Please explore profiles from the Presidio Hill School community. Students, alumni, parents, and teachers all reflect on how PHS has been a rich and central part of their educational and community experience.
When thinking about her favorite first grade experiences at Presidio Hill School, Rebecca’s thoughts turn to trips outside the school walls. “We go to the park a lot,” says Rebecca, referring to outings to the nearby Presidio of San Francisco, which classes use regularly both for recreation and learning. “I really like when we have a field trip,” says Rebecca. “It’s really fun wherever we go.” In keeping with Presidio Hill’s core value of using the city and surrounding environment as an extended classroom, Rebecca’s teachers incorporate such trips into various aspects of the curriculum.
In the classroom, Rebecca says she has enjoyed the Writer’s Workshop, a key element of first grade language arts. The workshop approach gives Rebecca and her classmates the chance to become confident and competent writers. Whether writing a realistic fiction story about beating an older brother at chess (a game she says she doesn’t play), or a folktale about how a love of pebbles allowed a flightless bird to sprout wings and take flight, Rebecca clearly enjoys applying her imagination and creativity to the written word.
That the folktale was written with the help of Rebecca’s fourth grade buddy demonstrates Presidio Hill’s commitment to another core value: creating a place that fosters cross-age interactions. By engaging in such interactions, younger children gain from the knowledge and experience of their older peers, while the older students have the opportunity to give back to and care for the younger ones. This collaboration helps to build a caring community in which all children are known and appreciated. “A lot of the kids are really nice,” says Rebecca.
When asked about memorable experiences during his time at Presidio Hill School, among the first things that pop into Charles's mind are projects and activities that take place in Presidio National Park, a short walk from campus. "We go to the sand pit and play," says Charles.
He also mentions a recent unit in which the class studied the lifecycle of butterflies. After observing caterpillars wrap themselves in chrysalis and then emerge as butterflies, it was time to release them. "We took [the butterflies] to the sand pit and they started flying," says Charles. "One wanted to stay with us. They were Painted Ladies."
Back in the classroom, Charles says he really enjoys reading and math. "I like to do [problems] that are really hard," he says. He's quick to point out that when he's having difficulty, he turns to his classmates for help, and then to the teacher. "Our buddies have to help us with our words," he says. "And sometimes when we're doing math, we have to ask the teacher." '
All in all, Charles says he would recommend Presidio Hill to other children. "You can come," he says. "We're going to have fun, and we get a recess break and we get to play kickball, baseball, and do a lot of fun stuff.".
Oswen, a current middle school grade student at Presidio Hill School, considers the most enriching aspects of his experience at the Presidio Hill to be the inclusive atmosphere and family-like community that he has found since coming to the school in fourth grade.
Now a middle school student, Oswen says “I am still learning and having fun. Middle School is very different from Lower School.” His favorite subjects, however, have remained the same- Math and Science. Oswen believes that “there are different ways to learn” and the teachers, teaching styles and adventures outside of the school are both fun and suited to teaching many different types of learners. “In Science… we go out into nature. You have this really nice environment right next to your school. You have space to learn.” Every grade visits Presidio Hill School’s neighbor and namesake, the Presidio of San Francisco, at least once a week. The Presidio is a natural oasis of 24 miles of trails, 300 acres of forest, and exceptional biodiversity which enormously enhances the experiential learning of the students.
Lastly, Oswen summarizes “I like PHS because it is a family and a community environment” he explains, “[both teachers and classmates] are very loving, you are included in everything. I like to know that I am part of the community and I am recognized.”.
When thinking back on her first day as a Presidio Hill School kindergartener, Hannah remembers equal parts jitters and enthusiasm. “I think I was really nervous,” she says. “But I was also really excited to engage with other children and make new friends.” At Presidio Hill, she found a welcoming and caring community of children and adults, a community within which she has grown up. “It’s just so fun to be here and everyone is so supportive,” says Hannah, now a middle school student.
Hannah’s enthusiasm for her studies translates into sharing her love of learning with her parents after the school day ends: “My mom will say, ‘What did you learn today?’” says Hannah, “And I’ll go down this humongous list of things that I’ve learned, throughout the whole six hours.” She mentions Spanish, humanities, and science as among her favorite subjects, and says that although math can be difficult at times, the support of her teachers has helped her face the challenges. “They are extremely supportive of whatever you do,” says Hannah. “If you are struggling in a certain process, they will make it easier for you, while also giving you a nice little boost and a challenge. I really love when they do that.”
