Reclaiming the California Dream
Episode 7 - Envisioning a Better Future
Reclaiming the California Dream is a limited podcast series featuring amazing stories from deeply rooted California community members and what their community means to them. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality health care and education we deserve.
Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund (https://aapiforce-ef.org) and Project by Project San Francisco (https://projectbyproject.org).
Produced by Raymond Luu.
Hey everyone. Welcome to our limited podcast series, Reclaiming the California Dream. We will be hearing stories from some amazing individuals and how much their community means to them. The Schools and Communities First Act, also known as Proposition 15, will restore $12 billion a year in funding for our roads, parks and libraries, health clinics and trauma centers, local schools and colleges. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, find stability for our families, and build a future where all Californians have access to quality healthcare and the education we deserve. In our final episode, Angela talks with Joanna and Sarah. Joanna is a junior at Lowell High School in San Francisco, and Sarah is an incoming freshman at Cal Poly SLO. They talk about how investing in our youth will breed the next generation of leaders, why they are advocating for better teacher salaries and racial justice curriculum, and most importantly, the magic of libraries. Enjoy.
Why don’t we start with introductions. Say your name, what school or schools you’ve gone to and go to, your grade, where you live, and however else you want to identify.
Alright who wants to go first? Okay, I guess I’ll go first. So my name is Sarah, my pronouns are she/her/hers, and I’m a graduate of Burton High School, and I’m currently an incoming freshmen for Cal Poly SLO. And wait, what else?
Where do you live and how do you identify?
So I was born and raised in the Bayview community of San Francisco and I identify as an Asian American.
Hi, my name is Joanna and I almost said incoming, but I’m no longer incoming. I’m a junior at Lowell High School. I am in the 11th—that’s what a junior is anyways. I’m like trying to go through the—oh my pronouns are she/her/hers. And I live in D11 in San Francisco.
Cool. And how did y’all meet? How did we three meet? Let the people know.
So it was back in the summer—so it was back in summer during this program called Aamplify where it was about Asian American advocacy and also for like civic engagement. And that’s where I met my mentor, Angela and also another peer and friend Joanna.
Do you want me to go? I don’t think there’s much to elaborate on there. (laughter) She hit the nail on the head.
Nice job, Sarah. Okay, so we’re talking today about Prop 15, Schools and Communities First initiative. And so I wanted to ask you about some of your early memories growing up in this city. What do you remember about your neighborhood or your community, however you wanna identify your community, and what are some resources that you accessed that helped you during your early years, or helped your family growing up?
Well, I think one big thing about growing up in San Francisco is access to libraries. Especially me being in D11 I have access to multiple libraries around my house. So I’ve always felt really privileged because of that. Ever since I was really little, I want to say maybe two or three years old, my mom signed me up for a library card, and I would always like every year sign up for the summer reading program at the libraries. That was like a huge memory. It is a huge memory in my childhood, right? Like every year, reading 20 something hours. Additionally, I think growing up in D11, but going to school in the Sunset District made my experience really different because I didn’t experience school in D11 so I can’t really vouch for that. But going to school in the Sunset District, most of my peers being Asian American or white, and then going to middle school also in the Sunset District, and then being hit in high school with people from all over the city was really like a culture shock for me. Cause I didn’t realize that, you know, people growing up in different places in the city had different experiences and different access to resources like libraries, for example, or even just like leadership opportunities, things like Aamplify, right. I’ve noticed that when I applied to these things, a lot of applicants that are a lot like me, they come from the big three schools, either Lowell, Lincoln, or Washington. And we don’t see a lot of underrepresented schools, like for example, John O’Connell or Thurgood or even Burton. But yeah, that’s kind of what my takeaway from growing up in San Francisco has been.
Joanna. Can you describe D11 in case some folks don’t know, like aren’t familiar with the area?
Yeah, for sure. D11—and I’m trying not to get this wrong—but kind of stretches from, I want to say City College all the way up to like Missions Street area. And facts about D11, it has the highest immigrant population in San Francisco. It’s, it’s a very interesting part of the city. And I don’t think any other place in the city is like that it’s really unique.
