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Teaching & Learning

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.

Inspired by Flint, Middle-Schoolers write to the SF Public Utilities Commission

Monday, September 17, 2018

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."

Introducing the SFFS Friendly Chat Series! Vol. 1: Anhvu

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Starting this year, Director of Middle School and High School Transition Kristen Daniel will be interviewing different members of our faculty and staff in a series we're calling Friendly Chats. The interviews, which we will transcribe and publish here, take place at the opening of our weekly faculty/staff meetings. We are excited to share these interviews with you, and hope that Friendly Chats provide everyone in the Friends community the opportunity and insight to get to know the adults on campus a little better! 

First to sit down with Kristen for a Friendly Chat is Anhvu Buchanan, one of our lead second-grade teachers. 


K: Thank you for being our first guest! To start out, I wondered if you could say a little bit about your name.

A: My first name, Anhvu, is Vietnamese, and my last name is Buchanan. When my mom came to this country, she married an American man with the last name, Buchanan, who isn’t my father. And [they] divorced, but she decided to keep that last name because it was a time period when she was worried about racism, people looking at her differently… But then she gave me a Vietnamese first name, so I don’t know! 
A story I tell my students that I’ll share with you now, is that I actually didn’t know my name was Anhvu until the sixth grade. I thought my name was Andrew, and that’s because in kindergarten, kids couldn’t say Anhvu, and it came out as Andrew. And then I went to a private, Catholic school where you just sign up with whatever name you want, so my mom signed me up as Andrew. In sixth grade I went to public school, and the night before school started, my mother comes in, hands me a piece of paper, and says, ‘Oh, they’re going to call you this tomorrow. This is actually your real name.’ And I looked at it, like, ‘What?!’ And for the first three weeks of school, I actually carried around my name because I didn’t know how to spell it... And that’s why I never get mad at students or parents or anyone for misspelling my name, because I remember how hard it was for me. 
It became a weird identity thing because in middle school and high school kids say, “What do you want to go by?,” and I would always say my nickname because I was kind of embarrassed, [having to go by a Vietnamese first name]. It wasn’t until 11th grade that I made the conscious choice to ask to be called Anhvu, and that was because I found friends, Asian friends, who were like, ‘Your name’s awesome—be proud of it!’ So having those allies, that affinity group, really made me proud. But if you call my house now, my parents and family members still call me Andrew.

K: I had the pleasure of reading your published poetry over the weekend, which I really enjoyed— 

A: Sorry for that! 

K: It was great! You’ve published two collections: this first one is called The Disordered, and it was published in 2013. There was a line from one of the poems, 
Why aren’t there milkmen anymore?  And what is the hourly wage for a starting tooth fairy?
And I love that line because there’s such a sense of playfulness to it, and it made me think or maybe understand why second-graders are drawn to you… I wondered if you could just talk for a little bit about how you approach poetry with second grade. 

A: I introduce it as: I have this experience with poetry, and I want to teach you different poetry tools. So each week we introduce a different tool, and I think at this age and any age, even for high school and college, model poems and mentor texts are really important. Also, imagery is really important to me. Sometimes you can just look at a picture, and use that as inspiration for poems or as a starting point for any kind of writing. In addition to tools, we introduce different forms of poetry—haiku, recipe poems, poems that the students may have never come across. 

K: Poetry is very personal, so there are certain pieces that appealed to me for different reasons. I hope that you’ll read one of your favorites for us. 

A: Sure. The Disordered was my thesis for grad school [an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State]. Prior to that, I was a psych major in undergrad. So this book was basically my poetic reinterpretation of a very scientific text—every poem is based on or influenced by a different psychological disorder. Some of you know that I’m a pretty bad hypochondriac, and this poem is influenced by my personal experience:
The Hypochondriac
I wake up from naps bloated with broken knuckles my spine tingles when I stare at goldfish sometimes there is a pain in my side when I cook meatloaf my face is always flushed when I enter a bingo hall my throat gets sore when dogs bark at me my knees are stiff four days a week I yawn excessively though I’ve never seen anyone yawn before my legs swell up when I shower in the afternoon I lose a bit of hair riding in a taxi after board games I limp for five straight hours the tips of my toes get discolored in February I get shortness of breath eating at a salad bar my vomit is always blue I can’t stop coughing when I listen to morning radio whenever it snows I have back pains my eyes bulge anytime I’m around squirrels I twist my ankle anytime I speak in public my skin gets itchy when I sit on hardwood floors reading the Sunday paper gives me the hiccups my face twitches on birthdays I always fracture a bone after shopping in thrift stores I have difficulty swallowing food in the spring every time I blink I think I’m dying I blink at least sixteen times a minute

K: That was really fun—why do you read it that way?

