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  1. #1

    Summary of our San Francisco Friends School Tour

    Even though San Francisco Friends School is only 8 years old, the Friends education is rich in tradition, over 300 years in fact. And if Obama is willing to send his kids to a Friends school, why wouldn't we check out the School in San Francisco.

    SFFS moved into the yellow Levi Strauss building on 250 Valencia in fall of 2008. Outside the school, you'll find the hustle and bustle of the Mission with Pauline's Pizza right next door. Once you enter the school, however, a sense of tranquility sweeps over you. The inside is bright, simple and airy. Other than the children's artwork and school projects decorating the walls, you won't find too many superfluous embellishments.

    Yvette Bonaparte, the Director of Admissions, greeted us in the Quaker Meeting Room. She briefly touched on the school history and curriculum. The school started in 2002 with 36 students and now has 419 from K-8. Each grade has two classes with about 22 kids in each class. Art, music, dance, PE (3 times a week) and Spanish start as early as kindergarten. Music is a big part of the curriculum, both during school and after school. Students start to play instruments in third grade and participate in chorus in fifth and sixth grade. 35% of the students are racially/ethnically diverse while 26% receive tuition assistance.

    Jennifer Arnest, the Lower School Head, delve deeper into the philosophy and curriculum. The school is built around the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, integrity, equality, peaceful problem-solving and stewardship. She described how the students adopted a goat via Heifer International to learn about the profound difference a goat can make and understand the inequities across cultures. By making the curriculum hands-on and inquiry-based, the school challenges their kids to know their own minds and learn from one another. From kindergarten on, children feel a sense of autonomy and take ownership in their learning. To make sure it really addresses the learning needs of each individual child, the school follows a progressive, constructivist approach.

    In one kindergarten class, the students carried out different math-related exercises in small groups, from counting number of family members to playing card games. The fourth graders we saw were investigating and surveying in their data analysis unit. The seventh graders, meanwhile, discussed probability. We also stopped briefly in the library, saw the black box theater under construction and dropped by the new gym on the third floor before returning to the Meeting Room. Along the way, one of the parent guides described that the afterschool enrichment programs include music lessons, robotics, Mandarin and urban farming, among others.

    Cathy Hunter, the head of school and former head of upper school at Head Royce in Oakland, met with us when we returned. She had three ideas for us to take away from the tour. First was the concept of silent reflection. From the moment a student enters the school in the morning to the formal Meeting for Worship, he has the opportunity to enjoy periods of silent reflection. To the Quakers, silence allows one to think in a more complex way. Second is simplicity, the testimony theme this year for the school. At SFFS, simplicity is about paring away what is unimportant for what is most important; valuing people more than things; and focusing on a few things and doing them well. Lastly is the idea of stewardship. SFFS weaves community service tightly into the curriculum and teaches its students to understand the responsibility they have to each other, the community and the world.

    While some schools may preach simplicity, San Francisco Friends is one that lives it. And as Leonardo da Vinci put so succinctly, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Leaving SFFS, I was confident that my child would learn to be not just an excellent student but also an outstanding citizen.

  2. #2
    They also expect about 25 openings in K for next year for new families with an equal number of boys/girls. On the tour we attended the A.D. said they haven't had a 50/50 split in a while.

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