Urban is the best education I ever had and I think that the faculty was a huge part of that. I remember Peter coaching me in soccer, Cathleen deciphering great Irish literature, Debbie introducing me to inspiring civil rights leaders, Richard shepherding dozens of us on a backpacking trip along the Lost Coast, reading the final chapter of Moby Dick aloud around a campfire with Jonathan, and LeRoy passionately bringing our class back to the Civil War era. In biology class one year, Ellen got really excited when we were talking about DNA and tested my twin sister Sarah and my blood, revealing that we were, indeed, identical twins. I have countless memories like these of unconventional learning that not only taught me to be curious, open, and creative, but also guided me towards figuring out who I was and what I cared most about. I couldn’t be more grateful for these experiences.
The infamous Cal Studies John Muir Trail trip of September 1982. Winter came early that year with a major rainstorm that turned into a major snowstorm, cutting the trip short. Remember that meadow where we camped that became a lake overnight? The long hike over Bishop Pass in a storm, as we escaped the mountains, is etched in my brain. Grant and Sam were in the lead. I was in the back, trudging onward. All of you kids were so steady and alert together. This picture is only part of the group. Grant had taken some of you somewhere! Don't we look cold? But happy.
Carl and Kathy Munger on a bike trip wearing their Urban sweatshirts.
Joana and Urban? An uncanny match. But one that became incredibly powerful. One that kept her thriving for 35 years. Why? Many reasons: After many years spent in her native Catalonia where she was perceived as an unglamorous book worm, at Urban, everyone seemed to appreciate qualities that she had been told to stifle for a great part of her youth. Unexpected and liberating! From start to finish, Joana felt challenged at Urban. She considered that she could always do better. The copies of a number of novels she taught in "Latin American Literature" serve as proof with their fatigued pages covered in notes with many different ink colors. I’ll never forget how surprised I always was when at the beginning of every school year she would announce that she had butterflies in her stomach. It was a new year and the bar was ever higher. She always spoke of her colleagues. Aside from the incredible friendships based on trust and respect that she had the opportunity to establish at the school, she felt enormous pride being part of the Urban faculty. Talented people all striving towards similar goals of providing a safe haven of discovery and growth in a non judgemental environment. It was wonderful for her to feel like a pillar in that context because in moments of doubt, she knew that her team would be there to keep her standing tall.
Part II: As most of you know, Joana had two children, my brother, Marcel and I. But in reality, she had hundreds of children. Her students made her heart beat. The brilliant ones, the ones who faced academic or even personal issues: she wanted to carry them all in her arms, help their wings grow and make sure that they would finally take off in the right direction. And, more importantly, she never stopped saying that her students were always teaching her something new. She loved that. And she loved all of YOU very much. So for all of you who got to experience being called “cuca”, the morning ride into the city with NPR blasting, the echo of her voice yelling “hora de clase!”, her loud kisses and big hugs... know that she was at "home”. And although she rarely had a smile on her face during the ‘all school trip” or on “all school sneak” days, Urban was essential and necessary to her well being. Clearly so being that she retired at the age of 72….
Graduation 1973 at Mt. Tamalpais. The program included speeches, a poetry reading, a barbershop quartet performance, awards, diplomas presented by Mr. Wilder, and even a mime to entertain the graduates and their guests. All of the graduating girls wore flower wreaths in their hair.
When Dan Murphy interviewed me to be Urban’s first Athletic Director, he thought there was interest in a boys’ basketball team but he wasn’t sure beyond that. So, uncertain of how many teams we could field, I bought one set of uniforms that would work for soccer, basketball, and volleyball. They were polyester and scratchy, blue with white piping. What was going to be our mascot? We toyed with Urban Guerrillas (it was 1979!), but happily settled on Urban Blues. That led to the first cheer, “Go, Big Blue, show what you can do!” That first year we proudly fielded the only coed teams the league had seen, in fall soccer and spring volleyball. To save money I coached all the teams, including both boys and girls basketball, and drove the school bus. Richard Lautze joined Urban the next year and was a star boys’ basketball coach. The girls’ team pictured here, led by Wendy Meakin ('84) and Suzanne Esser ('84), was talented and spirited, and became the first Urban team to dominate the league. Now I am far from the athletic world, as the founding director of the Bay Area Teacher Training Institute, a credential and Master’s program for elementary school teachers, but I am proud of how far Urban’s athletic program has come, with its 16 teams and high student participation. GO BIG BLUE!
This photo of me was taken on graduation day in 1985 at the Palace of Fine Arts. It was such a happy day for me. Everyone wore white and I remember thinking my jacket with its huge 1980's shoulder pads was the most stylish thing ever....Urban holds such a special place in my heart. My time at Urban was the best educational year of my life. I had transferred in from UHS and remember feeling so at home and grateful that I had finally found the right place. The community was extremely warm and welcoming - very shortly after arriving I had made some wonderful friends. The block system was such a breath of fresh air for me - I remember loving the in-depth conversations with Leroy Votto in his history class. To this day he remains my favorite teacher of all time. And then there was Richard Lautze, my math teacher. Richard was my first crush - and it was a BIG ONE. I have such fond memories of project month. I decided to do a photography course and remember being very nervous to present it to the school in the Gumption Theater. If my memory serves me accurately, it went very well. Thank you Urban for all that you gave to me during those formative years. I am forever thankful.
