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Pandemic Past and Present for Presidio Hill School

Friday, December 4, 2020

For most San Francisco schools, businesses, and people, the coronavirus pandemic truly is unprecedented. For our small, progressive independent school located in the Presidio Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, the pandemic signals a return to our founding practices and principles. 

Founded in 1918 by pioneering artist-educators (and sisters-in-law) Flora Arnstein and Helen Salz, Presidio Hill School’s over 100-year history began in the middle of San Francisco’s last pandemic - the Flu Pandemic of 1918. Originally Presidio Open Air School, Arnstein and Salz modeled their school on the progressive principles of John Dewey and as an open-air school to prioritize the health of students and staff.

Presidio Hill School’s mission was inspired by the teachings of progressive educators like John Dewey who believed that teachers best instill a lifelong love of learning in students by taking their ideas and curiosities seriously and by empowering students to help shape their own education. By focusing on these progressive ideals, by fostering empathy and caring connections throughout the school community and beyond, and by integrating arts and the outdoors as regular components of the educational experience, Salz and Arnstein created a blueprint for the school’s mission that is alive and well today.

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Presidio Hill returned to our open air roots and reaffirmed our commitment to outdoor learning. Students and staff utilize the Presidio, SAn Francisco’s versatile and vibrant national park, as a place to play, learn, and explore, safely. Presidio Hill students, already used to visiting the Presidio regularly, have seen a dramatic increase in their time in this incredible resource–up to 15 hours a week, for some grades. The solver linings of the coronavirus are few and far between, but for Presidio Hill, we have been able to lean on our history to serve our students, staff, and families safely.

Resources and Additional Information:
Fora Arnstein biography
San Francisco Influenza of 1918 article
​Pierre Salinger discussion of Presidio Open Air School