The Urban School of San Francisco
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The Urban School of San Francisco seeks to ignite a passion for learning, inspiring its students to become self-motivated, enthusiastic participants in their education—both in high school and beyond.
The school was founded in 1966 by a group of Bay Area parents. Today Urban has grown from its original 22 students to a student body of more than 375, but its founding philosophy remains the same.
Evaluation & Grading
Urban’s grading policy is based on the belief that students do their most fruitful work in an atmosphere of support and cooperation that actively discourages overt competition and comparison. Urban teachers write two thorough reports each term for each student, providing comprehensive feedback on student achievement and setting specific goals and strategies for improvement. Students are also asked to reflect on and formally evaluate their work. Written reports are provided twice per term, at the midpoint and at the end of each 12-week class, along with a final course letter grade.
Block Schedule and Curriculum
Urban organizes the school year using a block system rather than a conventional semester system. While specifically designed for the challenges teenagers face, Urban’s schedule exposes students to the independence, depth of understanding and academic challenge they will face in college and beyond.
The block schedule divides the academic year into three, 12-week terms: fall, winter and spring. Students take four intensive classes every term and most classes last for one or two terms. These classes meet for 70-minute periods with one 2-hour+ period per week. Due to longer class periods, a one-term class is equivalent to a semester course and a two-term class is equivalent to a yearlong course. The block schedule allows for more concentrated, less fragmented learning than does a traditional high school schedule. The intensive block format enables students and teachers to focus on each area of study in greater depth and approach the material in a variety of ways: in-depth discussions, independent and group projects, films, research and field trips into surrounding communities and environments.
In addition, students may take elective classes such as Jazz Band, Chamber Orchestra, Urban Singers, Yearbook or Newspaper, which meet during a shorter period that spans all three terms. Students also have the option of participating in physical activity classes or study halls during this shorter elective period. The weekly schedule includes advising, a grade-level meeting, an all-school meeting, and consultation periods for students to meet individually with teachers.
Urban’s curriculum includes core academic classes common to most high schools, as well as a number of specialized courses, advanced electives and creative arts courses usually found at the college level.
Two terms of a class makes up one credit; an elective class that only lasts one trimester is therefore .5 credits. In order to graduate from Urban, the following credits must be taken in each subject matter:
- 4 credits in English – Two 9th grade required classes, two 10th grade required classes, an 11th grade Shakespeare class plus another three elective English classes in 11th and 12th grades.
- 3 credits in Math – Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3 and/or advanced electives; Placement in first year math is based on a test given to incoming first years.
- 2 credits in Science – Fundamentals of Science 1A and 1B in 9th grade, Fundamentals of Science 2A and 2B in 10th grade with strong recommendation for additional electives.
- 2 credits in History – One credit in 9th grade (20th Century World History 1A and 1B), and one credit in 10th or 11th grade in US history (UAS The Civil War and UAS Recent America).
- 3 credits in Language (French, Spanish, Chinese) – Placement in the levels of the language are based on a test given to incoming freshmen.
- 2 credits in Art – One-half credit in Visual or Performing Arts must be earned each year.
- 4 credits in Additional Advanced Course Work – these can be met by a fourth year of language, third year of history, third year of science, third year of art, or fourth year of math.
- 2 credits in Service Learning – 9th graders participate in Identity & Ethnic Studies, 10th graders in Community Partnerships; 11th and 12th graders earn credit through individual projects.
Community & Diversity
- Number of Students: 375
- San Francisco 76%
- Marin 16%
- East Bay 4%
- Peninsula 4%
- Number of faculty and staff: 76
- Faculty to student ratio: 1:10
- Faculty with advanced degrees: 56%
- Faculty of color: 30%
- Average class size: 13
- Students of color: 32%
- Students receiving a part of $2.1 million in tuition assistance: 28%
Through strong relationships with their teachers, advisors and with each other, Urban students learn early on how to navigate a culture of collaboration, inclusion and mutual respect, both inside and outside the classroom. Urban has more than 30 student clubs, as well as student government, an active outdoor and class trips program, and a student newspaper, yearbook, and online literary and arts journal. Performing arts opportunities include fall and winter theatre productions, circus class performances and the annual One Act Festival. Urban also offers an advanced and junior jazz and, a chamber orchestra and the Urban Singers chorus. The visual arts classes range from film and photography to printmaking, stone carving and book binding.
A member of the Bay Area Conference and Bay Counties League-West (BCL-West), Urban fields title-winning interscholastic teams in baseball, basketball, cross-country, fencing, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball. Athletic practices and games are held in St. Agnes Gymnasium, as well as venues throughout the city, including Kezar Pavilion, the University of San Francisco and the playing fields of San Francisco’s Rec and Park Department. More than 60 percent of all Urban students participate on 25 boys, girls and co-ed athletic teams in the department.
Graduates of The Urban School matriculate to a number of various colleges and universities. In the past five years, students have gone on to more than 125 colleges/universities, including 4 California State Universities, 9 University of California schools, and 6 Ivy League universities. 98 percent of Urban students from the class of 2011 went on to attend a four-year college or university after graduation.
The Urban School, because it is private and self-supporting, charges $34,050 per student for tuition and laptop fees. Urban provides financial aid to many students who have demonstrated need as determined by the school and the Student Service for Financial Aid (SSS).
The Urban School's student newspaper, called "The Urban Legend," is a part of the High School National Ad Network.
- Johnson 'Jamang' Hsu, rapper, stunt driver, known for the Grad-Night Side Show
- Rebecca Walker, writer-activist, daughter of Alice Walker
- Gabby La La, Musician.
- Nadine Campeau, model 
- Lhasa de Sela, Musician
- Brad Wollack, Writer and comedian on E! network's Chelsea Lately program
- Yunji DeNies, Television news correspondent for American Broadcast Company
- Onome Ojo, NFL Wide Receiver
- Jené Morris, WNBA Guard
- Nancy Oakes, chef/owner of Boulevard restaurant
- Samson (Griz) Grisman, Musician
- Lily Kwong, model
- Bobby Chin, chef, TV personality
- Alison Elliott, actress
- Mitch Lowe, founder of Redbox and Netflix
- David Sandner, author and editor