I was an instructor: 1966-69. Here is a pair of photos from 1966. The students wanted to look "serious" and "natural." You should be able to identify at least one of these individuals!
First of all I only went to Urban for my freshman year. It was an important year for me as I had just graduated from Notre Dame des Victoire and was a bit shell shocked by my experience there and told my mother that the only school I would consider attending was Urban. It was 8 blocks from my house, small and matched my outlook at the time. I remember very fondly my math teacher Rosemary. As I was not a confident math student, Rosemary never made me feel inadequate. She inspired me to like math and was very creative with her approach and projects. I loved the hands on projects she created for us. I also loved the two art teachers I had. We had live models and they were very welcoming. The headmaster at the time was also very kind and caring and for the first time I could remember I felt at home at school. I could just be myself.
Because it (Urban) was small and supportive, I was able to do things I wouldn't have been able to do at a larger/more competitive school (like play basketball! I was horrible but I'm glad I got to play.) Really cool teachers taught me things I still remember 20 years later.
One of my history classes was reading Edmund Morgan’s The Birth of the Republic. The book opens with a short and powerful preface on the April 1775 battle of Lexington and Concord, and I wondered aloud if it might be possible for us to visit these sites for Project Month in 1986. In time, the musing became a plan – and seven students (David, Aaron, Byron, Michael, Evans, Elizabeth, Anya) signed up. We sold soup once a week for almost two months to raise money for our trip. We flew into Newark where we stayed with the families of St. Benedict’s Prep students who had visited Urban the previous year. We then began our three-week road trip as we drove to Washington, DC, to visit the White House, the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the FBI and many museums. We also visited Civil War sites like Harpers Ferry (West Virginia); Antietam (Maryland) and Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) battlefields; and Colonial Williamsburg. We next drove to New York City and visited museums and colonial and Revolutionary War sites in Manhattan. Then it was on to New England, and there we saw the re-enactment of the battle of Lexington and the parade at Concord on Patriots’ Day, and we also visited Boston’s Bunker Hill monument. Along the way, we stayed with friends of Urban in Armonk, Newport, Concord and Newton, We drove back to Newark, attending a church festival at Saint Benedict’s before flying back to Oakland and home. We drove many miles and got a sense of the geography and the history of the East. A wonderful and deeply memorable trip!
I want to annotate Mitch Lowe's account that brought back our own memories : Mary [Dan's wife] and I were hitchhiking out of Paris. We were at the end of a very long line of ride seekers . A old Citroen flew by, stopped up the line and then began to back up. A window rolled down and we heard a shout, "Dan! Get in." Other hitchhikers looked on as we clearly were taken out of turn. I then saw Mitchell. Mary was about six months pregnant so perhaps the others thought that was the reason. We travelled south and toward the Atlantic coast with Mitchell and his girlfriend. We reached a small coastal town late at night and could not find a hotel. We decided to sleep on the beach. A few hours later a policeman woke us up and said we could not sleep there. We told him that we could not find a place to stay . He noticed that Mary was pregnant and took us not to jail but to his mother's house where she put us up. We decided we would stay in that area for a day or two more. Mitchell and his friend decided to keep heading toward Spain. We turned left and went to Switzerland.
My first year of teaching at a brand new school in East Palo Alto (in 1997), I got in touch with Richard Lautze and he met with me on a Saturday at Urban to talk about math philosophy and curriculum. That was my first introduction to Urban -- and one that stuck with me.
Mid term in my senior year at Urban I convinced my teachers Bob Schiff and Dan Murphy to let me travel in Europe for my second half as long as I read Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. At least that is what I remember. During that summer my girlfriend and I were driving to Spain and in the outskirts of Rouen who did we pick up hitchhiking? None other than Dan Murphy and his wife. We took them all the way to Spain. Both Bob and Dan taught me the joy of learning which i never lost as an entrepreneur and student of life. In 1998 I co-founded Netflix and in 2003 co founded and was president of Redbox.
