When San Francisco Friends School 7th-Grader Ariel received an email from Middle School teacher Beth Pollack about writing contests, there was one that stuck out: it was a Scholastic-sponsored contest focused on the style of young adult author Rick Riordan, and it was specifically for students in 6th–8th grades. Ariel figured she would give it a shot, though she didn’t expect to place, as the Rick Riordan Writing Contest is open to students nationwide and is considered to be highly competitive. Parameters for the contest included that the story include a scene in which the student meets a parent… who also happens to be a mythological god. Scholastic stated that winners would be chosen based on “the equally weighted criteria of originality, creativity, and execution.”
Ariel decided to write about the Egyptian goddess Maat, an intriguing figure who is less well-known in the ancient mythological world, but whose power and influence was formidable in the ancient Egyptian world. She likes creating narratives for more mysterious characters and underdogs, which is perhaps what draws her to the fantasy genre. “What I like to read mirrors what I like to write—fantasy!” Ariel’s favorite authors include: J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame; celebrated YA writer Rick Riordan (she likes how he mashes together Greek mythology with real life); and Cynthia Kadohata, who wrote the award-winning The Thing About Luck.
She found out she was a finalist earlier this semester when she received a letter from Scholastic. For her accomplishment as a finalist, Scholastic sent her a coveted Rick Riordan library—“I was so excited about that!” For Ariel, this was affirmation of a passion she has honed for some time: “Ever since I was little, I’ve liked to write stories,” she says. “Outside of school, I write fantasy… I like writing fairy tale-type things. When I was little, I wrote this story about the Land of Sweets, and I wrote about the sweets as people with personalities—I created a whole world for them.”
Ariel also has some advice for younger students who want to write, but have a hard time getting started: “Look around you, look at books by authors you admire—that’s always where I get my inspiration. [Your stories don’t have to be perfect from the beginning]—just get started and you can revise later.” She acknowledges the challenges of getting words down on the page: “Writing can be hard at first, but it gets really fun when you get into it. I may enter more contests in the future if I have time!”
To read Ariel’s story, entitled The Escapade of the Pizza, the Soccer Ball, and the God in Disguise, please click here.
To be a private school that serves a public purpose is a principled aspiration shared by the vast majority of independent schools. At SFFS our established commitments to Horizons, adjustable tuition, service learning, and the Friends Community Scholars exemplify that principle in practice and contribute to our role as a school community not only in but of our neighborhood, the Mission. – Mike Hanas, Head of San Francisco Friends School
SFFS enrolled its first Friends Community Scholars in 2013, after the Board and administration determined that instituting this program was essential to continuing our community’s commitment to diversity. Established for “high-achieving, economically disadvantaged middle school students from neighborhoods surrounding the school,” the Friends Community Scholars program (or FCS) is funded through the $2 million raised to begin the program during the Building Friends capital campaign, and underwrites all that goes into a well-rounded Friends experience, lasting the duration of middle school. Beyond tuition, SFFS covers the costs of everything from laptops to field trips to tutoring to hot lunches to extracurricular activities to music lessons to athletic gear and uniforms. Supporting the breadth of our scholars’ experience promotes the ideology of inclusivity that FCS was founded on and encourages students to get involved in numerous facets of life here. Former trustee Shannon Cogen reflects: “SFFS’s founders conceived of a program like FCS from the beginning. It advanced the mission in so many ways: providing diverse voices and perspectives that are so essential to education, deepening our ties to our neighborhood, and addressing, even in a relatively small way, educational inequities.”
The FCS program was first inspired by Germantown Friends School’s Community Scholars program, and the ways in which the program showed Germantown Friends’ commitment to its surrounding Philadelphia community. As SFFS stated in its initial case for support to launch the program in 2012, “Friends Community Scholars… will add to the diversity of voices and talents at Friends School.” Today, 21 students have matriculated at SFFS through the Friends Community Scholars program (with nine already graduating). Not only have these students made a profound impact at Friends, but their contributions and development has notably continued into their high school careers. Says Kristen Daniels, SFFS director of middle school and high school transition: “From my perspective, the Friends Community Scholars include some of the hardest working students we've had in our middle school. When I hear about them succeeding in high school on a robotics team, on the volleyball court, or as a leader of an affinity group, I hope that Friends had a small part in helping them discover their voice and talent and pursue it with passion and commitment.”
