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.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. So the unknown, the mysterious is where art and science meet.”
In mid-march, we attended the National Art Educators Association (NAEA) conference hosted in Seattle, WA. This is the ninth year that we attended, and the third time that we co-presented at the conference, which has been an amazing opportunity not just to share the unique approach to the arts at SFFS with independent schools from across the country, but to gain inspiration from other visual art instructors as well. While at the conference, we celebrated ten years of collaborative work at SFFS by presenting a hands-on workshop that illuminates how the visual arts and scientific inquiry are intertwined by sharing two interdisciplinary units—one third grade, the other seventh and eighth grade.
Integration is a natural way in which we experience the world. True integration in the classroom serves all of the disciplines involved and makes connections to ‘real life’ experience outside of the walls of our school. As in our classroom/studios, participants in our (sold out) workshop were introduced to a series of artmaking routines to investigate a question that is relevant to both scientists and artists. Those attending the workshop came away with a clearer sense of how this approach builds understanding in both disciplines while providing experiences that invigorate a spirit of inquiry, connecting to the real world of artists and scientists.
Here is a small sample of the brilliant student work that we showcased at the conference:
“San Francisco needs better safety for bikes! If we managed to create more bike lanes, there would be a big impact in injuries from bike riding.”
“I disagree. I think that the needles littering the streets and all those people addicted to drugs that aren’t getting the help they need are a greater problem than bike safety in our city.”
“Well, San Francisco also has a big problem with housing and housing costs. I mean, it’s getting REALLY expensive to live here, and that’s a humongous problem!”
And so it went, back and forth. After weeks of decision-making, the seventh graders had finally decided on a topic for their service project that benefited San Francisco in some way. We decided to focus on people experiencing opioid addiction and figure out ways to help them.
We split into groups, each with one student as our leader. Every group was given a topic that concerned people experiencing addiction, and we then set out to find a way to make a project out of our subject.
The first group, led by Lucas Dilworth, focused on the opioids’ effect on the brain. More specifically, they focused on the fact that when on drugs, the brain releases an overload of the chemical that is responsible for a person being happy—dopamine. Dopamine can be released when say, eating a pizza when you’re hungry, or playing a sport you really like. However, when on drugs, the brain releases an overload of dopamine, too much for your body to handle. Now, you feel a need to do the drugs because your body can’t satisfy you without the extreme amounts of dopamine that the drugs give. In response to this, you need to take more drugs to handle the need, and this turns into addiction. Their action plan was to create posters about this process, and put them out in the community for everyone to see, because not everyone is educated about this subject.
The second group, led by Titus Cabezas, were focused on Narcan, a nasal spray that can help prevent an overdose. After doing some research, they found out that not many people besides emergency services are educated in the use of Narcan. In a city like ours, with drug overdose problems happening every day, it would be especially important to get more people trained in the use of Narcan. The group decided on a place that they thought would be best for employees to be trained in Narcan. They chose Starbucks, because it’s a very popular spot and thought they could have an impact. They wrote letters to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson about this topic, and they suggested the idea.
Another group, led by Olivia Robbins, focused on raising awareness about the locations of places to help with ODs—hospitals, Walgreens, and other places where you could get help if you needed it. They thought this was important because so many people who need help don’t know where to find it, and if they did they would be so much better informed. The group made maps disclosing locations where people could get the help they need and deserve.
Another group, led by Adelaide Tranel, was focusing on the different kinds of treatment for drug addiction. After doing some research, they found out that a great way to get people off of drugs is to get them a pet, because then the person knows that they have to have better self control in order to take care of their pet. They collaborated with the Ohloff organization to learn more about how the effect of a pet can really help people experiencing addiction, taking their input and putting it into their own research.
One group that Sonia Esteva led focused on children in families with addicted members. After doing some research, they decided to create a children’s coloring book for the kids of those currently in treatment or rehab. They collaborated with the Epiphany Center, an organization that takes care of kids while their parents are being treated, to make sure that their coloring book got distributed.
Hanna Wheeler’s group concentrated on needle disposal. They researched how dirty, used needles are extremely dangerous, especially if a different drug user then uses an already-used needle. They decided to make posters to educate people (both random pedestrians on the street and drug users) about the importance of needle disposal. The posters include a site that tells you nearby needle disposal places and its phone number, along with some other information.