I didn’t know that it had the highest immigrant population. Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I also have so many hours of fond memories at libraries, like the library was my child’s care growing up.
Absolutely, I agree with that. 100%.
Cause I didn’t grow up in the city. I grew up in the peninsula and so like taking the bus wasn’t as easy of a thing to do. Cause everything is just more spread out. And so when I’d be like after school waiting to get a ride home, you just go to the library and like chill and mess around with my friends and also do homework and also get like tons of young adult books. Sarah, what about you? What are some early memories about your neighborhood or community? However you want to define it, and what are some resources that you or your family used.
For me growing up in Bayview, it’s kind of like, it almost stretches into Hunters Point, but not really. You can consider it one of the most impoverished areas of San Francisco, but like I just have to say because like, what it allowed for was like this very close knitted community for like underrepresented people to like basically have a place to empower themselves because we have things like a community garden and I didn’t even know about it until like I actually had to go there for a field trip. So that was like really like eye opening to me. And what’s even more fascinating was the fact that it was just so close to my house. But I never even realized that I had access to a place like that. So it was just like really nice to see and appreciate that it had to exist for the community there and just like Joanna, libraries are also like a necessary good that I didn’t utilize because I don’t like reading a lot, but if I do, it has to be that like it’s graphic novels and stuff. But definitely like the Summer Reading programs, like I’ll take advantage of the fact that there’s like always a lot of books that I could be using to like educate myself on stuff.
Yeah, it seems like the library is like a big source of support across the board. So you both—well Sarah graduated high school during shelter in place and had to do remote learning, now is going into college with remote learning. And then Joanna is also restarting remote learning in high school. How has that experience been? How has school for you changed during the pandemic with things having to move online?
So for my school specifically, like I’ve been in contact with like staff and like students that would basically necessitate the need for having a digital access for everybody because you know, it’s going to be online learning. And there’s no way they’re going to like, you know, impose the thought of physical school because like it’s just irresponsible. So for me, like having to go through online school prior to graduation was like in a sense like me being left carefree because I was going to end up graduating regardless of how I finished my education. But then like now moving on into college, I realized that it plays a bigger role in that you need to like have the facilities to like be able to teach yourself because online school isn’t going to be like the most accessible for everybody.
Joanna, did you want to add anything about your experience.
For our school in particular, towards the end of the school year last year, no one really knew what to do. And like you couldn’t really blame teachers for not knowing what to put out there and how to teach. And everyone was just in this state of like adaptation, but since then, it’s, I’d say it’s gotten better in some ways. I know students are still complaining based on the schedule or you know, certain learning activities and things like that. But overall I think they’ve definitely improved. I do know that shelter in place has been particularly tumultuous for my school community because a lot of issues came up during shelter in place that, you know, our administration needs to address and things like that. But it’s just, in some ways it’s bringing us closer, in some ways it’s pushed us further apart. And I think that plays a huge role in how we go about online learning as well.
Yeah. In light of all that transition and that there’s a lot of like heavy things that students are dealing with in and out of school. And then they’re having to access school in a completely different way. And like a lot of people weren’t like set up to switch to all online school or weren’t prepared for it. What would the impact be of more resources for school to improve a school experience, like both during the pandemic. And then if you wanted to add things that you’ve noticed that would have been helpful, like prior to the pandemic even.
I definitely think that like teachers are like undercut during like this time, especially because like, you know, prior to even like physically dealing with students, they now have to think about like how all the students are going to interact with their digital activities and what they need to facilitate in order to have like a learning environment for students in the first place. So I definitely think that like with student advocacy, like there’s like a whole need for change and if not reform, for like everything that the students like need to like facilitate a good space to be learning in.
Yeah. Sarah, do you think that like specific things for teachers would help? Are you thinking like better pay for teachers or are there like services that would help teachers like help you have a better experience?
Just like giving a lot of people who work in the school institution, like a good break from how much they have to deal with, like in and outside of the administration. And also having to constantly think about how students will like react to what their changes are and facilities. Being able to provide like a safe space for everybody’s going to be like especially difficult in an online era. Definitely teacher salaries are undisputably like among like the top priorities.
