Thursday, October 2, 2014

Heading Out to Nature with Outward Bound

Over Labor Day weekend, our 8th grade Scholars experienced one of the most beautiful landscapes in the state of California: Big Basin Redwoods State Park. There, some of the oldest known trees in the world exist, providing shade all day long and a gauntlet of trails with elevations upwards of 2,000 feet. SMART Scholars spent three days and two nights in the park along with two SMART staff members and four instructors from the Outward Bound Outdoor Education Program.  While there, students were pushed to their physical and emotional limits, helping one another overcome challenges and developing a new sense of camaraderie among the class of 2019.

While at Big Basin, students were split into two separate groups for the duration of the trip. The days started with stretching, preparing our bodies for the long days ahead, then breakfast (prepared by our student chefs), followed by long days of hiking and games. Individual and team building activities were intermittently peppered in, varying from journal entries to sharing challenging experiences in discussion groups. The days ended with half of the group setting up camp while the other half prepared dinner. Then, as is obligatory with these types of trips, once it got dark, scary stories were shared.

The trip was an experience that our Scholars will not forget! They challenged and supported one another, deepening the relationships and connections that have been forged over their past three years at SMART. With high school quickly approaching, the class of 2019 will have this trip to remember the great things they are capable of achieving and their ability to face and overcome any challenge.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Wilson Lau

“I always knew that I wanted to somehow be involved with kids. I had a friend who was working as a volunteer tutor, and I was in the process of looking for an organization to volunteer with. My friend suggested that I join her one night at SMART to check out the program. I showed up, and ended up sitting with Enrique for a bit. We clicked, and once he became more comfortable with me, he really opened up.” 

Wilson tutoring through the years! From left to right with Enrique (now a college freshman), Anfernee (a high school freshman), and Eduardo (current 7th grader).
Wilson and Enrique reconnecting at SMART's 2014
Career Conference.
That was seven years ago, and today, Wilson is still going strong as a SMART tutor! He is currently working with his third Scholar. “I ended up tutoring Enrique for two years, until he graduated from middle school—he’s currently at San Francisco State, and wants to be an engineer…which is surprising because in middle school he hated math. After Enrique, I worked with Anfernee for three years—we connected because we are both techies. I’m currently on my second year tutoring Eduardo—he loves to read, and loves to talk about what he’s reading.” 

On tutoring, Wilson said, “The level at which the kids are expected to perform in 7th grade is so much more than was expected of me…and they do it! Sometimes they are working on math or science problems that tutors haven’t seen in 10 or 15 years, and if I don’t get it, that’s fine—I want them to get it. Mostly, they just need to realize that they already know it. Maybe it’s not really tutoring, but enabling the students to teach themselves.” 

In addition to working one-on-one with our Scholars, Wilson has been a fixture around SMART, chipping in whenever help is needed. He makes a point of volunteering at our annual SMART Goes to College fundraisers, joins in for volunteer happy hours and student celebrations, has helped to recruit new volunteers, and always participates in our Assessment Saturdays, assisting the SMART community in identifying our next group of incoming Scholars through interviews, group activities, and math and English language arts assessments.

“There is something really genuine about hanging out with children. It gives me a different perspective on the rest of the world. And I know that I’m not wasting my life by helping someone—I’m doing something worthwhile. In the end, they teach me more than I teach them.” 

Thank you Wilson for your dedication to SMART and to our Scholars!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

George Lieu, College Bound!

George Lieu, University High, class of 2014, and incoming  UC Santa Barbara freshman is spending his summer as a SMART intern. Selected to join us through a competitive application process, George is helping with IT, data entry, and here, sharing reflections on his past eight years as a SMART Scholar.
It’s hard to believe that just over a month ago, I finally graduated from SMART. SMART’s influence started during my transition from Tenderloin Community School to Cathedral School for Boys. Transferring from a public to private school was exciting, but intimidating as well. Everything at Cathedral was different; the sense of community was very powerful while the dedication to academics from both teachers and students was amazing. The 1-on-1 opportunities and well-rounded class schedules were also very new to me. Art and music class exposed me to a great deal of knowledge that I previously never knew existed. Moreover, I had many opportunities to experience something new, whether it was being part of a play/musical, going through some improv classes, or choosing between a wide selection of elective classes. The freedom to explore and develop my artistic skills along with my academics skills was mind-blowing. At the same time, I was attending SMART twice a week, receiving academic support from tutors. The combination of a new school and a supportive program helped me realize my educational potential.

When I entered high school, SMART also expanded in order to continue supporting students all the way to college. Other than the help with schoolwork, I found the support to be extremely useful when it came to the SAT/ACT and college application process. Personal meetings allowed me to craft a strong application and clarify any confusion, particularly regarding the aspect of financial aid, which was always a primary concern.

