Share Your Story
Share your Synergy memories - an anecdote, an experience, a funny story, or how Synergy has shaped your life.
Sitting in the Star Room listening to Carolyn read a story to the class, I could tell immediately that Synergy was different from other schools. The kids were all seated on the carpet, with a few sprinkled in the back on chairs, attentively listening and responding when she asked questions. As with all 5 & 6 year olds they couldn’t sit still for long and some would stand up and roam around. One boy in particular was causing a bit of distraction and Carolyn made a hand gesture towards the door. He walked over, touched the doorknob and came back. The energy in the room was calm and engaged in a way I had never seen with this age group before; there was something truly special happening here.
The sense of community is palpable when you walk the halls or visit a Synergy classroom. The Agreement System creates a foundation that everyone operates from and has been invaluable for us even outside of the walls of school. Over the past four years that we have been lucky enough to be part of this community there are numerous moments where we have truly appreciated the unique qualities that make Synergy the place for us.
From helping Pam in the Kindergarten art class, to the Global Village project in the Sun Room which sparked a whole new world of interest for Zev in both learning Portuguese and a desire to visit the Amazon Rainforest, we have been appreciative of the way the curriculum and environment is crafted to nurture and build each student’s creativity and curiosity.
Being part of this community is more than just coming to school every day, each of us also contributes and gives back through All School Clean Up, participation on committees or the school Board of Trustees. Collaborating with the Tech Committee, teachers and administrators to help develop a vision for the technology program gave us an even better understanding of the thoughtfulness and expertise that every member brings to this community. As a Cooperative, Synergy brings in the collective voices of the teachers, administration, students and families to create an inclusive program and community.
And we love the Synergy traditions that connect us throughout the year -- the welcoming back ceremony on the first day of school creates a space to celebrate the beginning of the year and welcome new students, the Family Holiday Sing-along which provides a moment to express gratitude and joy together, and the Spring Concert where the students get a chance to shine on stage.
When there are difficult days, we can always rely on Rita, Tanya, Jesse or the other Synergy staff members to help problem solve challenges the kids are facing. The teachers have a collaborative openness that we really appreciate and a willingness to listen that makes us feel cared for and supported. Or even just an encouraging word and friendly smile from the front office on harried mornings can make all the difference. Finding Synergy has been a true gift for our family that we are grateful for every day.
Matthew Runeare, Kai Haley, Zev - Class of 2024 and Viviana - Class of 2027
When we first told Sophia she would be changing schools and coming to second grade at Synergy she was understandably apprehensive. After a couple of weeks with Ebony and Annie in the Rainbow Room she said, “I didn’t know it could be this way!” She noticed that the same concepts were being taught, but with more creativity and fun. We sought out a school that would nurture, and not squash, Sophia’s joy of learning. Synergy has delivered this beautifully.
At first glance, we thought it was a bit humorous that the slogan on Synergy t-shirts is “Keeping a Safe Space” as it seemed like a bit of a basic thing to be a bragging point. We have come to realize that keeping safe space is not simple and that Synergy does an amazing job of this. The safety that is created and actively maintained is the foundation that enables learning and development to flourish. I hear from parents at other schools about the “mean girl” culture and bullying that their kids confront. When I ask Sophia about this, she tells me, “That kind of thing rarely happens at Synergy because whenever it starts teachers address it quickly and it just doesn’t go anywhere.”
Teachers pay attention and really care about students at Synergy. They nurture interests and help students push past limitations. Sophia entered middle school math with the idea that math was a weak subject for her. Dan accepted her dislike of math, but helped her to identify her skills despite this. Through his engaging, accessible, supportive teaching, Sophia has quietly stopped saying she dislikes the subject and her outstanding growth in this area suggests she might even like it (but please don’t make her admit this).
We love the rich opportunities provided by programs like farm school, music, drama and art. This year the wonderful right of passage work with eighth graders at farm school really helped them feel their strength and connection to each other.
As we move through this eighth grade year, we are so grateful for the love and learning that Synergy has provided for our family. Sophia values kindness and community. She has learned how to study and learn in an organized, determined and joyful way. She is well prepared for challenges that lie ahead, but we wish we could stay at Synergy! This is why we give.
Margo, Lynne and Sophia Philpott Levi, Class of 2020
Like many of you, San Francisco welcomed us into its arms 20+ years ago and we were swept away by its beauty, friendliness, and diverse culture. It had a certain spark. It was and continues to be a place where we could be ourselves and enjoy a rich life among different types of people not afraid to challenge the status quo in hopes of changing the world for the better.
