Skip to main content

Teaching & Learning

Art Inspired by Data

Monday, March 1, 2021

6th Grade Math students explore how data tells stories.

Recently, 6th Grade math students engaged in a project inspired the Dear Data project. Two award-winning information designers, Georgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, created this year-long analog data drawing project. Each week for a year, the artists collected and measured a particular type of data from their own lives. They then used this data to make a drawing on a postcard sheet of paper, putting the data art on one side, and a key to reading the data on the other. Then, they mailed each other the data art. Examples of data they collected include: how many times they said or wrote the word “data” in a week, a variety of data about their book collections, data about the kinds of photos they take on their phone, and data about the sounds that surround them. 

After learning about Dear Data, analyzing many examples of visual data, and practicing their art skills, the 6th-Graders at SFFS started their own journey. First, they decided what data they wanted to collect and set about collecting it. Next, they looked at the data and thought about what they found out. They were then challenged to tell that story visually, using what they learned from their experiments, keeping in mind that their final picture had to be understandable (when using the key). 

For their project, our SFFS students focused on two objectives: 1) To Learn to See – as artists and mathematicians, and to learn about using data as a material and 2) To Observe, Acknowledge, Count, and Draw – essentially, to immerse themselves in the world of data. Additionally, students created their postcards while keeping in mind that data artists design data so it is more accessible and does not overload the brain; seeing patterns and creating beauty, data visualization, has become an art form; and that human beings respond intuitively and emotionally to patterns.

To learn more about the project that inspired our 6th Grade Friends, please visit the Dear Data website at You can also see more of our students' work on our Facebook and Instagram pages. 

The Spring/Summer Issue of Among Friends Is Here!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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 Looking forward to hearing from you! 

SFFS Library/Learning Commons to Start Book Take-Out Program This Week!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

This summer we are honoring your children's love of books by bringing you some TLLC: Take-Out from the Library Learning Commons! The program will start THIS Friday, June 26!

Here's how it will work:

  • Select books, either from the summer resource reading lists we provided at the end of the school year OR from our Friends School LLC catalog, and search for books you and your child(ren) would like to read. See something you want but it is out? We can put it on hold for you.
  • Email Suzanne for K–4 ( and Jason for 5–8 ( with your "orders" by midnight on Thursday. 
  • We will pack up your bag of books (up to 10!) on Friday morning.*
  • Pull up in the carpool lane or park and come to the gate at the yard between 12:00–2:00 p.m. on Friday for pick-up! (Due to COVID-19 restraints on building access and hours, the Friday 12:00–2:00 p.m. window is the only available pick-up time.)
  • You may also return books from the past few months (as well as summertime checkouts) during the Friday pick-up time.

TLLC will be available every Friday through the summer (unless otherwise noted). It is important for families to note that things were a bit rushed during COVID closure, and we handed out books to some people without checking them out. Because of this, the catalog may say that a title is available, but it may actually be checked out; we'll let you know if it turns out that one of your requests is not actually on the shelves.

And for more book acquisition options (and to donate!) don't forget the BOOK SWAP, which will be going all summer long! Let's keep our Friends reading! 

Staffing News: Goodbyes and Hellos in the Lower School

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Each year, we learn that we will be saying goodbye to colleagues who are moving on or retiring from their positions at SFFS. As we encourage risk-taking, lifelong learning, and growth in both our students and ourselves, we celebrate our Friends as they continue their adventures and journeys outside of 250 Valencia, and we thank them for their contributions to our community. This year, I reached out to colleagues for some insight about our departures. The quotes you will read below are from unnamed faculty members who have years and decades of collaborative experience with our departing colleagues. I hope their words help convey a fraction of the debt we owe them as instructional leaders and community members. We encourage you to help us honor and celebrate those who are departing, while also welcoming those who will soon be joining this special community of learners and Friends.



Jake Ban 
by Jennifer Arnest

Jake Ban is going to Boston!

When we first met almost five years ago, I knew right away that we had to have Jake Ban on our teaching team. Jake exudes a vibrant energy and a commitment to professionalism that is contagious. Our team and our whole school has been influenced by his clear attention to curriculum, and his work ethic and endurance is admirable. He’s a driver of ideas, a cheerleader, and a positive thinker on the team, and I am among his biggest fans. Jake will be leaving the San Francisco Friends School to pursue graduate education in school leadership at Harvard. He and his husband will be relocating to Cambridge in July. We know we will stay in touch, as Jake’s future is something we all want to keep an eye on. Jake has found his calling in the field to be sure, and Harvard is the luckiest to receive him. We are so sad, and also, very, very proud of him.