All things considered, Hannah says what she most appreciates about the Presidio Hill community is the opportunity it has afforded her to learn and grow in the company of such supportive teachers and peers: “Being a small school and having such small classes, it really teaches you to not get on each other’s nerves and to really kind of bond with each other, and make really awesome friends,” she says. “You will fall in love with it from the day you start.”
As Bay Area natives, Michelle and her husband, Jesse, started their search for a school for their son knowing that the educational bar for a private school education in SF is fortunately set quite high. “In addition to the academic curriculum, we were also considering how a school can influence a child’s development beyond the classroom. It was very important to us that the values of the school we chose mirrored our own family values, and the life experience that we wanted our son to have.
What initially drew Michelle and Jesse to Presidio Hill School was the community and the sense that progressive education could give their son a place to discover and engage with learning in a permanent way. “We wanted our son to be in a place he felt inspired to learn and progressive education felt like that place”. Reflecting upon their first visit to the school, Michelle elaborates: "We knew that PHS was the right school for us on our first visit. It felt not just like a school, but a safe and caring community where the kids could be themselves amongst a diverse group of peers, and learn in a way that was inspiring and personal to each child. One of the most unique qualities about PHS is the community that it creates amongst students, families, teachers and staff. It is a tight knit community where you get to know many of the families not just in your child’s class but throughout the school. There isn’t a sense of formal hierarchy between the teachers and the students, but rather a respectful friendship and partnership where dialogue is encouraged and each student is encouraged to approach a topic in his or her own unique way. We believe this is fostering a confidence in our son and an ability to advocate for himself and his beliefs, that will benefit him in any school environment or beyond."
Hiroki Asai and his wife April knew Presidio Hill School was right for their family from early in their first visit. “You could tell it was an intimate, caring community,” says Hiroki. “Everything about the school was about the kids. It was about learning.” That first impression was bolstered by their experience of the engagement of the entire community, both teachers and parents, in the educational process. “We share the same values around our kids, around families, around living in the city,” Hiroki says. “I think there is nothing more important than for a kid to see their parents engaged in their education and their school. I think when you get a whole school and community of parents that share that value and show it, it’s profound for a kid. I think that’s what’s unique about this place.”
Another aspect of Presidio Hill that Hiroki says he appreciates is that children are recognized for their unique traits. “I love the idea that [the learning] is student directed, leveraging their interests,” says Hiroki. For his oldest son, this approach has meant that his creativity and talent as an artist and storyteller has been translated into growing confidence and skills as a mathematician. “I think [my son’s] ability to love math as much as he loves art, which has always been his strong point, has really given him the confidence that he’s not just an “art guy,” that he’s got a lot of other talents.”
For Hiroki, this approach to teaching and learning along with the strong community commitment is a powerful combination: “Together they show the kids that every family can be engaged in the education of their kids, and that school is important—everyone is focused on it. It just gives the kids tremendous confidence when they see their own family participating in the school community. It lets them know that this is important—that they’re important.”
Leon and his family moved from Mexico City to San Francisco when his daughter was in fifth grade. After working in Mexico City for a number of years as a journalist and television correspondent, Leon found out about an opportunity to move to San Francisco for a new job in radio. On Leon’s first visit to San Francisco, he realized what a special place the city is. San Francisco is “a city with a different criteria and culture and tolerance… an open city. I remember when I came here to apply for the position and I was going back to the airport to go to Mexico City, the driver of the cab on my way to the airport told me “you know if you are here, you are going to find that suddenly things are happening. Good things happen all the time. This is a place with opportunity” and he was right.”
One of the “good things” that Leon and his family discovered was Presidio Hill School. His daughter went to Alvarado school for fifth grade and, when the family began looking for a middle school, a parent at Alvarado School told them about Presidio Hill School. “We met a person there when we started the process of looking for a middle school and she told us about Presidio Hill School and how her kids were very happy and after Middle School they went to a very good high school.” So Leon and his wife and daughter began investigating Presidio Hill School. The family connected to the progressive, diverse, inclusive community of the school and enrolled for sixth grade. “ When we came here and we started looking for the system, the progressive education, and all the things related to the school we thought that it was the place for (our daughter).”