When it came time to find a school for our son, Dylan, we knew we wanted a school that had this spark; something different than the rigid, traditional educational system in which we grew up. We toured dozens of schools and when we heard this exchange between middle school girls and a boy during our tour at Synergy School, we knew we’d found it.
"You're weird," snapped the girls with typical middle school sass.
After a pause, the boy responded, "Isn't it ok to be weird?"
"Uhm, yeah, sorry, you're totally right…(pause) Want to hang with us at lunch?" they responded.
Six years ago, with a little luck and a lot of persistence (Rita, wink, wink), Synergy welcomed us into its crazy, loving arms. Year after year, we've seen our children grow in exciting - maybe once thought impossible - ways. From seeing our son deliver a passionate speech to a crowded room about the need to address climate change to seeing him shine on stage in The Firebird, to watching him cross the finish line at the All-City Cross Country Finals, we've partnered with the Synergy teachers and staff to help our kids work through difficult challenges, foster social-emotional growth, and find their own spark.
Now in the 5th grade, Dylan is a confident, critical thinker prepared for the road ahead and 2nd grader Logan a vibrant reader, athlete, and budding artist (and sewer!) who wants to get to school as early as he can to shoot hoops.
To us, the Synergy community is the spark of San Francisco.
The Synergy Community has become an extension of our family.
Many things change and will continue to change in the world, but Synergy remains true to itself and the essence of this amazing city. We feel an immense sense of pride to be part of this hallowed institution. We give to Synergy because we feel it’s our duty to help ensure that this spark continues to live on today, tomorrow, and for a million years to come!
Alex, Katy, Dylan - Class of 2023, and Logan Plant - Class of 2026
Synergy has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. For 35 years, it has been my safe space. Now that I’m sitting here thinking over it all again, I find myself struggling to find the words to convey my gratitude and love for this community.
As a student at Synergy I was able to explore who I was as a learner, as an artist, a musician, a friend, an activist and a community member. I was able to be exactly who I was. To make mistakes, to change and to grow at my own pace. I left Synergy knowing the person I wanted to be and that I had the tools I needed to find my way there.
And well, I found my way back to Synergy… where I am lucky enough to work with an amazing team of co-op members -- teachers and staff who believe in progressive education -- who put so much of themselves into finding ways to light students up as learners and making sure that they feel seen for who they are.
– Ariel Leighton Afterschool Director and Middle School Aide and Synergy Alumna, Class of 1992
My family gives to the Annual Fund because we believe in all the magic that happens at Synergy School. In so many ways, Synergy has been like a family to me over the years—over 29 years as a teacher.
Several years ago, our daughter, Lucia, completed nine amazing, creative years filled with class plays, community service events, camping trips, and potlucks at Synergy. She is now thriving at UC Berkeley as a freshman and I can wholeheartedly thank all of the hard working teachers who shaped her into the amazing person she is today.
Synergy teaches kids to strive for academic excellence, be aware and active about social justice issues, and most of all, to have fun while learning. The community at Synergy is welcoming and giving, and has always been there for me. Pete and I give so that the spirit of Synergy will continue into the future.
–Sandy Barra, Synergy 4/5 Teacher & Alum Parent, Pete Dardis, and Lucia, Class of 2015
When we first toured Synergy many years ago, there were a few things we knew and many things we didn’t about this special school. We met educators like Tanya who immediately set the tone with humor and kindness. We saw walls of bright art and community agreements. We saw kids laughing and evidence of creative learning on classroom shelves. We understood that our family’s deep commitment to social justice would be nurtured here.
What we didn’t know then was how well Synergy cares for our kids as they prepare for the next phase of their lives. That is why we urge your family’s support of Synergy’s Annual Fund today.
Our 5th grader, for example, has thrived as a member of Girls Club, where she has found her own voice for gender justice. For our 8th grader, a truly transformative Farm School trip earlier this year created a safe and confidential space for class bonding and exploration of hard questions. We thank wonderful educators like Ariel who led this experience, which left 8th graders feeling respected and capable and thoughtful about what lies ahead. I have seen the same leadership cultivation in my daughter’s classrooms and as she works with Jana on the middle school play.
Similarly, Synergy’s care and guidance during the high school application process has been outstanding. There are a dizzying number of applications, school tours, tests, and interviews to handle. There are myths and anxieties to dispel. We thank all of the 8th grade teachers for not only readying our kids academically, but also for accommodating them as they tour schools and juggle tasks. We also have been deeply moved by the organizational prowess and thoughtful guidance of Cynthia and Tanya in helping our kids stay on task as they consider what school is best for them.