So, the seventh grade has really been working hard this year to make a difference in the community. They’ve split up into different groups, come up with their own ideas, and executed an action plan successfully. They’ve shown the leadership and resolve that they need to have in this world, and will continue to use all of these abilities in the future. Next step: head to city hall to discuss these matters with their district supervisors!
Earlier this year we chatted with SFFS alum Trinity Lee about her life after Friends and her love of all things STEM. Trinity was recently awarded a prestigious full-ride scholarship through The Posse Foundation to attend Lehigh University!
Trinity graduated from Friends in 2014 and is currently a senior at Convent of the Sacred Heart. At Sacred Heart, she became interested in computer science, including programming languages and the Innobotics Club (innovation and robotics) on campus. Trinity’s interest led her to seek out more opportunities, which led her to the “Missfits”—an all girls, community based, robotics team that was started to help address the gender disparity in the engineering field. The team competes in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, a six-week intensive where high school students build industrial-sized robots that face off for a championship title.
Though Trinity came from a programming background, once she joined the team, that all changed.
“Surprisingly, once I joined the team, I didn't do any coding at all,” she said. “I actually specialized in the design and mechanical build aspect of the robot….I have so much more experience than when I started, but there is still a world of knowledge out there.”
Part of the Missfits mission is to bring STEM to youth in the community, which for Trinity is just an extension of her life at Friends. She credits the “well-rounded science background [I got] from SFFS and...the culture of inclusivity and integration of the SPICES” as being important aspects of her successful high school transition and career.
Trinity was kind enough to share some advice for our current 8th grade students as they transition to high school:
“Find something you are passionate about and stick with it! Try to go outside of your comfort zone and do things that you never considered doing. I liked the idea of robotics but I didn't know anyone who did it. Sure, I was scared to try it out but in the long run I really benefited from the experience...I have met a whole new group of people and have a great common interest with them. Ultimately, it's scary to leave Friends after a lifetime of friendship. Finding a passion will allow you to transition into your new school and find some great people to be friends with.”
Established in 2016 with generous support from our community, the Cathy Hunter Fund for the Future (CHFF) supports our faculty with transformative professional development experiences at key moments in their careers. Encouraged to think beyond workshops and conferences, teachers submit an application seeking support for a professional development experience that will enrich future programs, our school culture and greater community.
After receiving support from the Cathy Hunter Fund for the Future, third grade teacher Amabelle Sze trekked many miles south to Hillsborough to attend the Innovative Learning Conference in the fall of 2017. There, she learned about "Lesson Study," a Japanese method for deepening collaboration, planning and reflection in teaching and learning. The name for Lesson Study in Japanese is “jugyokenkyu.” “Jugyo” meaning “teaching and learning.” “Kenkyu” meaning “study or research.” So, Lesson Study is the study or research of teaching and learning.
When Amabelle gets excited about a new, educative idea, she is unstoppable. Upon her return, Amabelle extolled the value and importance of Lesson Study to anybody who would listen.
Luckily for her, she can typically find a learning partner that is game in fellow third grade teacher Jake Ban. Jake, who had previously engaged in Lesson Study during graduate school, was immediately excited about the opportunity to delve deeper with colleagues in the service of student learning. Jennifer Arnest, who had learned about Lesson Study at Mills College, fanned the fire. Amabelle and Jennifer then presented about Lesson Study at a professional development day this past fall. It was soon clear that Amabelle, Jake, and Jennifer’s enthusiasm about Lesson Study was shared by many colleagues.
A few months later, Jake and Amabelle were sitting in a public library in East Oakland. After Jake’s persistent nagging, a graduate school classmate had arranged for them to attend a public lesson with elementary teachers from Woodland Acorn. For these teachers, this class was the culmination of a months-long Lesson Study process. For Amabelle and Jake, what had felt like a vague, interesting idea now seemed imminently achievable and ever more important. They were impressed by the depth of practice and knowledge the teachers exhibited. The Acorn Woodland staff were reflective and curious while simultaneously deliberate and savvy. Their research proposal, pre- and post-lesson conversations, the lesson itself, and the reflection, demonstrated the deep complexities inherent in teaching and learning.
At Woodland Acorn, it was not only teachers who were deeply engaged. The students were presented with a problem, “Can you write 8/3 as a mixed number?”, and persisted in solving this problem in a variety of ways independently. When asked to explain their thinking, these students, most of whom are English Language Learners, demonstrated a depth of mathematical understanding through conversation, writing, and whole-class presentation. In the teacher reflection of this lesson, Jake and Amabelle heard the letters “TTP” repeated often. They turned to each other and shrugged at this acronym. Afterwards, when one teacher passed by, Amabelle asked, “Excuse me, what is TTP?” The response: “Teaching Through Problem Solving.”
