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At SFC we implement a rigorous, standards-based academic program, but we also have an alternative structure and curricular approach that we believe best supports our mission of creating an engaging and challenging learning environment where all students can be successful.

The 2 main tenets of our alternative academic approach are:

  1. project-based learning and portfolio review and
  2.  “looping” and combined grades

Project-Based Learning

We have found that students learn best and are most engaged when skills and concepts are contextualized in real-world, meaningful challenges or projects that are truly interesting to them. SFC students participate in science-based, challenge driven projects each year. Projects incorporate such themes as Human Body, Environment/Earth Science, Physical World/ Design, and Community. For example, within the Environment theme, 2nd / 3rd grade students designed and created habitats for classroom fish and geckos. In a 4th / 5th grade Human Body project, students hiked the eight peaks of San Francisco and created a guidebook, as they studied the circulatory, respiratory, and muscular-skeletal systems. Middle school teachers implement projects within their subject area, e.g., a trial of Ulysses in the Language Arts/ Social Studies class; building rockets in Science.


Students show that they have achieved the standards at their grade level by preparing and presenting portfolios of mastery-level work in order to graduate and advance to the next level of school. Students present their portfolios in May to panels of teachers, family members, community members, and peers.

 “Looping” or combined grades

Because we believe that the foundation of learning is the teacher-student relationship, at SFC, students generally retain the same teacher for two years through looping and combination classes. For example, the K teacher becomes the first grade teacher the following year, allowing continuity of instruction and learning. 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students have a block schedule with humanities, math/science, and PE daily. They meet daily with their advisory group of 11 students, which reamins together with the same advisor for all of middle school.

Our Teaching Approach

  • We identify what we want students to know at the end of each year, semester, quarter, month, and unit. We create assessments to give us information about how students are progressing toward these standards. We map our instruction backwards to ensure that all instructional activities support students to meet the standards. Students and families are engaged in this process through the portfolios students present to demonstrate their readiness to be promoted to the next level of school.
  • We make learning relevant and interesting through challenge driven projects.
  • Teachers take responsibility for students’ achievement.
  • We provide interventions for students who are struggling to meet standards, in the form of tutoring, small group instruction, counseling, and/or grade level retention.
  • We provide differentiated instruction in small groups within the classroom.
  • We teach students how to think powerfully throughout the curriculum. We teach them how to use evidence, focus, create, plan, analyze, question, communicate, synthesize, empathize, and reflect.
  • We set students up to learn by showing them love on a daily basis in the form of personalized, supportive, loving relationships with teachers and other staff members.
  • We build an adult culture focused on excellence and equity so that educators can find support from each other to do the hard work of taking responsibility for students’ learning.
  • The staff and community work together to create an anti-racist, culturally competent, and inclusive school culture that supports all students to meet our goals of excellence.