Beacon Initiative, Coming to a School Near You!

The San Francisco Beacon Initiative is a plan to transform public schools into youth and family centers that become a beacon of activity for the surrounding neighborhood.

Quick Facts:

  • San Francisco program that focuses on expanded learning, family partnerships and engagement, behavioral health and wellness, and academic transition

  • 25 year anniversary this year of the first planning committee for the Beacon Initiative

  • Expanding to all SFUSD middle schools and highest need elementary and K-8 schools

What is the Beacon?

Source: San Francisco Beacon Initiative website

Source: San Francisco Beacon Initiative website

The San Francisco Beacon Initiative is a plan to transform public schools into youth and family centers that become a beacon of activity for the surrounding neighborhood. It began in 1994 when a planning committee was formed to find a way to turn school sites into community centers which would provide educational opportunities to students both during and outside of school hours. The group became inspired by the model they saw in New York City and this led to the first Beacon Center opened in San Francisco in 1996.

How does the program work?

One of the ways that the Beacon Initiative has been effective is that it does not only focus on students. Instead, it sets goals for youth, families, schools, and the city as a whole (see right).

Carol Hill, Executive Director of the Beacon Initiative, acknowledges that having so many goals is difficult but is ultimately worth it. “That’s the amazing and crazy beauty of deep collaboration,” she said. “It’s not easy, it’s not straightforward, it’s always messy, it’s always difficult, but it’s super rewarding.“

What does this mean in practice?

Cece Kaufman, PTSA president at Marina Middle School, thinks it’s important to note that the Beacon is not simply an afterschool program. “The Beacon program is an entirely different concept, it’s really about integrating into the school day. I’m seeing meaningful and robust clubs that are being coordinated by the Beacon center staff. They are working with teachers during the school day to provide support, if it a field trip if its a very large project that they need a set of hands.”

Jesse Francheterre, Family and Community Engagement Coordinator at Marina Middle School, concurs. “I really appreciate what the Beacon does because it’s basically everything the school would want to do but doesn’t have the resources to do it.”

In order to achieve their aspirations, Beacon centers provide academic, social, and emotional support for students that are centered around expanded learning, family partnerships and engagement, behavioral health and wellness, and academic transitions. The Beacon provides tutoring services and focuses on getting families more involved in the lives of their students. To this end, the Beacon is a bridge between families and resources that families can’t provide themselves.

“One of the things that is really important for us is to have programming that has a through line from a subject through an after-school program and also touches parents,” Hill said. “We are trying to complete the loop with programs that touch those three groups so that they have a chance of actually ending with the academic success of the kids.”

Source: SF Beacon Initiative

Source: SF Beacon Initiative

Franchterre reinforced this point.  “Parents are students’ first and best teacher. By us supporting the parents, we are supporting the students,” he said. The Beacon was in its first year at Marina this past school year, and Franchette was on the ground floor. In his role with the Beacon at Marina, Francheterre puts together a bimonthly newsletter full of these resources that teachers and staff can also contribute. He also works to provide a connection between families and organizations such as English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC) and African American Parent Advisory Committee (AAPAC)

Franchterre has really focused on the community aspect. “I try to make Marina Middle School a community that families can belong to, instead of just sending their kid.” To this end, Jesse and his Beacon team host game nights, movie nights, and other types of socials for all families. In just a year, parent participation has begun to rise. One positive side effect of Beacon event attendance is that parents are more likely to attend school sponsored events as well.  “Involvement is a normal thing,” Franchaterre said.

How is it growing?

As the years have passed, the Beacon Initiative has grown in order to reach more of the kids they seek to support. By 2014, the Beacon Initiative had expanded into eight priority neighborhoods: Visitacion Valley, Mission, Sunset, North Beach/Chinatown, Richmond, Bayview/Hunter’s Point, OMI/Excelsior, and Western Addition. The Beacon Initiative is present in elementary, middle, and K-12 schools across the city and is still growing. A list of Beacon sites can be found here.

Despite this growth, challenges remain, and Hill explains this mostly has to do with diagnosing core issues. “If you are trying to work with students who are not achieving in full, the part where they are not achieving is always the last symptom you see. There are always a million things that undergird whatever is going on with the students,” Hill said. “Kids don’t just walk into schools screaming at people, they don’t just walking into schools failing.”

This is being put into practice at Marina Middle School. Kaufman sees the benefits of the Beacon when a student begins to fall behind.  “There are a lot of different reasons people get off track. The Beacon people being able to just say let me just touch base with your teacher, figure out what your needs are, let's figure out what we need to get for you, makes it easier for the student and really easy for the parents. They feel so relieved that they have a partner in solving this problem.”

Moving forward at Marina, Kaufman and Francheterre hope to build off their first year of the program. “It took time for our Beacon staff to get our teachers to understand that Beacon is more than after school programming. They are so much more.” However, now that most teachers and parents acknowledge the importance of the Beacon, Kaufman expects them to hit the ground running next year and she and Francheterre hope to integrate the Beacon even further in. “I want the Beacon to be part of the school community instead of its own entity,” Francheterre said.  

What is the Beacon Expansion?

In order to combat the issues they see and reach the students that need it most, the Beacon Expansion began in 2016 and has developed a focal point of the highest need Elementary and K-8 schools, while also expanding to all SFUSD middle schools. The cause for this is changing demographics in San Francisco, and the shifts in school selection away from simply staying in the neighborhood that a student lives in.

Looking to the future, Hill acknowledges that the Beacon Initiative is evolving past its original goals, but furthering the project is imperative.  “The way the Beacon started was as a neighborhood strategy,” Hill said. “Now that those demographics are changing, what they found was that it is not necessarily reaching those kids who were being pushed out. So you might not have the same kids that we had reached in the past being reached moving forward. So we had to figure out a way that those resources are going towards those kids.”

Francheterre, for one, sees even further expansion as the way to go. “I just feel like Beacon would amazing at every single school in the US.”

Roman PeregrinoComment