by George J Elbaum
Francisco Middle School was established in 1924, and during its more than 90 years of San Francisco history has served many illustrious young students, such as baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and 9/11 hero Betty Ann Ong. Now its high-diversity student body, numbering over 600 youth in grades 6, 7 and 8, mostly live in San Francisco’s North Beach, Chinatown, and Tenderloin neighborhoods. Since these neighborhoods still include large populations of first- and second-generation immigrants, around 80% of Francisco MS students speak a language other than English at home, and roughly 90% are classified as somewhat economically disadvantaged. Francisco’s focus therefore must be on facilitating its students’ enduring success in high school and beyond by providing them with a deft command of academic English. Furthermore, many students and their families originally come from nations such as Vietnam, Yemen, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where war or violence have been or still are a tragic part of their recent experience and modern history. Effective teaching of such students must be, in my opinion, more challenging, but also more gratifying than teaching ‘typical’ American students, and it therefore calls for teachers with a special dedication or calling to their profession. At the same time, Francisco students who have experienced war or violence in their home country, or in previous generations of their extended family, perhaps can relate much easier to my childhood.
My presentation at Francisco was part of an 8th grade course on history, human rights, and the Holocaust taught by Language Arts & Social Studies teacher Michael Guenza, who organized the event with the support of Principal Patrick West. Besides Patrick West and Michael Guenza, other Francisco staff members in attendance included Kylie Neimeth-Lazar and John-Michael Lisovsky. The event was arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center.