Looking back, I’m truly grateful for all that SMART has done for me. I’m happy knowing how much I’ve been able to achieve. In just a few months, I will be starting my college journey at UC Santa Barbara majoring in Computer Engineering. Although I’m a little nervous, I’m also eager. I’m eager to start a new chapter of my life and chase my aspirations in the next step of my education.

Friday, May 2, 2014

SMART Goes to College 2014 Keynote Speech: Jonathan Wang

Since, 6th grade, I’ve boarded a bus that transports me from the Bayview, one of the city’s most crime ridden districts, to Pacific Heights, the city’s most affluent zip code. This journey connected my home to my schools, Town School for Boys and now University High School. I’ve found this fifty-minute bus ride to be analogous to my family’s transformative journey with the SMART program.

It began in kindergarten when my mom marched ambitiously through the hallways of a reputable public elementary school, determined to obtain a spot for me. When my admission was denied, she broke down into tears. It was another setback after a difficult year between the arrival of my newborn sister, the divorce, and the financial condition that my father left us in, that finally broke her spirits. Her fear of a future fraught with uncertainty allowed me to understand, from an early age, that MY education would be the solution to our financial instability as well as a coping mechanism for the emotional and physical bruises that my father left us.

In fourth grade, I learned that my mom was diagnosed with Hepatitis B, a viral disease that no medication could cure. I was perplexed by her condition, and I asked lot questions about her recovery, but when I received no answers, my curiosity turned into frustration. Just when I was about ready to accept my situation, I was introduced by my 4th grade teacher to an academic opportunity that would allay many of my mom’s anxieties and my curiosities with her disease.

Recruiting talented and motivated low-income students, the SMART program offered me the resources to attend some of the best private middle schools in the city. So, when I was offered to attend an all-boy school in an affluent neighborhood in San Francisco, I was excited, but also wary. The prospect of competing against more privileged students who have received a top-tier education was intimidating. However, Town School for Boys offered me an abundance of resources and provided me with a laptop, a huge benefit especially since I didn’t have access to a computer at home.

However, what I found at the new middle school was much more than just the coveted laptop. I found a group of peers that piqued and propagated my intellectual curiosity. I became a part of an intimate community, wherein most classmates came from wealthier backgrounds, yet families were not judgmental but rather helped me integrate smoothly into the school.

Outside of school, I was supported by the SMART community, which was filled with energetic students who came from similar backgrounds to mine, all determined to pursue higher levels of education. With SMART, I finally found the symbolic shuttle to bring me, and my family, from our lives in the Bayview to lives filled with more opportunities.

During the past four years at University High School, I discovered my passion for biology and genetics. I found myself intellectually and emotionally drawn to classes like molecular and microbiology, as I learned that the viral illness, that has been so poignant in my mom’s life, is extremely common in the Asian community. Since then, I’ve been captivated by genetics and the endless possibilities that DNA brings to finding cures for different illnesses.

This brings us to the present. When I was initially approached to speak here tonight—my first instinct was to say NO. I was worried that I wasn’t the dynamic speaker SMART was seeking, that my story is not interesting – but mostly, I was nervous.

Instead, I said yes. YES has opened doors to academic opportunities. YES has challenged me in some of the best academic institutions in the city. YES gave me the strength to discover what I love and what I want to devote my career to. Thanks to SMART, I said yes to opportunities that if you asked my family about 10 years ago, would have seemed a laughable impossibility.

Just as my world opened up 7 years ago on that first bus ride across the city -- tonight, I’m proud to announce, that I’m preparing for my next life-changing journey. In the fall of 2014, I will be attending the University of Southern CA. As a first generation college student, I plan to maximize the opportunities college offers and use it as a stepping stone to uncovering more truths about genetics, an issue that has been so pertinent to my life.

Thanks to SMART and all its supporters, the journey getting here has truly been an incredible experience, and I can’t wait to pursue the next chapter of my life. Thank you.

SMART Goes to College 2014 Student Speech: Angela Xie

Hello, my name is Angela Xie, and I am extremely honored to speak on behalf of SMART and The San Francisco Friends School, two communities that have been such an integral part of my life.

I began my journey at Jean Parker Elementary School, a community filled with students who, like me, are Chinese American. The teachers were great, I excelled in school, and both my parents and I had lots of friends who were able to communicate in our native language. Imagine my surprise when my parents suddenly decided I will be transferring to San Francisco Friends School! At such a young age, I did not understand why my parents would pull me from a school where all my friends were and enter me into a brand new environment where I didn't know anyone. I was angry and I was sad.

