San Francisco International High School has been located at 1050 York Street for six of its eight-year history. The campus previously housed Bryant Elementary School, now at 2641 25th Street. Thought the facility was renovated to better serve teenagers, SFIHS’ population has doubled, from roughly 200 to more than 400 students, squeezing space for academic and extracurricular activities. This summer the school will settle into a new home: the Enola Maxwell campus, at 655 De Haro Street.
According to Julia Kessler, who’s been SFIHS’ principal at the York Street location, the student population is equivalent to other San Francisco Public School District secondary schools, like John O’Connell High School on Folsom Street, with only one-third the amount of space.
SFIHS’ student body consists of teenagers who’ve been in the United States for four years or less, and failed the California English Language Development Test. While the Newcomer Pathway – designed to assist recently arrived immigrant youth with English language skills – is offered at several SFUSD schools, International is the only institution to exclusively serve newly emigrated youth.
“All of the Newcomer Pathway programs look slightly different,” explained Kessler. “The thing that makes us the most different is that we have the luxury to tailor our whole program around newcomer kids; it’s not an add-on. Our focus is on creating the most heterogeneous group of students possible. We’re not necessarily leveling students by their language proficiency. Instead, we’re creating a heterogeneous group of students who work on authentic projects, collaboratively in English.”
With 18 different native languages spoken by students, all subjects taught at International are oriented towards developing English language skills. Class discussions are interactive, with little extended lecture time by teachers, giving pupils opportunities to participate vocally, and help one another learn. Ninety-eight percent of last year’s graduating class applied to a four-year college; 63 percent enrolled in one.
“SFIHS consistently meets the target of moving 60 percent or more of their most recent arrivals up a score on the annual CELDT test, an assessment that measures language learning progress,” stated Gentle Blythe, chief communications officer, SFUSD. “In addition, when we examine the average scale score growth on this assessment, SFIHS students exceed expectations and outperform their peers. This is particularly true for newcomer students, or students who have been in the U.S. and enrolled in a U.S. school for under two years.”
Kessler is delighted with her school’s relocation to the Maxwell campus. The facility features an additional six classrooms, cafeteria, physical education area, study rooms, library and possibly a dance studio. Although it’ll be shared with SFUSD staff who manage student enrollment and language assessment, the move isn’t expected to create space conflicts.
SFIHS expects to move to the Maxwell facility this June, so as to be ready for the start of classes in August. In the interim, Maxwell will be cleaned, painted, and equipped with classroom and office furniture.
Last October, the View reported that low enrollment prompted International Studies Academy to relocate from Enola Maxwell to John O’Connell High School in the Outer Mission. In accordance with California Proposition 39, which mandates that school districts give charter schools fair access to underutilized facilities, the York Street campus has been offered to The Mission Preparatory School, a charter school currently located in the Excelsior neighborhood.
Kessler said her students are eager to have access to similar facilities as other San Francisco high schools. The move may also correspond with a modified school schedule, in which weekend and evening classes are offered to enable students to secure credits and obtain their diploma while earning money to pay bills. According to Kessler, because roughly 30 percent of SFIHS learners are in the country unaccompanied by a parent, they have to work fulltime jobs to support themselves, with adult workloads and responsibilities.
Students’ usual high motivation levels have been challenged in recent months by the political uncertainty prompted by the Trump Administration’s executive orders dealing with immigrant issues. SFIHS students come from across the globe, including Yemen, China, Vietnam, Russia, Ukraine and Central American countries. Staff at the school’s already crowded Wellness Center have been helping students work through the stress caused by the partisan climate and stay focused on academics. Kessler said that students are grappling with whether or not to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
“We had the lowest FAFSA completion rate this year because students weren’t comfortable giving information to the Federal government, which will likely impact college attendance rates going forward,” she said. “There’s an increased fear from families about how much information to disclose.”
SFIHS collaborates with South-of-Market nonprofit organization, Refugee Transitions, on after-school programs that provide academic support and a safe place to study, do homework and engage in other constructive activities.
In addition to managing the school relocation, SFUSD has given tentative support to a proposal by Grow Potrero Responsibly and Friends of Jackson Park for a Shared Schoolyards Project on Enola Maxwell’s 2.17-acre lower blacktop area. The advocacy groups are now competing to secure $25,000 from the $250,000 available through the District 10 Participatory Budget grant process to support the project.