Following six years of tight quarters at its former York Street facility, San Francisco International High School began the 2017-2018 school year at the spacious Enola Maxwell Campus, 655 De Haro Street. With about 400 students, at York Street the school was challenged by a lack of classroom and programming spaces compared to other San Francisco Unified School District high schools that inhabit larger buildings. The Enola Maxwell campus had sat mostly vacant for the past year, after International Studies Academy relocated to John O’Connell High School in the Outer Mission. Now, Enola Maxwell campus is shared by SFIHS, New School of San Francisco – which serves about 130 kindergarten through 12th grade students – and a handful of SFUSD information technology staff.
“The building being empty for a while was a contentious hot ground in terms of neighbors wondering what would happen with the space,” commented Julie Kessler, SFIHS principal. “I think the neighborhood was really invested. On the first day of school several neighborhood communities came and had coffee, pastries and balloons for our parents. It’s been really lovely to see the way the neighborhood has been welcoming to the new school. We know it’s been a big change for them as well, since the building had been empty for so long.”
SFIHS is unique among SFUSD schools in that its student body consists of immigrant youth who’ve been in the country for four years or less and failed the California English Language Development Test. The school’s curriculum is based on the Newcomer Pathway program, which integrates English language skills acquisition with academic subjects. Although other SFUSD institutions offer Newcomer Pathway programs, SFIHS exclusively serves youth who are recent immigrants in need of additional English language instruction.
SFIHS moved to the new campus in June, following months of maintenance work on the building and grounds, including related to plumbing, cleaning and electrical. During the period when Maxwell was underutilized a homeless encampment formed on the campus; the residents were asked to relocate prior to students’ arrival.
According to Kessler, the transfer required significant exertion, but went smoothly. Her biggest concern was that students would forget about the change and arrive at the former location. While all scholars arrived at the right time and place for the first day of school, Kessler anticipates that they’ll experience tougher commutes.
“A handful of kids went from taking two or three buses to four buses,” she said. “So, it is a longer and more difficult commute for them. If they don’t take the fourth bus it will be a very hilly 20-minute walk instead. As Muni is the bus service for District schools, there’s talk about possibly reaching out to them to request more Route 19 buses.”
SFIHS inhabits Enola Maxwell’s second and third levels; the New School resides on the first floor. According to Kessler, the decision to locate New School on the campus wasn’t made until late-summer. As a result of the shared quarters, SFIHS likely won’t significantly expand its student population or staff this year as it determines how to effectively use available space. A security guard and custodian were hired this school year; a librarian may also be added.
SFIHS teachers now have dedicated classrooms in which to teach, rather than having to travel to different rooms, as they did at York Street. Since quarters no longer need to be shared, each is outfitted for a specific use, such as science laboratory, art studio, gymnasium, wrestling area, library and auditorium. A more spacious Wellness Center allows for confidential areas for students to receive health services.
According to Kessler, on the first day of school students were awed at their campus’ learning amenities. Every 55 minutes, when the bell would ring, prompting students to switch classrooms, she’d hear delighted exclamations as a new group discovered the auditorium. Kessler foresees that the hall will be used primarily for musical performances and student assemblies, but that theatrical recitals could be incorporated as well.
“The biggest programmatic shift is that we’ve doubled the amount of internships,” Kessler explained. “So, for the last six years all of our seniors do a one semester internship out in the community. This year we’re moving that back a year to start in the eleventh grade, so twice as many of our students will be doing an internship. It’s been a really nice way to reach out to the community because it means we need twice as many internship placements.”
The internships are unpaid and occur in a variety of settings, such as the Public Defender’s Office, barber shops, technology companies, and SFUSD’s information technology department. Some SFIHS seniors are also enrolled in City College classes in the afternoons. The school administration views incorporation of City College courses as integral to helping students transition from high school to college, and as a motivating force to earn their diplomas. Kessler explained that the school received SFUSD Career Technical Education funding – designed to promote opportunities for career exploration and professional development for high school students – to expand both the internship and City College programs. In April, the View reported that because about 30 percent of SFIHS students are in the U.S. unaccompanied by a parent, they work full-time jobs to pay for rent and living expenses.
SFIHS staff reported that students seemed happy to be back to school in the new facility. Many of the youth spend their summers working, and don’t have access to enrichment programs, such as camps. The school environment provides a safe place to learn with peers. However, the poignant anxiety that lingered towards the end of last school year, triggered by anti-immigrant discourse in national politics, is even more palpable this fall.
“I wish I could say that things felt better but they certainly don’t,” said Kessler. “The anti-immigrant rhetoric, racist speech and thought nationwide has become much more visible. If it’s visible to us then it’s visible to our kids. I would say that the anxiety is absolutely still there, if not continuing to increase.”