We could not have known all of this when we first toured Synergy, but experiencing Synergy today has confirmed that this was the right choice all those years ago. Please join us today in giving to the Synergy Fund at a level that works for your family’s circumstances. Our gifts help Synergy bridge the gap between tuition and what it actually costs to run the school, pay educators a fair wage, plan incredible trips, and provide transition support for 8th graders like ours. For many of you, 8th grade feels far away. But it comes quickly. With our continued financial support, it will come as gracefully for your child as it did ours thanks to the care of Synergy’s wonderful team.
Noreen Farrell & Michael Orr, Ruby, Class of 2020 and Maggie, Class of 2023
I fell in love with Synergy as soon as I saw the funky rainbow mural above the school on Castro street in Noe Valley. Walking into the school I immediately felt a sense of belonging and level of complete ease I didn’t find at my other school. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by the warmest smiles, especially that of Rusty (aka balloon head). It wasn’t the typical school environment I had been used to - there were a couple of rooms, one an office and the other was a big room with pillows and window seats, but the rest of the school was pretty much open; there was a loft and a climbing gym in the back. I could hear the gentle hum of the day’s activities; students were visibly engaged with their studies but allowed to move about freely…I realized right then and there – this was a special place I wanted to be a part of. It was 1974.
Teachers and students were on a first name basis. We had morning meetings where we got a chance to share events in our lives and add our thoughts to that of the teachers. We went on camping trips. The best was Midnight Madness cruising around San Francisco with Rufus and Chaka Kahn, Stevie Wonder and the Bee Gees playing on the radio. My teachers were the best in the world, they really listened and cared for me and I could feel the genuine love they had for all of the students.
Fast forward some 40 plus years, Darrick and I had two daughters, Xiara and Malea, and were now looking for a school for the girls. It was an easy choice...Synergy.
Once again, I walk Synergy’s halls, a different building and neighborhood but a very familiar atmosphere…not as a student but as a parent. I notice the same types of dynamic interactions with students and teachers involved in projects together. I hear the familiar hum of the day’s activities; I see the confidence and openness the kids have moving through the space with ease; I see the teachers engaging their students with thoughtfulness and patience. Morning meetings still start the day off, camping trips have evolved into farm school, and the 8th grade Midnight Madness still happens, now with their favorite music playing on the radio.
Both our daughters have flourished under the care of the Synergy teachers. Their confidence, their love of learning and curious nature are because of Synergy. We are so thankful from the bottom of our hearts for the care, love and amazing education Synergy has given our family through the years.
Alisa and Darrick Clayton, Xiara, Class of 2019, and Malea, Class of 2022
As soon as he started talking, we knew our oldest son Griffin had a big personality and a gift of gab. This was matched with his desire to share this “gift” with anyone willing to listen—even those unwilling, often to the chagrin of his parents and teachers! As he approached kindergarten age, we had no shortage of unsolicited advice on the best school environment to channel this energy, but the one word we kept hearing was Synergy. A small school where Griffin would be welcomed by all, know every student and teacher by name, and not get lost in the shuffle at a huge K-5 public school. A choice that felt right for Griffin, and for our family.
Griffin took to Synergy like a fish to water. We would watch him high-five middle school students as he walked in, or put his arm around his new best friends, and not want to leave at the end of each day. The defining moment of his first year was the Star Room play, which Griffin was so excited about. Finally the chance to shine on stage! But when the play was over, we noticed he was upset nearly to tears, unhappy with his own performance. We tried to console him, but he wouldn’t hear it, and stormed off to class. Later that day, he came home with a huge smile. Showing off a card from his Synergy buddies, Sanders and Owen, who he had spent the last many Fridays getting to know during buddy time. The card congratulated Griffin on his performance, which Griffin was now so proud of. Three years later, this card is still hanging on our fridge.
That day, we learned that Synergy is a place where students are supported not just by their teachers, but by each other. Synergy is a place that nurtures empathy and caring in our children, where students learn to look out for each other, and their community as well. From the agreement system, buddy day on Friday mornings, to Thanksgiving luncheon with the senior community and volunteering at the Food Bank.
Our youngest son Asher joined the Star Room this school year. Watching the joy that both of our boys have when going to school every day, and seeing the friendships they are developing is confirming to us again that Synergy is truly the best environment for us.