Spanish teacher Joana Bryar Matons was a badass, punto y final. I called her my "segunda madre" because she was that loving and concerned with me and all her other students. A highlight of her classes was reading poetry aloud from the "Odas" of Neruda to everyday objects like tomatoes and socks to his famous "Cuerpo de Mujer."Senior year we got to take Latin American Literature with her and study the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. "La Madre Chingada" of Octavio Paz. "Borges y Yo" of Jorge Luis Borges, and the writings of Mario Vargas Llosa.Joana taught seamlessly between the Iberian and Latin American cannon and she celebrated our successes while always urging us forward. At the end of that class, we all went out for tapas at Esperpento in the Mission District--a special night out that remains in memory.At the end of her Spanish class we enjoyed her homemade "Brazo de Gitano" jelly roll cake with sherry wine she insisted on serving as its pairing (with parental permission of course).She also insisted on un-censored content in literature and film. I remember her screening the movie "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and insisting we all discuss it as adults.She organized family exchange visits for us in Spain and it was later such fun to send her postcards from my college-era Europe trips.Miss her daily and cherish my contact with her beautiful children Claudia and Marcel, fellow Urbanites.
Post-prom 2005 was one of many late nights at Liam Hanlon's house, where everyone was welcome. Who knows how long we were there that night, but we all sensed that it would be the last time that so many of us from the class of '05 would be together. We had a great night bonding even further and reminiscing about our four years at Urban. This night ended, as so many nights at Liam's house did, with the four of us walking back to my parents' house in the dead of night, piling into my bed, and chatting until we fell asleep. Thank you Urban for bringing us all together, and for fostering these relationships during our time there and long after!
When Marianne Evans sent this photograph from the Urban archives to me, memories came flooding back. First of all, I forgot how much hair I had back in those days, well over 40 years ago! More importantly, I have such fond remembrances of the school, not only for its academic prowess, but for the cultural life it provides as well. The photo shows a scene from our performance of the 1937 musical "Pins and Needles", a show written by Harold Rome and created by Max Danish, who was the editor of "Justice", a publication for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Now, what other high school anywhere would perform this? I dare say only Urban! I was thrilled to be the show's musical director and also perform in one of the numbers, "Sunday In The Park". (I'm still trying to figure out what that thing on my head is.) Urban always encouraged me to pursue my musical and artistic endeavors, and this is just but one example. I will always be grateful for the support I have received from the faculty, staff and my fellow students during my four years at Urban. I am lucky to have benefited from such a wonderful education, and to also be one of the few people who know the lyrics to "Sunday in the Park"!
I met my best friends at Urban in the early 90s. We adjusted to life at Urban by supporting each together and we created an amazing bond that has lasted over 20 years. I love these ladies and I have Urban to thank for introducing us.
Seeing passion for teaching first-hand as Leroy bite the chalk as he lectured. Hiking 11 miles into camp for all-school trip. Hovering closely to Urban friends in our tent as rain poured down at Point Reyes.
This is me using a old Macbook to write chapter notes from a book assignment. The technology has changed, but Urban’s practice of innovative teaching has not. In 1997, at the time of this photo, Urban was at the forefront of utilizing technology, specifically laptops, as teaching tools to aid along in the process of learning.The use of technology was quite a bit more limited, and not completely understood. However, in today’s classroom with newer laptops and iPads, students and teachers do not think twice the use of technology.
One of the most memorable experiences of my Urban career was traveling to McComb, Mississippi with Debbie's oral history class in the spring of 2011. Our class spent a week with eight students from McComb High School's local cultures class. We interviewed civil rights activists, learned about southern culture—our trip included a visit to the Cotton Gin and a school play at the high school—and attended classes with McComb High School students. Having researched the Civil Rights Movement in our classroom at Urban, reading the book Warriors Don't Cry, and engaging in dynamic discussions, it was incredible to listen to the firsthand stories of individuals who fought for their rights during the Movement. Each of us stayed with a student and host family and created everlasting friendships. In May 2016 my close Urban friend Mei Li and I had the opportunity to revisit McComb. One of the students whose mother owns a dance studio flew us across the country to perform as guest artists in her annual showcase and to reconnect the with McComb community. We were thrilled to be reunited with our friend Shuntell and her family, as well as to perform on the stage of Southwest Mississippi Community College. I’m so grateful to Urban for my McComb experience. I’ll treasure it for the rest of my life.
My freshman year at Urban was the first year the baseball team played in uniforms. The team had formed a year earlier, but players wore sweats or jeans or whatever they had. I suppose my first team looked more polished, but our play was ragged as ever. I think we won one game. We were terrible. Al Gomez, our beloved coach, spoke broken English and called us by nicknames, often because he couldn’t remember our real ones. We were foul-mouthed and crass. We heckled other teams mercilessly (UHS, especially), even as they were trouncing us. We dropped popups, booted grounders, and generally embarrassed ourselves inning after inning. It was the most fun I ever had playing baseball. By my junior year (when this picture was taken) we’d become competitive. We tracked our stats and followed the standings. Some of us even wore letterman jackets for reasons I can’t recall (or maybe I prefer to forget). We won as often as we lost, maybe even a bit more often. We even played dreaded Uni pretty tight. I played a year in college and coached a little after that. And, of course, I’d played for a half dozen years before I got to Urban. But none of those seasons will ever compare to that first one. It was a uniquely Urban experience; a motley crew of misfits, doing something because we loved it, caring more about the process than the outcome, and feeling most successful when we were having fun.