Joanna, how about for you? What resources do you think would be helpful either during the pandemic or outside of the pandemic?
I agree with Sarah, teacher pay. Like if anything, all the parents that are like homeschooling right now can definitely agree that teachers are wizards. They’re amazing at what they do. And they deserve to be paid more. If we get more funding for the school system, spending more money on digital learning libraries, devices, you know, databases, things like that might help students out a little bit more in content wise. Also just making sure that every student gets a laptop or a wifi router of some sort, making sure that they have access to learn online. And then outside of the pandemic, I think, especially now with the movement for racial justice, making sure that teachers are adequately trained and they go through like equity training. If we have more funds, I’m sure that the district can spend more money in that department and make sure that that’s a thing that happens. What else? I mean, developing schools and their libraries too. Making sure that money—again, we’re bringing up the magic of libraries, but that’s really where the magic happens, right. You need to make sure that your students have access to educational resources like books and things. And making sure that every school in San Francisco gets a well-developed library. Or heck, even a well-developed yard for kids to play on. So school renovations, teacher salary, equity training, online databases, the whole shebang.
Yes. I love that so much. And I’m also just curious, are people being provided like wifi hotspots and Chromebooks, if they don’t have computers to take to log onto class on, or if like their Internet’s not set up? Do you know what the situation is there?
You can request for technology.
And have you heard that everyone’s been getting them?
So far as of my school, yes. But it’s also due on the students part to actually even ask for them.
Joanna, you mentioned like teacher trainings on racial equity and how to, I think I was getting that it was like, you know, training on anti-racist teaching. And do you know, like, do teachers get anything right now in the district on that?
I know that there’s like writing that says that they should be getting it. I don’t know if they are getting it in this time of digital learning.
I know the district has made it a priority of some sort or they’ve written it down somewhere.
They’ve written it down. (Laughter)
That’s the best way to put it. I don’t remember if it’s a resume.
No no no no, I’m not surprised if it’s literally like written down in an agenda of a meeting or something like that.
They just put it on a post and be like, forget this. (laughter)
There’s a student push for this for sure. I know some of my friends are pushing for it. There’s a bunch of people pushing for it. So I don’t think the district can just write it down an agenda, right. Leave it there. It’s going to be something that we’re going to keep knocking on their doors for.
If you could close your eyes and envision your ideal community, where everyone has the resources they need to live and learn in a safe environment, what would that ideal community look like to you? Like what resources, services, cultural norms would people your age have, if they had all the resources they need to, you know, have the best learning environment.
I know I can only speak for myself in saying that for me, a socialist ideal to have everybody have equal access to resources and just provide an equitable playing field because you can’t have equality in this current period, but you can give everybody like something to like level themselves to like be like not advantageous over each other, but more just so like everybody is at the same start in a sense.
What about you Joanna?
Yeah. I mean, it’s really hard to imagine because we’ve obviously never experienced this utopia, but in my experience at my school, which is—we have like a very extremely competitive culture and everyone is, you know, kind of fighting for these opportunities, trying to look out for themselves to make sure that they get ahead. But I feel like if everyone got equal access to these resources, there wouldn’t be so much competition or toxic competition. Competition is good. Just not the toxic kind of where you are backstabbing people, betraying people for this thing that you believe is going to set you so far ahead. Right. I also think that we would have a really, really enriched youth, like a next generation of amazing leaders, doctors, lawyers, artists, all these people, educators, right. And they grow up in this world where they don’t have to worry about paying for medical bills. They don’t have to worry about working to support their family while in school. Like I know I have friends that are working jobs to support their families, right. They don’t have to worry about being late to the Zoom meetings if that’s a thing in the future. And they can just play safely on streets and not have to worry about people coming in and doing bad things or dangerous objects in a playground or something like that. I think overall, obviously everyone would be much happier. It would overall be a much better world and one without a lot of worry and one with a huge and overwhelming sense of community.
Your comments really make me think about if students had all the resources they need to live safely and learn safely, and have high-quality education. How do you think that would impact parents?
