The year 1979 was important for San Francisco. I graduated from high school. Voters elected the City’s first female mayor. And, San Francisco Peer Resources was created to train students as first responders, advocates and allies for each other.
Since then, I’ve become a school superintendent and Peer Resources has provided thousands of diverse students life changing opportunities to develop their sense of purpose.
In fact, you may recognize some Peer Resources alumni who are leaders in the Bay Area today, including Mayor London Breed. Another significant way Peer Resource alumni are serving our community is through teaching. I’d like to introduce you to a few of them.
From Marina Middle School, through Lincoln High School, and San Francisco State University, Samantha Sherman has been a deeply engaged member of the Peer Resources community for years: a Peer Leader, a Youth Council member, and an Alumni Intern. She is now teaching at her alma mater where she, along with some colleagues, started a four year Social Justice Pathway at Lincoln High School. Recognizing the inequitable outcomes for African-American and Latinx students, Samantha wanted to create a solid system that would support these students in their development and center their experiences at Lincoln. Now in its first year, Ms. Sherman is one of the core teachers for the inaugural class.
Levalasi (Lasi) Loi-On is a second-generation mixed Samoan who grew up moving between cities in California, Alaska, and Arizona. In 2008, she participated in Peer Resources and Pin@y Educational Partnerships at Burton High School which was crucial to her educational journey. She currently works as a Student Success Coordinator in Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Services at San Francisco State University (SFSU) and teaches in Critical Pacific Islands and Oceania Studies at City College of San Francisco. Last year she received her Master of Arts in Ethnic Studies at SFSU, with her research focusing on Pacific Islanders in education and the influence of Critical Pacific Islands and Oceania Studies in San Francisco.
Michelle Cody is an alumnus of Peer Resources and Aim High. She found that teaching was her calling. After graduating from Howard University, she received her Masters in Teaching from the Urban Education and Social Justice program at the University of San Francisco in 2015. She started teaching at Aptos Middle School and left to be one of the founding teachers at Willie Brown Middle School.
More than half of Peer alum go into youth work, as teachers, counselors, and administrators and research shows that teachers of color help close achievement gaps for students of color. To build on its legacy, Peer Resources recently organized the San Francisco Educator Pathway Coalition to reduce barriers and increase access for low-income youth of color to become credentialed teachers.
A few other notable Peers alumni include Lateefah Simon, a Washington High alum, who went on to serve as Akonadi Foundation President, on the BART Board, and on the CSU Board; Roberto Ariel Vargas, Mission High alum who is works as a health facilitator/university and community relations at UCSF; and Matthew Valdez, a Lowell High alum, who is General Counsel for the San Francisco Giants (read his story here).
Students in Peer Resources contribute to their school communities in countless invaluable ways, including increasing safety, belonging and healthy behaviors. I am proud to be part of a district and community that has helped to sustain this important opportunity for our youth for 40 years and counting.
Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.