Leon recounts his worry that a new school, especially a new middle school, would be a significant change for his family and that his daughter, and himself and his wife, would have a difficult time connecting to other people and other families in the school. Fortunately, the community is one of the aspects that Leon and his family came to love the most; “I think (Presidio Hill School) helped us a lot to feel better and to feel comfortable in San Francisco. Sometimes as a parent, your kids are going to the school and that’s it. But I think that one of the most important things here is that the parents are involved. And (the parents) meet each other, they talk about the kids, you are involved.”
Leon and his wife emphasize the importance that their family places on global awareness and learning about diversity “(Our daughter) has been learning about different cultures. (Presidio Hill School) is giving her this kind of open criteria to know that the world is not just America. The world is big and social issues are happening and people need help all the time… A school is not just academics. When you are giving them this social knowledge it is something that is helpful for a long run.”.
Presidio Hill School's commitment to fulfilling its mission is one big reason why James Wygant, eighth grade humanities teacher and middle school coordinator, values the school community. "The conversation always goes back to how can we make what we do match our ideals for what we want this community to be,"
That commitment means James and his colleagues are always adapting their approach to take into consideration the interests and needs of their students. "We're not keeping things static," says James. "It's about letting [students] think about what they are doing and where they are in their experience. Reflection is a huge piece."
Another aspect of the community James values is the freedom he is afforded to craft his curriculum to energize his students. During one unit of study, James' students delve deeply into the history of Colonial America, one of his personal passions. In a given year that might include reenacting a Revolutionary War battle, writing a creative essay from the point of view of an historic figure, or creating a travel brochure for one of the colonies.
In addition to those activities, students might read actual depositions from the Salem Witch Trials and then take on the role of advocate or prosecutor and argue over the life and death of the accused: "[My students] are struck almost immediately by the gravity of those wild accusations," says James. "The words guide them into that human story." It is stories such as those that form the backbone of James's approach to bringing history alive for his students. "The stories are what interest me, and I think what interest them and stays with them." Such stories make their way into every unit James teaches.
Jennifer’s path to PHS was circuitous. After graduating from college with a psychology degree she decided to stay in the advertising world that she had begun exploring through an internship in her senior year of college. Four years into her role as an Interactive Producer, she had an epiphany in which she realized how deeply unhappy she was in her current job. After some reflection, "I knew where my heart belonged - working with kids and helping them learn and grow".
That realization started a chain of dominos - Jen enrolled in a graduate program at the University of San Francisco and received her Masters in Teaching and her K-8th Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. She began working at Charles Armstrong School, a school for kids with language based learning differences. “Charles Armstrong School was a place that really opened my eyes to the fact that there was a whole population of students slipping through the cracks in our educational system. Although I originally had my sights set on working with urban, low-income students, I quickly came to realize that kids with learning differences were just as in need of passionate, empathetic teaching.” After having her first son in 2013, Jen decided to explore job opportunities closer to her family in San Francisco and was extremely excited to find a job at a school that was so in line with her own values as an educator and person- Presidio Hill School.
Jen grew up in a family that took education very seriously. “Doing well in school, challenging assumptions, and leading an inquisitive, curious life were all expectations for me and my three siblings.” Although she grew up in a city with limited diversity and fairly conservative views and practices, her own family experience was very different. “As a multiethnic individual, inclusion and equity, two tenets of progressive education, have always been paramount in my life. The idea that learning is brought about by drawing forth from the child as opposed to filling an empty vessel is such a powerful principle. I have always felt that empowering students and engaging them in their own learning is the only way you can foster a lifetime of growth, both social-emotional as well as intellectual.” Part of Jen’s personal philosophy as a coach, mentor, teacher, and now parent of two has always been to set high expectations for kids and enable them to become agents of change in their own lives; “I think progressive education is an ideal marriage of these two concepts - students can reach high potential while engaging in learning that is tailored around their interests.”
As an educator and staff member, Jen has noticed that at Presidio Hill School “people really take time to care about each other. Teachers, students, administration, parents, and staff all inquire about how you're doing, try to get to know your life outside of PHS, empathize when you are struggling, and genuinely celebrate when you succeed. To an observer these are seemingly small acts woven throughout the day, but they make such a large difference.” She believes that this is a large reason why faculty and staff stay at PHS for decades and why parents have their entire family move through the school. “Presidio Hill School is a place people want to go to, whether it be for learning or to go to work each day, because they feel loved and cared about”.