A: If you notice, a lot of my poetry is in prose blocks or without punctuation. And the idea is that you’re in your mind a lot, and some of these thoughts are just never-ending. But I also like to play with language, and have people read it in different ways without punctuation having to [structure] the poem. 
My other book is called Backhanded Compliments & Other Ways to Say I Love You. What got me writing poetry in the first place was high school: broken heart, listening to music, writing sad songs and poems. So this book was me seeing if I could write better love poems than I wrote in high school. And the idea is, some of these are sad love poems, some are happy, and you just have to read to see what feels right for you. This is called “Board Game Affair.” 

like the twister that spun from your mouth and crashed into me the first time our words said hello 
like the clue you hid beneath your tongue and couldn’t wait for me to discover
like the monopoly between our bodies, the slow boardwalk to and from your door, the hotels and houses aching between my fingers that I wanted to build for you
like the scrabble to find the perfect vowels to fit the perfect word to fill the perfect sentence to create a paragraph so precise that we took down the moon

like the chutes and ladders and mazes and tunnels and shafts and passages and burrows and puzzles and webs I had to crawl through to get just a little bit closer 
like the battleship scars I peeled off you one by one, layer by layer
like the risk you took putting ants in your mouth to show me you cared about my poems
like the life I thought we’d have together

like the mouse trap you set up by the windows and the doors to know I would always be 
by your side 
like the parcheesi way you threw plates at the wall to tell me we needed to talk 
like the operation we wanted to get to stitch your lips to my earor your eyes to my eyes
like the sorry! I could never quite seem to prove to you 

like the way we wished perfection was something we could actually grasp
like the last time you leaned in to me and whispered yahtzee into my ear and really, truly meant it. 

K: When I was reading both books over the weekend, that was one of my favorites. It felt really playful and accessible, and I think that a lot of the poems [in Backhanded Compliments] are very playful; they’re about love and relationships, and you had some exceptionally beautiful lines that spoke to me. One that I thought was really exceptional: You hand me a paddle; I hand you the creek. We listen to the shoreline, then wait for each other’s call. 
I know that social justice work is important to you, and you did some work in the juvenile justice system. There is a poem in The Disordered that I’d like you to read for us, and then talk about how you came to that work with young people and what inspired you to write about the experience of someone on Death Row.


I became the witness and reported on the case and wrote about his life and detailed his crimes and followed his story as he approached execution and the paper-thin mirror between us and saw him strapped to the chair and heard the tremble in his voice and sensed his last few gulps and heard the phone call at the very last minute and observed the hope as he was saved temporarily and watched as he disappeared and then returned and strapped down again and they started and I felt his eyes roll back into his head and believed I could smell his body convulse and his mouth drooling and gasping and became my own dry mouth watching him painfully say and goodbye and finally still and still and gravely still and felt the word “dead” uttered by the prison guards and tried to scream but could only muster a spoonful of squeaks and frozen and went home and passed the time away and kept the blinds shut and hid and got angry quickly and often and stayed awake and stayed awake and nightmares and door frames and nightmares and could only stare and drift away and rub my fingers and peeling carrots and crying over the kitchen sink and again and again and nothing left to say about what I saw and what I continue to see.


I taught for an organization called Writers Corp, at the Juvenile Justice Center. And I worked with students as young as nine and as old as 18; it was the most rewarding teaching experience I’ve had, but also the most challenging. And maybe the most challenging part was that every week, I wouldn’t know who was going to be in my classroom because [my students] were getting transferred, (hopefully) getting released, or getting sent to prison. And it was that experience that changed my life, realizing the impact and the power of teaching—that experience is why I’m here. 
I had one student, Kevin, who showed me what it meant to be a teacher and how I could change lives. He was the kind of student who didn’t want to write, and I never forced writing. I’d give the students prompts, I’d give them poems, and then if they didn’t want to write, they didn’t have to. And so for months, I was trying to get him to write, trying to get him to write. And then I did a lesson on odes. It was around Mother’s Day, and I came over, and Kevin had written a poem to his mom. And from that moment on, he kept writing. And that was when I knew: This is it—I want to teach, I want to help students. What was hard was that when I came back a couple of weeks later, Kevin was gone. And I had no idea—and I still have no idea—what happened to him. I just hope he’s okay. [During that time] I saw how unfair the system is: I had students who were there for eight months, just waiting for a trial—and that time was not even counted as time served. It was just gut-wrenching. 
And the little things [mean something so different in juvenile hall]. Here, students lose pencils all the time. There, when a kid loses a pencil, it’s a lockdown and everyone gets strip-searched, because it could be used as a weapon. 
[As for the poem], the death penalty was my worst-case scenario for my students. I had students in there for murder, and they admitted to me that they did it. It was heartbreaking, and that’s where I was reaching with that poem, the heartbreak on so many ends: for the family of the victim, for the person getting executed and their family, for the person who’s actually having to do it. There’s so many ways to experience that moment. 
Those things really impacted me, and it’s always in my mind. 

Congratulations to Friends School Faculty Graduates

Thursday, May 24, 2018
(L-R): Katy, Tanya, and Beth at their UOP graduation

For Friends School faculty, learning does not stop in the classroom or end when the school day is over. This year, a number of our teachers completed advanced degrees, challenging themselves to strengthen their teaching chops and explore new horizons. Below are just a few highlights of their hard work and dedication to both teaching and learning.  

Just this month, TAs Tanya Cotom and Katy Hill received Masters in Education from the University of the Pacific (UOP) and the Bay Area Teacher Training Institute (BATTI). Katy will be pursuing a lead teaching position in the fall, and Tanya plans to continue her work as a second grade TA at Friends.

Middle School Humanities Teacher Beth Pollack also graduated from the BATTI/UOP program, completing an MA in Educational Leadership and Administration. Her plans include employing her leadership skills at Friends and looking for more leadership opportunities in the future. 

Dance/Drama Teacher Hilary Palanza has spent the past year working on an MA in public policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, focusing particularly on how to support and advocate for the Arts. For her next project, she will be working on her long-held dream to develop and open the first ever interactive dance museum.

And a congratulations are also in order for lower school TA Gavin Odabashian, who was accepted into the BATTI program and follows in the footsteps of Tanya, Katy, and Beth.