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Welcoming Back Students

Welcoming Back Students

We welcome students from all over the world, and this past month after having moved to San Francisco from China four months ago, one of our student’s got to experience in-person learning for the first time as the world recovers from a pandemic. Just thinking about their experience reminds me of all the joy and possibility of what it means to work and represent a public school district like SFUSD. We meet a new student and immediately welcome them into our schools. And we meet their anxiety, and their nerves. We show them we appreciate their experience and we honor it for all the possibilities.

It is an amazing responsibility and a privilege. To be the people that our communities trust to extend America’s reassuring welcome to a young person and the diversity they contribute. And it’s part of a quiet story going on right now in San Francisco. It’s a beautiful one that you might not get to hear about often. But it’s what matters to so many of us about San Francisco public schools. And it’s important that we continue to honor it. 

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I’ve been thinking about that young person’s experience of immigration, and about the promise of a city like San Francisco—a sanctuary city for immigrants—with our iconic bridge, Karl the fog, Coit Tower, and the Bay. We’re a visual and cultural beacon around the world. You hear “San Francisco”, even in China, and people know what it means: Diversity, mutual understanding and possibility. I had similar dreams of making it to San Francisco myself for all of these reasons. 

Courtesy: Gabriela Lopez

I think about coming here as a young person and what a joy it might be to think, “I could be a part of that. I could write the next chapter.” I think about how important it is that we meet our students where they’re at, especially in a polarized political climate. And I remember how important it is to continue to raise consciousness amongst our students as well. 

The young person I’m describing was actually just one student I spoke to recently as I was joined by families, educators, and my colleagues to welcome focal students back to the San Francisco International High School.

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We founded the International School to create an environment that focuses on recent immigrants to this country, people who have been in the U.S. for fewer than four years. My parents came to this country from elsewhere, too, Mexico. And they had to work hard to give me the opportunities I’ve enjoyed. My father was a truck driver and my mother was a house cleaner. We were under economic pressure, but we found a way to navigate these systems and survive. For the same reason, many of our international students haven’t been attending school since the pandemic started. They’ve been working to support their families.

Bringing our students who have gone through these experiences back for in-person learning allows us to extend that welcome more effectively. To keep our focus on them at that crucial moment of anxiety, and finding one’s feet that defines both a young person’s education and the immigrant experience. It’s what gives these young people the sense of confidence that coming to the United States will be okay. In fact, it might even be the foundation of something more remarkable than they could have ever imagined. 

More than 19,000 students have returned since the beginning of April.

We’ve welcomed back about 150 of the 200 students enrolled at the school right now. I consider it a privilege for us to be able to extend that welcome, and that sense of possibility. And we will not stop until every single one of them is excited to come back to school.

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It is why students were lining up to come back to the in-person learning, way before the start time. They were ready to go. Our focus needs to remain on all of our students. The ones lining up before school start time to come inside our buildings, and the ones who wish to continue learning from home. 

For the past several weeks we’ve welcomed students back for in-person learning. So far, more than 19,000 students have returned since the beginning of April, and we’ve been doing it together. Our students, families, educators and community partners are all working hard to make this happen. Safety continues to be our number one priority. Transparency is also key. That’s how we’ll ensure we do this right. And we’re learning as we go. 

It’s hard work. But it is all so worth it. 

Gabriela López, M.Ed. is a public school teacher and President of the Board of Education whose background in education extends over a decade.

El Tecolote is 51 years strong this month!

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