At San Francisco International High School, it’s About Community and Decoding
By Martha Sessums, President, ACE
There are a large number of students in the literacy programs at San Francisco International High School’s (SFIHS) ACE Learning Center because of the large gaps in many of the student’s educational history. Gaps are due to a host of reasons from economic to cultural to political. But the goal is to improve skills in reading, listening and decoding.
Decoding? That’s understanding what is being said not just with vocabulary but the true meaning to words and phrases. I recently visited SFIHS and learned to decode some of their words.
SFIHS is a place of community like any school, but the decode of “community” goes deeper. All students are immigrants from around the world and with various backgrounds, yet they share the common experience of being uprooted from home and country and needing to learn a new language to succeed in a different country.
“The community is tight here,” said Tara Hobson, SFIHS Principal. “Many traditional tracks for education don’t work for our students, so we find ways for them to succeed.”
Those ways are continuing education and independent study tracks that are outside regular school hours. An emergency literacy program serves students, so they not only speak English but better understand it through reading, listening and decoding what is really being said. The real meaning behind words and phrases.
Plus, every student is not only encouraged to go to college but is mentored and supported not only while in high school, but with support programs at San Francisco State University (SFSU) and San Francisco City College (SFCC.) These support programs, called Span, are a key part of the ACE Learning Center and have helped result in not only a college entrance rate of 82% but a college persistence rate of 93%.
“Graduates are connected forever,” said Hobson. “It’s built-in.”
The decode of “community” is “connected forever.”
Oksana Florescu, SFIHS Head Counselor, 12th Grade, is a perfect example of connected decode. She was a teenage Ukrainian refugee and knew little English. She pushed her high school to keep her enrolled until she passed all her classes in English, and that took two extra years, graduating when she was 20.
“I see myself in these 9th graders so I continue to develop interactions with each one to help and inspire them,” said Florescu.
Let’s decode the word “Span.”
Span at SFIHS is the college entrance and retention program that helps students enter college and traverse through their first college years. Support is through understanding the maze of administrative and cultural challenges faced by any new college student but can be particularly difficult for newcomer immigrants. It is made up of SFIHS staff plus graduates attending SFSC and SFCC who support new SFIHS college students on peer-to-peer basis.
Kirk Schuler is the Span Advisor and manages the program. She is often at the colleges helping students through the complex college systems and setting them up with Span mentors and helpful departments on the campuses. Aid is not only information and assistance about legal, finance, class plans, add/drop issues, etc., but even includes how the transportation system works and how to access speech therapy services.
“It’s learning about self-advocacy and sometimes how just to get through a class,” said Schuler. “Understanding how to survive a geography class that is taught using PowerPoint – a totally different way of teaching than our students are used to – can be a real transition struggle.”
The meetings on college campuses and even at SFIHS are “authentic places” to meet peers and counselors who understand the challenges and provide support for the complex college system, according to Schuler.
“Span” is not just the bridge between high school and college but decodes as “persistence and success” on that SFIHS “community” level.
Stay tuned for more stories about the ACE Learning Center programs at SFIHS.