– Julia and Dave King, Griffin, Class of 2025, and Asher, Class of 2029
Synergy! What is it about this special place? Is it the happy hello greetings to our entire family as we walk in the door? Perhaps it’s the quiet confidence and independence we’ve seen our children and their friends develop as they have grown from young K to middle school? Or maybe it’s the amazing location, location, location in the city and the cheerful sounds emanating from the soft and hard yards as we walk by on 25th or Valencia?
Hmmmm, or is it that Henry and Bea have never been able to single out a favorite teacher or staff, because they honestly say they are ALL their favorite? And of course anyone within earshot knows that all Dorothy needs is Khaleesi and snack from the after-care program.
However, Synergy magically balances the haphazard with the intentional, the social growth with the academics, and the safe place with the real world, they do so in a way that works. Our family’s life and time in San Francisco is better and easier because of our relationships formed with Synergy’s families and staff. Synergy keeps our family balanced from morning to night.
Heather, Chad, Henry - Class of 2022, Bea - Class of 2024, and Dorothy, future Synergy student
When we first toured Synergy, we were moved by the principles Rita Franklin, the Director of Admissions and one of the kindergarten teachers, spoke about: keeping a safe space, promoting and teaching social justice, including everyone in the community, fostering self-awareness. These values are in line with our family’s values, and the kind and gentle approach Rita described seemed a particularly good fit for Spike, our sensitive and cautious would-be kindergartener.
We’d toured a number of private schools all over the city, and though we were impressed enough by a few of them to apply, we often felt that Spike was being judged based on some nebulous idea of the way his future self would perform. One school director, speaking to the parents of three and four year olds, boasted about how many of their students went on to Stanford.
At Synergy, everyone got right on Spike’s level and connected with him as the four year-old person he was. The application process was relaxed and genuine; everyone really wanted to get to know us, and wanted us to get to know the Synergy family.
Now in our second year at Synergy, we are so pleased that the principles Rita spoke of weren’t just words, and it wasn’t just Rita: the entire community, from teachers, administrators, parents, and students – from the “big kids” to the kindergarteners – everyone embraces and contributes to the thriving, rigorous, kind, easygoing spirit of Synergy. Spike felt welcome immediately and now loves going to school. He’s learned so much – not only reading and writing and math, but about who he is, how he wants to be treated and how to treat others, how he likes to play, how to communicate, how to be kind. His confidence and self esteem are through the roof. Simply put, Synergy is a place where Spike feels completely comfortable because he feels safe and loved for the kid that he is.
Willow Hagge and Joe Miota, Spike, Class of 2028 (Star Room) and sibling Elliott
“Mom. You know those kids at my old school that always say they love school and they're sad when it's the weekend because they can't go? I used to think their minds weren't working. But now I think I understand. I love my new school."
There could have been no better announcement than this one, which our son, Wyatt, made after just a week or so of second grade at Synergy. This year, as our family begins our second year at Synergy, we regularly remark on how fortunate we feel to be part of this community of eager, curious, and caring learners.
Moving from one school to another outside of a scheduled transition time can be daunting. After we visited Synergy, we felt so sure it would be a terrific fit for our son. And when he was admitted, we felt like the luckiest people ever. We hoped that everything we had seen on the tour and at the open house would become our lived experience, but as parents, we wondered (to ourselves) if our experiences would match our expectations.
We needn't have been concerned. Annie and Ebony welcomed Wyatt with a letter in the mail over the summer, and when it was time for school, he slid right in as if he had always been there. When it came to supporting Wyatt academically, Ebony and Annie had it all under control. Wyatt finished the year strong, ready for third grade, and a little bit sad to be facing months of no school.
We had always hoped to find a school that would encourage Wyatt to grow into a lifelong learner while at the same time, modeling emotional intelligence, equity, and all the important aspects of being in community with others. We wanted a school that would help him to reach high, wide, and deep, and offer guidance for the challenges along the way. Synergy has made learning everything we hoped it would be for Wyatt, and for our family. As we've volunteered at the Food Bank, helped with School Clean-Up, participated in assemblies, and more, all three of us have grown in ways we wouldn't have predicted.