Throughout Japan, this methodology of teaching mathematics is used. Rather than teaching concepts, with a traditional “I do, you do, we do” structure, students engage in a problem for which the solution is not known in advance. Teaching Through Problem Solving is open-ended and thusly often time-consuming, often messy, and often unresolved. A leading Japanese math teacher and strong proponent of Lesson Study, Akihiko Takahashi reflected on this process, “[Math teachers] are too impatient. You expect children to learn a concept by the end of the lesson.”
TTP provides young mathematicians with an opportunity to delve deeply into mathematical practices to develop strong conceptual foundations and problem solving abilities. TPP overlays nicely with the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice, which essentialize the habits of professional mathematicians.
Both Lesson Study and TTP reflect many of our shared Quaker values:
- Simplicity: teaching math through problem solving encourages narrow and deep mathematical learning
- Community: working together with colleagues to plan curriculum
- Reflection: being more mindful of our practice through group reflection
- Continuous revelation: researching lesson topics, planning and reflecting together provides a greater truth than any one individual teacher could possess
We are very happy to announce that we hosted Dr. Takahashi at San Francisco Friends School on March 19, 2018. He worked closely with a team of our K-8 math teachers on collaborative lesson research and the approach to teaching through problem solving.
At the end of last semester, drama teacher Jon Burnett helped a cohort of newly minted third grade voice actors produce their very own radio plays. Each of the 10 total shows, in just under two minutes, contains elements of action, horror, comedy, and the absurd. There’s even a historical drama!
“Discovering our voices” is the theme this year for the third grade drama class, and creating radio plays allowed students to make choices, figure out their theater voice, and create soundscapes. As a fun classroom exercise, students learned how to set the scene or create an environment using only their voices. In groups, students presented scenes like “a forest at midnight” or “downtown San Francisco during the day” and other groups had to guess what the environment was that they were listening to.
Students also worked hard on character voices, utilizing speed, pitch, tempo, volume—no small feat for third graders that just want to make drum sounds with their hands and feet.
For Jon, introducing radio plays in the third grade is a joyous endeavor because it is also something he discovered around that age. Growing up, Jon spent countless hours with his best friend Mark creating their own tape recorded radio shows. They kept it up until junior high.
“So much is visual today, so to focus on sounds is a unique experience,” says Jon. “It’s nice to say ‘cover your eyes or turn away, and just listen.’ But beyond that, many important 20th century playwrights grew up listening to radio and cite that in their development of story. So it is important to think about how words are used first to convey story.”
Jon notes that there was “some really nice creativity this year” with plays like “The Orchard Ghost,” a “cute, but very haunting” tale. “The Sacred Dungeon” is also a good use of voice with its creepy echo effects.
We hope you haven’t missed out on these very special radio plays, some of which lead with “Our story takes place at an office desk” and some with clever commercials like “Taco Burgers: only in New York!”
And you may never know “The Real Reason Why the HMS Titanic Sunk” unless you listen to the story below!
The Big Pencil Sharpener - Cooper, Henry, Margaret, Xochi
The Cursed Lollipop - Cassidy, Della, Leithian, Minjae, Theo
The Day the Sheriff Went Missing - Aman, Lea, Lucas, Nora, Selimah
Donkey Death - Kiran, Moses, Nathan, Ruby
The Fire Demon - Ava, Benji, Bram, Eliza
The Orchard Ghost - Francesca, Hazel, Jackson, Lev
The Real Reason Why the HMS Titanic Sunk - Cole, Lela, Marc, Mira, Oliver
The Sacred Dungeon - Bridger, Ryder, Tenley, Xavier
Train of Horror - August, Clay, Lucia, Lucy, Santi
Where Is the Hamster? - Juny, Maddy, Minyoung, Riley
The SFFS Equity and Inclusion Committee (E&I Committee) is a parent led committee comprised of members from various constituencies of the school community. The group meets monthly and provides input and feedback on a variety of initiatives intended to enhance our school's equity and inclusion efforts, with particular focus on parent education.
At the Table (ATT), a sub-committee of E&I, hosts a handful of Thursday morning parent ed events throughout the year. Over coffee, ATT aims to provide opportunities for parents to discuss how we talk to our children about topics that may be challenging to discuss. The hope is to have a chance for parents to connect to both build and sustain a school community that is inclusive, safe, and nurturing for all.
