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.
Fresh off mini-lessons about power foods and sleep hygiene, seventh and eighth grade advisories are currently learning about mental well-being. The goal is to expand a kid's toolbox of coping mechanisms in response to stressful situations. Recent events have produced what many term the "bad news blues" or "disaster fatigue" for both adults and kids. Reminding kids (and ourselves) to monitor and limit intake of news feeds and alerts and to focus on some of the good news can help alleviate stress and anxiety. Mister Rogers wisely counseled his young viewers to "look for the helpers" when something bad happens. Sound advice. This recent New York Times piece is a good reminder for adults of how to cope.
Last week, seventh and eighth graders discussed how stress has changed for them since fifth and sixth grade and also considered the roles of positive vs. negative stress. They also engaged in conversation about effective and ineffective ways to cope. Seventh grader Lucy L. noted that "People are nicer now, but homework and classwork is harder."
Pat E., also a seventh grader, described his positive stress as a feeling of "excitement and adrenaline." Discussions in advisories revealed that, for some students, social stress has increased, as has a fear of "not being successful." Pat shared that the most effective way he deals with negative stress is "to talk with peers and grownups." He added, "The least effective way is keeping it in."
Charlie B. added that he copes by thinking "about how there are a lot of people who have better reasons to feel stressed than I do." He also noted that "being violent isn't effective."
In the coming weeks, seventh and eighth grade advisories will be talking through some typically stressful middle school scenarios to determine what might be the best coping strategy: avoid, adapt, alter, or accept. We'll also experiment with some stress reduction techniques proven to provide relief. We're doing our best in advisory to give students strategies to nurture a "keep calm and carry on" mindset!