For Friends alumni who went through the program, the tools and relationships they garnered during their time here have proven invaluable: “All my teachers and all the SFFS staff have played big parts in the development of who I am today… I brought my determination, my culture, my grit to learn, and my voice [to my high school]—all of which I learned, and which people helped me realize about myself, at SFFS,” says Gaby Garcia (SFFS ‘18). Fellow FCS and Friends alum Sassy Mosely-Wise (SFFS ‘16) agrees: “A large part of my personality and moral ethics are shaped around the values I learned at Friends School. When there were conflicts or problems within my community, we were taught to solve them keeping these values in mind. These approaches have shaped the way I handle issues today, and I am forever grateful for the ethics lesson in and outside of the classroom.”
Perhaps as important is the sense of belonging that graduates feel during their time at SFFS. “Even though I only spent three years at Friends School, compared to the majority of my grade that spent nine years attending Friends, I felt welcomed into the school. Students and faculty made me feel included,” says Sassy. Gaby echoes this sentiment: “Friends' allowed me to share a piece of who I am, my culture and my soul, with the school. This was, and still is, very meaningful to me, because before I was very timid and Friends gave me the support.. to find my powerful voice. What I love about Friends is that the community is eager to see that powerful voice in its students, and [to watch students grow].”
|• 2013: First class of Friends Community Scholars was enrolled in the SFFS Middle School
• $2M: Initial total of funds raised to create the FCS program
• 21: Number of students who have now matriculated at the SFFS Middle School as Friends Community Scholars
• Nine: Current total of alumni of the Friends Community Scholars program
The Friends School is a school that values interactivity with lesson plans, allowing facts and figures not only to exist on paper but right before us. Sure, learning about the stratosphere’s impact on marshmallows could be digested while seated, but our school takes it to the next level.
The 8th graders have been introduced to the weather balloon, a large helium balloon that comes equipped with resources to measure the atmosphere. Our weather balloon holds a CanSat, which is a research tool to help us collect the data we find, a camera, and seven different experiments chosen by 8th, 4th, and Kindergarteners. The three 8th Grade classes brainstormed and discussed possible items to put into the payload of the balloon, and figured out what items would get impacted by the change in environment. The three groups chose marshmallows, sound, and multiple forms of water, then connected with their buddy grades of 4th grade and Kindergarten. The 4th graders and Kindergarten also discussed what they wanted to put into the balloon and decided on brine shrimp eggs, popcorn, seeds, and salt water. “I thought that this really brought us together and collaborated really well and I thought this brought us closer with our buddies because we were able to collaborate with something together and have a a bonding time as a grade,” said Clara (SFFS’19).
Each 8th-grade section has split into groups, each dedicated to a different part of the launch. There are six teams: Flight Management (looking at weather patterns, and looking for an optimal launch day, Engineering (the craftsmanship and mechanics of the project), Communications (talking with teachers, newspapers, etc.) Data Science (researching how to execute the experiment most efficiently), Event Logistics (picking a location), and Science (researching and creating the hypothesis). Rylan (SFFS ‘19) of the Engineering team noted that the teams have all come together to work through obstacles: “The most fun part of this project has been the problem-solving. Whenever we are presented with a problem, we come together to solve it.” Each team has a responsibility in making sure that the flight will go smoothly. As the launch date nears, each group continues to work hard and secure the launching time, location, and payload.
What We Hope to Learn/Impact:
The results of this experiment will lead to an even deeper understanding of air pressure, density, temperature, humidity, and their effects. This is a really special opportunity that we are able to participate and experience, and we are all excited to see the results. As Mary (SFFS’19) on the Science team explained: “We have written the hypothesis for the two aspects of our experiment, the tone that we are creating and the ambient sound that we are recording. We’ve also not found that much research on what we are trying to find out so this experiment will give us brand new information.” Many students are expressing gratitude and enthusiasm. In one student’s words: “I was so excited and interested when first heard of the project! I had never heard of anything like this and when we saw a video of the balloon, and how we could see the curve of the earth from the balloon’s camera. I was even more interested,” said Communications team member Taevin (SFFS’19). This lesson extends beyond the classroom, as our science teachers announced that we would be seeing this effect in real life. Along with this, the independent work and collaboration skills we are able to learn from this project will be important to our high school experience. The project itself is extremely memorable.
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