On February 1st, ATT had a parent gathering facilitated by parents Andrea Hartsough and SFFS Mental Health Specialist Katherine Preston to ponder the question of how we talk to our kids about race. Guest teachers Robelene Novero (fourth grade lead teacher) and Jasmine Redmond (middle school teaching assistant) shared about some of their recent classwork that turned a critical lens towards race and racial bias.
In the fourth grade classroom, Robelene shared the most successful conversations about race. These came about organically, initiated by the students themselves and fueled by their genuine curiosity. At this age, noticing differences between yourself and your peers is natural and developmentally appropriate. These differences are something to be celebrated, Robelene insists.
To steer such young students towards healthy and positive identity development, everyone is encouraged to look within themselves and consider: “What makes us look at the world through a different lens?” To support this introspection, Robelene stocks a diverse bookshelf that features perspectives from around the world. Particularly popular this year is The Hijab Boutique by Michelle Khan.
Jasmine recently held a guest lesson in eighth grade humanities that asked students a complex, potentially discomforting question: Can African-Americans appropriate African culture? Further, how do we recognize instances of cultural appropriation? What differentiates appropriation from appreciation? Students explored cultural symbolism within the novel This Side of Home, paying particularly close attention to the image of the Sankofa, a Ghanian bird representing the idea of return.
Parents shared many thoughts and strategies for speaking with our kids about race. What follows is some wisdom that was shared:
- If conversation with your child doesn’t go the way you had hoped, other opportunities will come up. When a parent wants to have a talk with their child, it is often more effective to ask a guiding question, rather than attempting to inform them of something.
- Engaging a child in what they notice or observe may actually open space for a conversation. With your guidance, students learn that conversations about race do not need to be burdensome or scary - it can be a discovery of who they are and what makes them special.
- We try not to create a sense of fear; we have fun with conversations about race. Students don’t need to have the same ties to conversations about race that we do, especially the negative connotations.
Our next ATT will be Thursday, March 8th, from 8:30-9:30am in the Meeting Room, facilitated by SFFS parent Andrea Hartsough and SFFS Mental Health Specialist Katherine Preston, LMFT. We will be facilitating a follow up to the February 1st conversation. We welcome newcomers, so please join us!
As part of our long-term commitment to the career of educators, Friends School provides an opportunity to apply for what we call our "mini-sabbatical" program. The mini-
sabbatical offers a teacher a short time away to pursue an area of professional inspiration, and to research and practice outside of the footprint of the regular school day.
As many of you may have heard from your children, music teacher Kent Jue is the recipient of a mini-sabbatical this year, and he is currently off on deep dive into choral music for the next three weeks.
Our long time performing arts substitute teacher (and also an SFFS parent), Jennifer Perfilio, will be stepping in during this time to cover Kent's classes. She and Kent have collaborated and planned together, and Jennifer is now serving as a "professional guest teacher," delivering some of the same aspects of Kent's music program in K-8, but also offering a unique experience during this period, focusing on choral movement. Kent returns after February break, on March 2nd. Friends School thanks you, Jennifer!
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.
For the past four years Hilary Palanza has led our K-8 dance program. From first graders dancing with our neighbors at the Francis of Assisi Community to seventh graders choreographing their own dance creations, Hilary has taught a broad range of students and styles. She carried on the lovely Friends School tradition of our end-of-the-year buddy dance with Kindergartners and our graduating eighth graders. Hilary has also been one of the few that works with every student in our school! She adopted a program that was still young, and has added her own flare and energy to it, helping it grow and flourish.
We’re deeply grateful for her collaboration in working with multiple teams and teachers, her flexibility with spaces and schedules, and her commitment to bringing out the dancer in all of us.
For the past year she has also been pursuing a Masters in public policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, focusing particularly on how to support and advocate for the arts. This passion has evolved into her next project where she’ll be working on her long-held dream to develop and open the first ever interactive dance museum! Hilary shared, “I cannot help but feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the San Francisco Friends School. The opportunity to articulate and grow the dance program and teach such a wide range of abilities and ages continues to help me grow as an artist, teacher, and friend.”
This is a bittersweet good bye. We’re sad to see her leave Friends School after this school year ends, but excited to hear about her big plans. We wish her the best in her next chapter, and have launched a search to fill her dancing shoes.