by George J Elbaum
This was the third consecutive year that I spoke at Academy SF, the new name chosen for the ex-Academy of Arts and Sciences to better establish its own identity as a school separate from the School of the Arts, with which it shares one campus. Academy SF is a small public high school with a total enrollment of 350 students (82% minority and 48% economically disadvantaged) and its program focuses on “the three Rs: RELATIONSHIPS, RELEVANCE and RIGOR,” starting with a belief that strong RELATIONSHIPS are the most fundamental part of a successful school. If students do not feel supported and cared at school, then their academic and social-emotional success in school is compromised. Also, if students feel that what they are learning is not RELEVANT to them, they are less engaged and less likely to have a positive academic experience. Finally, if students have a positive relationship with their teachers and staff members and enjoy a relevant learning experience, then the school can provide them with a RIGOROUS curriculum and expectations. In this respect, the school’s behavioral focus is encouraging students to be positive and free-thinking about their future, modeling respect, empathy, and valuing equity. The Academy’s small school setting allows its 18 full-time teachers to create an effective learning environment by working closely with students and their families in building a strong community. Within this community, teachers are able to give more individual attention to students and communicate regularly with parents.
The school also has a unique Wellness Center and Program whose goal is to provide support for students so they may succeed academically and be healthy in body, mind and spirit. To accomplish this, the Wellness Program coordinates and provides non-judgmental, student-focused health, mental health, and substance abuse services and programs for students on campus.
The audience was the school’s entire 10th grade, and the whole event was organized by history teacher Claire Darby and arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves. Also present were English teacher Ellie Williams and paraprofessionals Paula Rojas, and Erin Lochary.