Reluctantly, I walked through these doors my first day determined to prove to my parents they made a terrible mistake. I was pleasantly surprised when the teacher walked up and handed me a laptop, explaining that we could use them for class. There were Smart boards, new textbooks and an incredible library. Most significantly, I was no longer expected to memorize facts only to forget them a short while later. I learned formulas because I learned why they work. Creativity, technology, even student participation were all expected aspects of the Friends school curriculum. While my success in a public school relied on being good at taking notes and memorizing, at Friends I became more engaged and wanted to work even harder.

I learned to love learning.

In the midst of all these opportunities, I faced some hardships and challenges vastly different from what I expected on my first day at Friends. I translated often for my parents who were unable to communicate to my teachers. I quickly noticed how my peers around me were more affluent and unlike Jean Parker, at that time, I was the only Chinese speaking student. These differences I noticed could have easily put a damper on this new exciting opportunity, but it didn't - because of SMART.

At SMART I quickly made new friends who also felt that their transition into private school was difficult. I received a tutor, who to this day is one of my closest friends. Most importantly, SMART helped me see that Friends school is actually a community that embraces and celebrates differences. I learned that being different is a gift and SMART has helped me find my pride in being Asian and tri-lingual.

Through the incredible education I received at Friends and the support my family and I received at SMART, I am proud and extremely excited to enroll in my first choice high school - The Bay School of San Francisco. While I am sad to say goodbye to Friends this year, I feel I can continue to get what I love most about Friends at Bay, which are strong academics combined with a close community of students and teachers. I attribute my success to Friends, who set the framework, and SMART will still be here with me as I begin my high school journey.

I’ve already made a decision on what college I want to go to. In four years, I hope to see myself at Stanford University because they have a strong science program. I have a dream to give back and help others by advancing medicine.

Thank you Friends and thank you SMART for shaping and influencing who I am today, and for all of your time tonight in supporting these incredible communities.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Life at Yale: Liliana Santos

Liliana Santos, our keynote speaker at last year's SMART Goes to College event, recently visited the SMART office with her a capella group, Living Water, to speak with our Scholars and answer questions about student life at Yale. Here, she shares some reflections on her first year:
Life at Yale, in one word, is glorious. Fall was a stunning experience; leaves falling silently into piles of reds, and yellows. One week, the sky turned stormy grey and there was a sudden downpour. I put on my rain boots and coat and walked out into the rain, taking in the beauty of Harkness Tower and the stillness of the world. I found refuge in Dwight Chapel, a place that has quickly become my favorite place to contemplate and reflect.

From my weekly visits to the Farmer’s Market, to my work at Creating Kids Childcare Center with toddlers, to singing with my a cappella group, Living Water, being at Yale has been a whirlwind of beautiful, quiet, and extraordinary moments. When I first arrived, I was often so happy that I could just cry: the classes, the professors, the buildings and the leaves falling off the trees, were so surreal and yet so delightfully real.

At Yale, I’ve continued exploring, reflecting and learning. Each of my classes challenges me in new and exciting ways. My Black and White Photography class taught me to observe my world in a unique way; behind a 35mm lens. In my Dance on Film class, I’ve been pushing the boundaries of what I think dance, film, and the relationship between spectators and performers is. I’ve also been able to write stories and poems in my Spanish Creative Writing class. And, my Education Studies class has allowed me to explore a subject I’m truly passionate about.

I sometimes catch myself lost in memories as I notice the sunlight on Harkness Tower, or the engravings on the buildings on campus. It seems not so long ago I was only a fifth grader interviewing for SMART, a toddler lining up my stuffed animals as if to teach them something, a senior graduating from high school. Someone at last year’s SMART Goes to College event told me, “This is only the beginning,” and though it seemed a strange concept to me at the time, it is true; I’m beginning anew. There’s something exciting about starting again, about changing my family’s history: I’m off in uncharted waters. SMART helped me change not only my future but my family’s as well. SMART nurtured the potential I had to learn and grow and it was this initial support that kept me going.  Without SMART, I might not have realized that there was a greater world outside of my neighborhood, and that there was more to myself than just my circumstances. In supporting my education, SMART supported me as a learner, a global citizen, and a person. I now see that there is more to life and myself than I could possibly know, and I’m forever thankful to SMART for showing me that there is always something more to explore, learn, experience and grow from.

Liliana and her a capella group, Living Water at Yale, visit the SMART office and talk with our Scholars about student life at Yale!
Join SMART on May 1st at San Francisco Friends School for our 6th annual SMART Goes to College Fundraiser! Tickets and tables are available now.

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