated last year). His disability doesn’t affect his mind at all, but it affects other muscles. He can’t walk, so it was sometimes a challenge for him to play with his friends after school, especially when they wanted to play in that playground. The school was very supportive of him and his needs. It’s a public school, so they provided classroom aids for him and lots of other resources. But, the playground has sand and other surfaces that he couldn’t get on to, so he sometimes couldn’t play with his friends, and this was very isolating.
Even though he has since graduated from Miraloma, I still wanted to make a change for other kids that may be experiencing the same situation. I met with the Miraloma Park Improvement Club, a group that includes Geoffrey Coffey and Daniel Homsey. I wanted to make some changes to the playground to improve the access, like replacing some of the sand with a rubber surface and making the new addition of an accessible swing.
It was a very casual meeting, but Mr. Coffey and Mr. Homsey said they would try to change it and they would do something about it. They told me they would keep me posted with details and new developments, and invite me to any meetings they had on the subject of access in the playground.
I hope those changes are made, and that some people’s lives will change, if only in what seems to be a small way, for the better.