For me? I think it would relieve them of a lot of stress about having to dote on their child for doing well in their education when they’re having access to all those resources that would even help the parents themselves too. So I think like the parents would be really grateful to have that opportunity given to them.
I completely agree. Anything you want to add Joanna?
It will relieve a lot of stress. I think, especially for parents of students that learn differently or have had trouble previously in school learning, having access to all the resources they need will definitely relieve a lot of stress.
I want to ask you one more question and then I’ll ask if there’s anything else you wanted to add. But the golden question, if someone asked you why should they support Prop 15, what would you tell them? If you had to give them like a short 30 second spiel.
You should support Prop 15, I’m getting the number, right? Because people like him. My older brother that just walked in and my little cousins and everyone’s little cousins, little brothers, little siblings will be the leaders of the next generation. They’ll be taking care of you. They’ll be the ones leading and creating this world. And by voting yes, on Prop 15, you are ensuring that they have a quality education and they have the means to do so.
Yeah, snaps! (Snaps) Love the cameo. Sarah, why should I support Prop 15? Why should I care?
You should be supporting Prop 15 because your tax money will finally go to something that, you know, people are finally fighting for, which is a quality equitable education that people deserve and not just something like—like school wouldn’t be just like a jail cell for children, basically.
Nice. (laughter) That was Steve.
I know. Is there anything else that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to add?
I’ll hop in to further profess my love of libraries, if that’s going to help anyone vote yes on Prop 15. I mean, for those that don’t know, there’s this thing called The Mix at the main library downtown. And when I discovered it as a teenager, you know, who just figured out public transportation and realized that I could go downtown, it was like magic. It’s this like safe haven for teens where you can go in there and play video games. You can create art. They have like a bunch of art supplies and you can go crazy in there. And they, you know, they offer lunches for students that need it. They offer like fresh fruit and things like that. And just a place to just be a kid and just have fun and do whatever you want to explore what you like. I think that if we can get another place like The Mix on maybe this end of town, it will create yet another safe haven for all the youth on this side of town that maybe cannot go and make the commute all the way downtown to experience that.
I’m going to send that directly to SF Library, public library and the board of supervisors. Is there anything you wanted to add?
For me, I know this might sound like a little bit harsh and radicalized, but just like policing that occurs within like high schools is in a sense so alarming because like, you know, you have like actual adults having to go after kids like literal children in schools. So it was just like in a sense messed up for me at least to like have other people witness that, especially like other children, like you become so easily desensitized to something like policing schools. So I think they’re also like what Joanna said. Like there needs to be like diversity, like inclusion and also like reform on how policies will affect the underlying communities and schools.
Mm. Now also sending that directly to the mayor and the board of supervisors.
That was great. And I’m going to further go down that train. Like we talked about the school-to-prison pipeline in Aamplify. I think that we can make sure we have restorative justice training and also restorative justice, like peer circles at every school and really developing that area to make sure that students stay out of trouble and they, they heal, you know, like people that, you know, go out and get punished. They shouldn’t really get punished because they’re children, they should go through reformative justice and sit around and talk and heal and actually get to the root of the issues instead of throwing them in detention, throwing them later on in jail, things like that.
Yeah, definitely. And just like adding onto that too, like putting in that money to like, have more like better resources, even in like their wellness centers that schools have, or like just even implementing like a wellness center in the schools that don’t have it. Because like students at that time in Asia are going to be like put into like a lot of stress, just thinking about not their academic spots or their parents livelihood and their family life and just like the future that would affect them, which is ultimately college and also having your [indiscernible] to be able to deal with that.
Well, thank you so much. I don’t have any more questions, but thanks so much for all of your responses and sharing some of your experiences and being willing to allow others to listen to them. Thank you both for your incredible advocacy and for your honesty. So thank you.
Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund and Project by Project San Francisco. If you’d like to learn more about us, visit our website at aapiforce-ef.org and projectbyproject.org. Thanks for listening. Ad paid for by Chinese Progressive Association, Nonprofit 501(c)3. Committee major funding by Chinese Progressive Association, the San Francisco Foundation.