Luis Hernandez
by Jennifer Arnest

In the 3rd Grade position, working alongside Andrea Green next year, we are thrilled to welcome Luis Hernandez to our Lower School team. Luis is currently busy wrapping up the Distance Learning for his current 3rd Grade class at Prospect Sierra School, but will be joining us for our end of year rituals, and an important part of our planning this summer, too. When the hiring committee met Luis we all just crossed our fingers and thanked our lucky stars when he accepted our offer. His resonance to our Quaker mission, his experience in independent schools, his love of the city, and his good humor and graces make us all very sure he will be a wonderful addition to the team.

Even though he’s just finished the BATTI Masters and Credential program, Luis is no stranger to independent school communities. He’s been in the education field for over 20 years, starting as an independent school student to transitions to roles such as  Development Manager at the Katherine Delmar Burke School, to an Admissions Officer for the Nueva School, and most recently, as a 3rd grade associate teacher at Prospect Sierra. Born and raised in the Bronx, NY, Luis brings a sense of confidence about how schools work and comes with the ability to effectively connect and collaborate with administrators and families as easily as he does with students. When not creating his latest video lesson, Luis enjoys staying fit, healthy cooking, and playing music, preferably all outside. It is clear that this New Yorker has fully embraced Bay Area life!

Staffing News: Goodbyes and Hellos in the Middle School

Friday, May 15, 2020

Each year, we learn that we will be saying goodbye to colleagues who are moving on or retiring from their positions at SFFS. As we encourage risk-taking, lifelong learning, and growth in both our students and ourselves, we celebrate our Friends as they continue their adventures and journeys outside of 250 Valencia, and we thank them for their contributions to our community. This year, I reached out to colleagues for some insight about our departures. The quotes you will read below are from unnamed faculty members who have years and decades of collaborative experience with our departing colleagues. I hope their words help convey a fraction of the debt we owe them as instructional leaders and community members. We encourage you to help us honor and celebrate those who are departing, while also welcoming those who will soon be joining this special community of learners and Friends.



Christopher Gonzalez-Crane 
by Clarke Weatherspoon

Christopher departs Friends after two years of teaching in the Middle School Humanities Department and acting as an advisor in both the 6th and 7th Grades. Christopher is a thought leader who cares deeply about people and justice. One colleague notes that “Christopher is passionate about advocating for kids.” Another peer expressed a similar sentiment: “Christopher can be an advocate for the underdog, reaching out to help a student who is troubled or struggling with an issue.” He is currently completing a term as a member of our Steering Committee on Equity and Inclusion, and he has continually pushed the group to thoughtfully consider the details that will allow us to be most effective in reaching our goals. 

Christopher is also known for his critical and incisive academic work. He is deeply committed to creating meaningful content. A fellow faculty member noted that: “Christopher always seeks out resources that help me expand my curriculum—he's always leaving books in my room that support what I am teaching.” His capacity to partner with and lead others is born out of his “intellectual curiosity and passion about language and history. His sensitivity comes across so clearly and engagingly in class and in morning meetings.” Christopher’s presence and dry sense of humor are also notable and appreciated; he is never afraid to speak up, and his contributions are always from the heart.

On Christopher’s leaving, one Friend put it simply: “I got to say, I love the guy and will really miss him.”


David Louis 
by Clarke Weatherspoon

We also say goodbye to David Louis, who came to Friends as a founding member of the Middle School and has played a key role in shaping the math program and overall school culture at SFFS, in addition to being a lead 8th Grade advisor. David is a community leader, SFFS parent and meticulous communicator. He is also a baseball fanatic and master teacher.

David's capacity for leadership seemingly comes from his quiet confidence and understanding of what matters most. A Math Department colleague said of him: “David always brought me back to reality and reminded me that teaching was one of the most challenging and respectable professions out there.” Another collaborator noted that “David is the epitome of the Quaker catchphrase, ‘love and trust.’ With students you can witness this as he crafts class discussions and draws on individuals' strengths in order to create a rich and elegant flow.” “David is generous with his time and heart—always willing to give more time to students and colleagues and offer real praise or tough feedback in a loving way, whichever is needed.” Through years of developing classes, teaching teachers, and supporting students, David has remained humble. “He's willing to help with everything—moving furniture, writing reports, solving math problems—and he is constantly working to make his own practice better.” 

