Guest Post: Students are demonstrating alternative forms of achievement in Build San Francisco program

September 3, 2010 •

Editor’s note: Each Friday we feature guest bloggers that are involved in rethinking what is possible with schooling and the education system.

Will Fowler is program director at the Architectural Foundation of San Francisco (AFSF). In this guest post he describes how a partnership between AFSF and San Francisco Unified School District to create opportunities to engage students, and to allow them to demonstrate expanded forms of achievement.

In 2004, The Architectural Foundation of San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District created the Build San Francisco Institute, a small learning community. Each weekday afternoon during school hours students attend classes in the Build SF design studio located in San Francisco’s Financial District. As a part of the program students report to internships with participating San Francisco firms two afternoons each week. They earn architectural design and environmental studies credit for their work.

The success of this partnership has required creative thinking on both sides of the equation. AFSF has had to learn the many constraints under which public schools must operate. SFUSD has to be open to students leaving campus and traveling throughout the city, and to incorporating AFSF staff into their organization as full partners. AFSF communicates regularly on a first name basis with a range of SFUSD employees, from the Superintendent of Schools and his staff to the the administrative teams and counselors at the individual schools. In order to grant credit, AFSF designed courses that meet University of California admission requirements. These courses also meet state and district standards. Completing these tasks helps ensure program quality.

District support provides the programmatic structure required. School-level support assists with student recruitment, record keeping and monitoring of student progress. Maintenance of this network is a primary responsibility of the AFSF program director. Since 2003 there have been innumerable changes in district administration, including three superintendents. It is not unusual for institutional memory of the program to vanish in a single year at a given school site. Then the relationship must be rebuilt. Some forty industry partnerships also require constant attention.

Students work on real projects. In the past few years, students have created ceramic tile installations for Pier 14, contributed to an international book of photo essays on globalization, submitted several videos on local issues to Adobe Youth Voices and completed a study of redevelopment for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Design projects reflect local market conditions.

Students are assessed by a range of measures including rubric scores on projects and demonstrations, peer assessments, self assessments, and mentor evaluations using professional standards. Workplace skills such as attendance and on-time performance of tasks are factored into grades. Individual Performance Reviews are held each grading period. A checklist of 21st Century Skills is used for mentor evaluations. Students self-assess on these same metrics and compare their self evaluation with the results of the mentor evaluation. This emulation of the real world helps students realize the level of quality expected in their performance.

The success of the program remains the unique combination of real world experience and academic projects completed with professional standards and tools, including Autodesk Revit Architecture software. The dual focus of the program is the issue of environmental sustainability and the design of the modern urban environment. Students come away with a greater appreciation for learning and a knowledge of the workings of their city. For these neighborhood-centric teenagers, this is a big step.