Kelly White, Marc Cousineau & Wyatt, Class of 2025, Sunroom
We weren’t necessarily looking for schools when Synergy came into our lives. Our son was in preschool and they offered a TK option. We were happy there and thought we would continue for the TK program at said preschool. To our surprise the owner of the preschool approached us about exploring Synergy. While she knew she was possibly undercutting her own business she felt our family should explore Synergy. While we had applied to public options we hadn’t really considered a private school for TK. When touring for the first time, it’s easy to say we immediately felt a “vibe,” for lack of a better term, that we were intrigued by and found ourselves wanting to know more. The school itself felt right for our somewhat shy son who seemed to be slightly overwhelmed by large environments. We as parents were drawn to the emphasis on diversity and social justice. A school where race, different family compositions, gender identity and equality were openly discussed and embraced. An environment where our son’s family make up would be reflected in other students’ family compositions. Moreover the sense of community and parental involvement were exactly what we had desired. A place where we could be a part of our child's education and the environment in which these formative years are spent.
Ari flourished in his first year at Synergy as a TK. His confidence blossomed, his social circle widened and his reading skills were on fire. As a TK he uncovered a love of reading, music, Spanish and was able to truly indulge his desire for art and fantasy play. It shouldn’t go without mentioning that to him… Rita, Tanya and Carolyn are beyond compare. He has a connection with each of them and speaks of them often outside of Synergy. Remember adoring your favorite teachers as a child? We do and we love that the Star Room and Synergy as a whole provides such close connections between students and staff.
Every parent wants a safe and nurturing environment for their child. Every parent wants a broad education that fosters a desire for learning. At Synergy we are fortunate to not only have those components but to be surrounded by parents and staff who are committed to those goals as well as immersed in creating a community of support for all.
This year as a second year kindergartner, Ari continues to embrace his Synergy universe. Each day is truly reported as “GREAT!” when Ari is retrieved at the end of the day. He also asks to go to After School every day! And while I don’t indulge him in that wish, he does go a few days a week and we are thrilled that he wants to be there! It speaks to the quality of the environment and the hard work of all the staff that he desires to be at Synergy as much and as often as possible. Outside of school hours when we are living life in the Mission and surrounding neighborhoods… every time we pass Synergy he blows kisses and boasts “I love Synergy!”.
Like Ari, we too are in love with Synergy and have completely subscribed to all they offer our family. We are forever grateful for the agreement system as it’s truly changed our language and approach to “discipline” in our home. We strive to be involved in all that our schedules allow and believe wholeheartedly the more we give in every way possible, the more we and the community of Synergy as a whole benefit.
Michael Burton, Adam Lippard & Ari (Star Room) Class of 2027
Our story started when Jen was hired as the art teacher at Synergy in 2002. Our first step was moving from Berkeley to San Francisco to be closer to Synergy. Sandy Barra (4/5 teacher) and her husband Pete graciously asked us if we would like to rent their small cottage. We gladly said yes and Jen taught at Synergy for the next four years before focusing on her own art practice. We did not know what we were getting into at the time, but the Synergy community and spirit had literally moved us.
Fast forward to us looking and touring schools for our daughter, Jemma, almost ten years later. We toured a handful of schools just to reconfirm what we already knew. We wanted Jemma to be a part of the Synergy community. We visited Synergy and ran into so many familiar faces from active teachers, retired teachers, friends, and Synergy families—a hug from Rita, a high five from Jana, a big smile from Roy. We felt moved again. We left inspired by the continued commitment and spirit that was just how we remembered it—if not stronger. We feel so lucky to be a part of the Synergy community and it is even better experiencing it as a parent through the eyes of our daughter.
Jen Garrido, Josh Duthie, Jemma, Class of 2025 (Rainbow Room) and Juna (younger sibling in photo)
Have you ever walked by someplace and thought, “It looks so cool in there. What are they doing? I want to be a part of that.” In my life B.C. (before children), I would walk by Synergy for years on my way to the bus stop. I could hear the joyful voices of the children playing and laughing, and the teachers were always smiling. I could see kids climbing trees and running around and I would think - This is what learning should look and feel like. Fast forward a couple of years and when it came time for Jose and I to think about choosing a school for Christian, the vision I had for his learning brought me back to the memory of Synergy. With 2 younger brothers, we knew whatever school we choose, we were in it for the long term. We were looking for more than a school; we were looking for a community of learners whose vision for life was in alignment with our family goals. We wanted a community that celebrates diversity and is committed to inclusion and social justice. As a family, we talk a lot about making the world better, the importance of standing up for others and ourselves, and practicing more kindness. As parents, Jose and I are still learning how to broach these conversations, which in recent times seems to be even more challenging, but we feel completely supported by the Synergy staff and Synergy families. Christian is in the 2nd grade now and we are enjoying watching him grow and thrive at Synergy. We are so thankful to be a part of the Synergy family and look forward to many more years to come.
The Valle Family