The departure of a teacher like David is an important and pivotal moment in the life of a school. “David’s high standards, coupled with his warmth are part of what makes him such an incredible educator, role model, and friend. David is authentic with students and colleagues alike. He is creative, kind, and trustworthy as they come.” We are all grateful for the time, energy, presence, and wisdom that David has brought to our school. He has inspired a generation of students and teachers (including many SFFS alumni who have decided they wanted to pursue teaching because of David’s influence), and he has helped to make Friends an educational leader in our city. We wish him luck and rest as he moves into retirement. 


Elissa “Lissie” McAlvey 

Lissie will join the SFFS faculty as the 8th Grade math teacher in August. Lissie joins Friends after five years at the Nueva School. A native of Michigan, she brings a host of skills and experiences to Friends. Among her previous responsibilities at Nueva, Lissie served as a grade level dean, scheduler, and equity and inclusion leader. She was also an official Equity and Inclusion Representative for the middle school and the leader of Girls Adventure in Math, which helps young women get more involved in the realm of mathematics and leadership. Lissie is fluent in Spanish and brings experience as a collegiate basketball player to 250 Valencia. We are excited to bring in a curious, mathematical thinker to help us in the next chapter of designing meaningful learning experiences at Friends. We look forward to Lissie joining us in the fall. 


Gabby Miller 

Gabby returns for a second tenure as the interim middle school art teacher. Gabby was last with us in the 2014–2015 school year and returns to rekindle and deepen meaningful bonds with the community. Gabby holds a MFA from UC Irvine and has extensive experience in youth arts education, advocacy, and engagement. Gabby has taught at UC Irvine, the Oxbow School, and Millennium School, and has served as a Board member of Dhamma Dena Mediation Center since 2018. In addition, Gabby served as a Board member and as Program and Outreach Coordinator for Bay Area Girls Rock Camp. Gabby brings experience as an independent artist, lecturer, published author, and inspiring leader back(!) to SFFS. Welcome home, Gabby!

Though Campus Is Closed, Our Friends Stay Connected

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

When the Friends campus closed nearly five weeks ago due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, the shift was monumental for everyone. Faculty, staff, students, and families all needed to learn to adjust–within days—to innovative methods of teaching and learning, as well as to new ways of keeping our community connections strong. Safe to say, as we head into this Spring Break week, that our blue fire burns brighter than ever these days—and we couldn't be more grateful to everyone who's made this possible.

Faculty and staff quickly came together to begin planning a distance learning program that kept Quaker values at the center, with a gradual roll-out of increasingly interactive video lessons and synchronous online gatherings and class time. Our educational technology and integration staff built out both our Lower and Middle School Distance Learning Portals with access to class material, schedules, and distance learning tips for parents and students. Fortifying our online community-building, both Jennifer and Clarke have offered weekly support meetings for parents and we have also implemented advisory Meetings for Worship and meditation sessions to try to protect time to come together and reflect as we would at 250 Valencia. This week, our wonderful ED/A3 staff are offering a virtual Spring Break camp, with offerings ranging from origami to fitness classes for all of our Friends—you can check out the full schedule on the Portals. 

The school closure and shelter-in-place order in San Francisco also meant that our beloved annual fundraiser, the Blue Party, needed to be re-imagined, and we took the celebration digital with an online auction, virtual cocktail party toolkit, and the establishment of our SFFS Emergency Relief Fund. In anticipation of far greater financial need among our families in the coming school year, we hoped that our community would come through—and did they ever. We far surpassed our goal for the event and the emergency fund, and the strength of this community in our efforts to support one another has been truly inspiring. Though the next couple of years may be financially challenging, we are so grateful to have Friends like you who continue to lift the community up, time and time again.

We continue to miss our colleagues, students, and community greatly; we miss our building and the communal silence of all-school Meetings for Worship. We miss the all-day laughter and shouts from the Front Yard, and we miss the buzz and excitement of our classrooms and assemblies. But we know we will be together again; and in the meantime, we remain undoubtedly connected in spirit.

Friends Forever! 


To see some "Friendly Faces" or check out some of the cool ways our school has embraced distance learning, please check out our Facebook and Instagram accounts. And to learn more about our school's communications and response to COVID, as well as resources for families and ideas on how you can help—and take care of yourself—please check out our COVID-19 webpage, as well as our Wellness & Values page, both located on our SFFS website. Be well, Friends! 

