The San Francisco Teen Outreach Program (SFTOP) is a program that creatively develops ways to engage high school students who do not otherwise consider themselves to be involved in a meaningful Jewish experience here in San Francisco. Since it kicked off in December 2010, the SFTOP has seen tremendous growth and is now supporting five burgeoning Jewish Culture clubs in five public high schools throughout the city on a weekly basis.
In the beginning, SFTOP had a few central ideas about what was needed to engage Jewish teens in San Francisco. The primary idea was to develop Jewish culture clubs at public high schools in San Francisco where a significant Jewish student population existed. In 2010 the only student groups like this were the Jew Crew at Lowell High School, widely thought of in the Jewish teen-serving community as a flagship for outreach to Jewish students, and the Jewish Student Union at Galileo Academy of Science and Technology.
Through peer-to-peer outreach and utilizing the SFTOP steering committee, the number of clubs expanded from two to three in 2011 and from three to six in 2011-2012. Club meetings are structured so that along with a free pizza lunch, there is time for peer interaction, guest educators and information and resources surrounding teen interests like college financial assistance and scholarships, traveling abroad and employment.
As coordinator, I now visit Jewish clubs every week at Lowell High School, Galileo Academy of Science and Technology, School of the Arts, Gateway High School and George Washington High School. At these school sites, in partnership with Jewish Student Union, we provide a free lunch and educational programming in the form of games, speakers, internship opportunities, films and student empowerment.
The development of community-wide teen-driven events was another idea in the vision of the SFTOP. SFTOP hosted a dance at Jewish Community High School in December 2011 and partnered with other Jewish agencies on J-Serve, the Jewish Day of Youth Service in April of 2012. Each of these events brought together over 200 teens and served as valuable times for engagement of San Francisco high school students.
Perhaps the most exciting and somewhat unexpected new venture for SFTOP this year is the addition of our first non-school-based club for Jewish LGBTQIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, intersex*, questioning) teens.
The need for an LGBTQIQ club was brought to our attention in December 2011 during a meeting with Sasha T. Goldberg, formally Keshet’s Bay Area Program Director. She connected us with some eye- opening research that showed a definite need for this type of club. For example:
- According to a 2009 GLSEN survey of 7,261 middle and high school students, 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed, and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation:
- A survey of seven Jewish day schools (LGBT Awareness in Jewish Day Schools, LGBT Education Collaboration of San Francisco, 2003) found that “almost every Jewish day school reported anti-gay name-calling, teasing, harassment, or use of gay epithets.”
- The survey also found that “gay and lesbian students…in Jewish day schools reported experiences of ostracism and judgment.”
Upon inquiring about options for LGBTQIQ Jewish teens in San Francisco and learning that no formals ones existed, Sasha suggested that the JCCSF fill this need, and assured us such an undertaking was worthwhile.
Sasha was right and while she and Keshet introduced the concept, it has been the amazing dedication of a group of LGBTQIQ Jewish teens who have done the work to make this club flourish.
"This is literally the best thing I have ever done, " said teen Shana Gabow after the first LGBTQIQ Jewish Teen Group event. "I feel so lucky that we got to share the type of community we have been able to build with other people, and not just with other Jews."
With the LGBTQIQ Jewish Culture club, I meet with a core of teen leader every other week toplan for our events, which will be held twice a month beginning in January. We discuss relevant topics, how we want to present them to their peers, and plan for the future of this endeavor.
Right now we're planning the LGBTQIQ Jewish Teen Group Chanukah Party on December 14. Clearly, these teens have a profound desire to bring their two communities together as one. *Intersex means a person born with ambiguous genetalia