by George J Elbaum
Francisco Middle School (FMS) was established in 1924, and during its more than 90 years of history has served many illustrious students, such as baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. It has a high-diversity student body of roughly 600 students in grades 6, 7, & 8 who live mostly 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 the students speak a language other than English at home, and 90% are classified as minority and also as economically disadvantaged. The school’s focus is therefore on facilitating its students’ enduring success in high school and beyond by providing them with a good 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 is surely 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, FMS students who have experienced war or violence in their home country can probably relate easier to my childhood. The students’ knowledge of the Holocaust includes studies of how dictators rise to power, and the dangers of modern fascist and extremist political movements.
This was my third visit to FMS (the previous was in November 2019) and my presentation by Zoom was organized by Social Studies teacher Michael Guenza for 150 8th graders in several classrooms, as well as audiences situated in the school library and school cafeteria. Supporting Michael Guenza in organizing this event were Francisco MS teachers Lindsay Yellen, Penny Loftesness, Edmund Chen, Serene Tam, Felipe Segovia, teacher-librarian Brandon Yacobellis, and Francisco MS Principal Liz Fierst. My participation was arranged by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager, JFCS Holocaust Center.