SFFS alum Alexander Hirji '18 was a big hit with our 6th-Graders last week when he Zoomed in to talk with them about his involvement with the San Francisco Youth Commission. Alexander encouraged our students to "participate in democracy even if they can't [yet] vote," and our Friends left the conversation inspired about ways they can get involved in their local community and political scene.
SFFS alum Alexander Hirji '18 was a big hit with our 6th-Graders last week when he Zoomed in to talk with them about his involvement with the San Francisco Youth Commission. crediting Director of High School Transition and 8th Grade Advisor Kristen Daniel for encouraging he and his classmates to apply. 6th Grade Advisor and Humanities Teacher Evelyn Florin shared that Alexander recounted the awakening of his own activism in the spring of his 8th Grade year at Friends, when gun control was a prominent issue. That year, he and a number of classmates participated in a walkout from school; he remembers the action being a pivotal moment for him. 6th-Graders connected with his comments after recently studying civil disobedience during the fight for the 19th Amendment.
Evelyn noted that Alexander also engaged with 6th-Graders on the topic of Prop G, which would give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in local San Francisco elections. Our 6th-Graders were particularly interested in this topic, as they just wrapped up a series of debates on the issue. On November 3, Prop G was narrowly voted down, though Alexander noted that he strongly supported it.
Alexander ultimately recommended that 6th-Graders start getting involved in their communities now, and noted that participating in Board of Supervisor meetings or city department meetings is easier than ever in the days of COVID, as these gatherings are all taking place online. He encouraged them to "participate in democracy even if they can't [yet] vote."
Debriefing with a small group of students this afternoon, Evelyn said that many of our 6th-Graders agreed that they were so impressed to learn how involved Alexander is in municipal government, even at the age of 16.
Major thanks to Alexander for participating in this talk with the 6th Grade—connecting with alumni is so meaningful for our Friends, and we so appreciate it when our alums take the time to come back for a visit (even over Zoom)!
While sheltering in place and learning from home brought about great challenges for students (and their parents!), it also brought about exciting opportunities that the SFFS community may not have experienced otherwise. Our former 8th grade clerks—now our most recent SFFS alums—Maya, Ben, Erez, and Samara were some of those who found some silver linings and seized a special opportunity to learn, lead, and make a difference while at home.
They were selected to be a part of a new effort launched by the National Network of Schools in Partnership (NNSP) called the Student Task Force for Community Engagement. The goal of the project was to create a forum where students could share ideas and build capacity to help their community in this time of crisis. For seven weeks, they joined 70 students via Zoom from around the country (grades 8-12) to participate in a program that taught them advocacy and activism skills. Eventually they broke up into small teams based on shared interests for social entrepreneurship, and within the groups they were charged to develop a way to create change in their communities even while in quarantine. Midway through the process our clerks presented their work and facilitated conversations with the entire Middle School during a virtual Zoom assembly. The program culminated on their graduation day when they participated in a "Shark Tank" competition in front of judges to hear their ideas.
Ben and Erez were in a group that tackled gentrification and homelessness. Erez shared, "Our group created an organization, called the YFH, or Youth Fighting Homelessness. Our organization has a philosophy based around three actions: prevention, education, and advocacy." Follow them on Instagram!
Samara was part of a team advocating for food insecurity awareness and seeking local help and resources during COVID-19. Samara shared, "The issue is not something that can be put on pause because of the effects of coronavirus, it is so relevant and urgent to address. I was also drawn in because of previous work in the topic at Friends, volunteering at the SF/Marin Food Bank or Glide Memorial Church, and meeting people who relied on the services."
Maya was part of a team that examined environmental issues, in particular ocean pollution. “We made a website aimed at education,” shared Maya, “... with resources to help people reduce their negative impact on the oceans. My group has continued to work on the website, and will be launching it soon.” Her big take-away from being a part of this project: “... if you believe in something strongly enough, then you have the power to convince the world.”
And low and behold... (drum roll please)... Samara, Ben, and Erez were on winning teams! As a prize for winning, their teams now have the opportunity to work over the summer with a non-profit incubator designed specifically for students (CORE Foundation) to get their ideas off the ground!
We are so proud of these students to take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn, connect, and make an impact, and to put our schools values into action during a time when helping others is more important now than ever. What amazing leaders and changemakers letting their lives speak. Can’t wait to see what the future holds in high school and beyond!
Last fall, we launched Among Friends, a biannual, digital magazine for the SFFS community, with an inaugural issue that came out in November. As we began to gear up for the spring issue in February, we decided on "connection" as a theme—and how appropriate that theme became as our campus closed the face of a global pandemic and we found ourselves grappling with both distance learning and maintaining the bonds of our community without having 250 Valencia as a gathering space.
In the Spring/Summer issue of Among Friends, which you can read here, you'll find an inspiring first-hand account of faculty collaboration, a treasure trove of book recommendations from Friends and colleagues, reflections on how we've endeavored to stay connected to one another throughout this strange time, and a Q&A from one of our recent Class of 2020 graduates who recently won an award for his first foray into documentary filmmaking, among other stories.
We hope you enjoy, and that you get involved with this publication, which has the power to become an important point of connection for our SFFS community! If you have an idea for a story, an alumnus we should profile, or a class note to submit (we always welcome more class notes!), please reach out to Alissa (director of communications) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Last spring, one of our current SFFS 8th-Graders, Max M. '20 first learned about the KenKen International Championship, which takes place outside of New York City and is sponsored by The New York Times and hosted by renowned Times puzzle master Will Shortz. His math teacher at the time, Kelsey Barbella, briefly mentioned it during class, Max remembers: "Since I really loved KenKens and am always up for a challenge, I got the details and entered."
KenKens, for those new to them, are math puzzles that are solved in a grid—puzzlers use basic math, critical thinking, and logic skills to resolve the KenKen grid. More than being a math exercise, many say that KenKens help puzzlers to build useful problem-solving tools and determination.
Fast-forward a few months from that 7th Grade math class, and Max was in Pleasantville, New York, this past December for the big competition. "The tournament has a very upbeat ambiance when everyone is not competing," He says. "Between rounds, people get food from the food truck outside, and before the last round, Will Shortz has a word puzzle that we try to solve like the ones that he has on Sundays. When I was at the tournament, the puzzle was to find a four-letter word hidden inside of a given word. For example, if the word was 'ASTRONAUT,' the answer could be STAT, which can be spelled by removing the ARONU. I remember trying to solve the puzzles quickly enough, but there were only a few easy enough for me to get." Max ultimately came in 4th Place in the entire competition, and was the first finisher from the U.S.
Max explains his love of puzzles and problem-solving: "I like puzzles because they make me look at things in different ways. Math puzzles in particular make me look on the logic side and also the common sense. I know that if I have only 1 more number in a row or column, I am able to figure that out, but if that number doesn't fit an equation I have to use my common sense to make the equation work. I like that it makes me use different parts of my brain to solve things all at the same time.
Want to try your hand at a KenKen puzzle? Click here, and good luck!
San Francisco Friends School recently launched a biannual digital magazine, Among Friends, featuring articles that we have been posting to our website, continuing with this piece featuring one of our wonderful alums, Stella Malone, who graduated from Friends in 2017. To read more from the Fall 2019 issue of Among Friends, please click here. And please let us know what you think! Share your feedback, article ideas, and class notes with Director of Communications Alissa Moe at email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!
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 Daniel, 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!"