Noe Valley Voice December-January 1998-99

Lick Kids Ask for a Warmer Welcome in Noe

By Anne Sengès

"James Lick Kids Barred from Shop on 24th Street" blared the headline.

Though factually accurate, the story in the November issue of the Voice -- about a decision by Just for Fun to ban students from the store after a series of shoplifting incidents -- came as a jolt to the staff and students at James Lick Middle School.

Their initial reactions were anger and hurt. (See this month's Letters, page 8.)

But now the James Lick parents, teachers, and students are searching for ways to build bridges with the local community. They'd also like to erase some of the negative stereotypes people may have about the Noe Street school.

They want the neighborhood to know that James Lick has a lot to offer these days and there is little reason the school should suffer from a bad reputation. Though not known in the past for its academic achievements, James Lick has seen a rise in test scores in recent years. It is now ranked in the middle tier of San Francisco middle schools. And according to Principal Michael Eddings, it's become an "application-only magnet school."

"Lick has always had a bad rep, and it has been pretty unfair," says Noe Valley resident Teri Cahill, whose daughter attends the school. "I think it has a lot to do with this age group of children. Twelve-year-old kids are not very mature, but it is a time when they are trying to act independent. People feel nervous about it."

She notes that "the teachers are really trying hard to get the students to understand that if they want to be respected, they should respect other people and not use bad language. And the kids are darling, once you work with them."

But some Noe Valley residents and merchants have mistakenly branded them as troublemakers. "We can't really feel spirited about ourselves if we are being put down all the time," Cahill says. "I really think there is a need for some welcoming on the neighborhood's part."

So what can Noe Valley do to make the students feel more welcome?

"I would like to see partnerships with the merchants happen again," said Laurel Turner, president of the school's PTA. "Maybe people will start to realize what it is like to be a 12-year-old and walk into a store where the people working there are watching you. The kids are wearing uniforms, and they should be given a lot of credit for walking around in those uniforms when they can be easily targeted as James Lick students."

Turner, who has lived in Noe Valley for 20 years, also wants the community to "see what the school represents for the neighborhood. The diversity of the school is a big asset for me, and there is no point living in San Francisco and raising kids here if you are going to send them to all-white schools."

One problem with big cities, she admits, is that they tend to be culturally oriented toward adults. But that doesn't mean you should ignore the young people.

"I'm not saying that people in Noe Valley don't want to see the kids here. I just think that there needs to be a little more consciousness about making the kids feel comfortable. And a little appreciation for the fact that adolescents are going through a real transition period in their lives. They tend to be noisy, they tend to be rowdy, they travel in groups. That's where they feel comfortable, and that's not necessarily bad," Turner says.

"There are a lot of things that can be done to make the students feel more comfortable," agrees Joseph Montaño, who teaches journalism and social studies in Lick's eighth-grade Spanish-immersion classes. "I think that there is a lot of racial tension, and that needs to be dealt with. We should invite the merchants to the school and listen to what they have to say. And they should listen to what the kids and parents have to say.

"A lot of the students don't live in the community, and that's a factor which affects the students and how the store owners treat them," he continues. "But at least a dialogue has been opened."

Montaño says he and his journalism students have been exchanging views on the subject ever since the Voice story was published. He now realizes how much the kids care about their image. "They don't like to be called animals. And what hurt them the most was that one single [shoplifting] incident made the entire student body look bad. That's exactly how they feel when somebody does something bad in class and I punish the whole class. The students think it is unfair," he says.

L., 13, who asked not to give her full name, lives an hour away from the school, near the Cow Palace. She does not know the neighborhood too well, but loves her school enough not to mind the commute. "Sometimes, I feel I'm being discriminated against by some people in the neighborhood," she says, "but other times I don't feel that way."

Joe Rubin is another James Lick teacher who thinks it's crucial to integrate the kids into the community. This year he's on sabbatical from the school. However, from 1991 to 1997 he ran a program called "Students in Stores," in which the Lick students worked in 24th Street shops during the fall shopping season. Rubin says he wants to start the program up again when he returns next year.

In the meantime, he's trying to act as a kind of mediator between Just for Fun and the school. "When I spoke to David Eiland [co-owner of Just for Fun] after the story came out, he greeted me with several proposals for James Lick students and Noe Valley merchants to work together, such as mural painting, with the stores supplying the art materials," Rubin said. "That was heartening to hear. I was reminded of the expression, Out of crisis comes opportunity."

As proof of good faith, the Noe Valley Merchants Association has agreed to attend a "focus group" meeting over pizza on Jan. 13 with the Lick student body. Eiland, of Just for Fun, says he hopes the meeting will generate lots of ideas on bringing the two groups together. "I am sure that good things are going to happen. The students should be the ones to tell us what we can do for them," Eiland says.

Laurel Turner, who along with Principal Eddings helped set up the meeting, also has high hopes. "The Merchants Association has been very responsive so far, and we seem to be moving on the right track now." M

How to Get the Scoop on James Lick School

How can you find out what's really going on at James Lick?

The best way is to make an appointment to tour the school. This month, tours for prospective parents and volunteers will be held on Wednesdays, excluding holidays. Call the school to set a date.

If you want a sneak preview, take a minute to log on to the school's web site, located at The site features an update on the school's academic standing from Principal Michael Edd-ings, as well as descriptions of programs by other administrators and teachers.

It also has pages from the school yearbook, filled with photos from Lick's many clubs, sports teams, and after-school activities. (The Homework Club, the Community Service Club, or the IBM Club, whose students repair PCs, might be lures for Noe Valley volunteers.)

The site also contains the Spanish Family History Project, a collection of personal family stories written by students in Joseph Montaño's eighth-grade Spanish-immersion classes.

Twice a year, the school holds student-led portfolio conferences, where students make presentations about their progress towards performance standards in writing, reading, and mathematics. PTA president Laurel Turner says everybody in the community is welcome to attend. "It's a great opportunity to get an in-depth look at the good work the students are creating." The next conferences are scheduled for this spring.

To attend the conferences, or to take a tour of James Lick Middle School, at 1220 Noe St., call (415) 695-5675.