"I Consider Myself American": Screening "Waking Dream" at SFFS

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

“I love this country. I consider myself American even though America doesn’t consider me that.” This is one of the many powerful quotes from a subject in the immigration documentary, Waking Dream.

The Spanish Committee of the San Francisco Friends School Parents Association hosted our first event on the evening of Friday, January 31, in the Black Box Theater at Friends. Waking Dream follows multiple college and graduate students around the nation fighting for their education in the midst of uncertainty under the DACA program. The majority of young adults in DACA were brought to the USA at a young age, and their futures currently hang in the balance—with the current political climate, DACA’s existence will be decided by the Supreme Court in the coming months. If these students are returned to their countries of origin, they will not be returning home, but to the places of their birth. 

In showing this film, the PA Committee's purpose was to bring awareness to a topic so dear to the heart of many immigrants; something that we don’t talk much about is the fact that a change in DACA status would affect many members of the SFFS community. 

At the end of the screening, we held a panel discussion. The guests on the panel were DACA students; parents of DACA students; and Theo Rigby P'27, the creator of the documentary and also a parent here at Friends. Some questions that were lifted up by the audience were:

  • How can the community of parents at Friends support these families?
  • Can we share this video with students at Friends and talk about this topic with them?
  • How can we make space for more of these conversations at Friends?

This was a really powerful evening. The Spanish PA hopes to host more events like these, and we hope to see more of our community join us as we continue this important conversation and begin others.

Faculty Friends: Learning Can Be a Messy Lesson

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

San Francisco Friends School recently launched a biannual digital magazine, Among Friends, featuring articles that we will be posting to our website, starting with this piece by SFFS Lower School teachers Amabelle and Jake. 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 Looking forward to hearing from you! 

Preparing to Launch Our Weather Balloon!

Friday, March 15, 2019

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.

Exploring the Future of Friends

Thursday, November 29, 2018

When Lower School Head Jennifer Arnest saw a piece on 60 Minutes about MIT’s Media Lab earlier this year, she was immediately inspired to see this so-called “Future Factory” for herself. Convinced that the lab, a model of collaboration and breaking down traditional discipline barriers, could inform the exciting strategic initiatives that are taking form at SFFS, Jennifer enlisted Academic Dean Tracie Mastronicola and longtime SFFS Art Teacher Jennifer Stuart—who recently led students in an interdisciplinary project on light with Science Teacher Sara Melman—to join her in making the trek East.
“What we’re trying to do is consider how an integrated approach to teaching and learning affords students a better understanding of the work they’ll likely be engaged in as they enter adulthood. [Answering these questions will help us] build a program with a thoughtful curriculum and applied learning lab work that is robust and takes into consideration who we are at Friends,” says Jennifer.
Founded in 1985, the MIT Media Lab houses numerous research groups that blend disciplines including technology, media, science, and design. Researchers at the lab aim to “anticipate and create technologies to make our lives safer, cleaner, healthier, fairer, and more productive.”
Among the most well-known of these groups is renowned educator Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten Lab, which “develops new technologies and activities that… engage people in creative learning experiences. Our ultimate goal is to foster a world full of playfully creative people, who are constantly inventing new possibilities for themselves and their communities.”
After securing an invite from the lab, our SFFS Friends flew out to MIT, eager to learn more about how people from such varied career and education backgrounds come together at the Media Lab to develop creative, strategic solutions to specific challenges. They came away inspired by what they saw. Jennifer Arnest notes that the philosophy imbued in the work of Lifelong Kindergarten can be applied to numerous facets of our strategic work, including the new schedule, which aims to create more space for SFFS faculty and staff to collaborate across departments, creating innovative opportunities for our students to problem-solve through hands-on learning. It also emphasizes learning and creating as part of a team, which Jennifer Stuart notes gives us the opportunity to give and receive feedback, to ask and answer questions, etc. in an engaged, organic way.
“When you’re at the Lab, you can get drawn in by all the different components… but underneath the cool projects, there is a purpose: how this technology can solve problems we’re facing,” says Jennifer Stuart. “At Friends, we already have great integrative work going on at all grade levels—and now we have new ideas to build on the strengths we already have.”
To learn more about our work to develop a new schedule for the 2019–20 school year which will provide more opportunity for integrative, thoughtful, ­project-based learning, please click here. And please continue to check the strategic direction section of our website, which will continuously be updated throughout the coming months as we implement new strategies for learning and growth at SFFS.