Junipero Serra Elementary School ‘Circled’ By Tech Industry Giving

City officials, school administration and industry partners at the launch of Circle The Schools (Photo: Neil Ballard, Ingleside-Excelsior Light)

“How do we help everybody in the city succeed?” Mayor Ed Lee asked as he spoke at the Sept. 18 formal launch of sf.citi’s Circle the Schools initiative at Junipero Serra Elementary School. “The secret sauce is not about tax breaks [for tech companies]. That’s only temporary.”

John Kunze, CEO of Xoom, a San Francisco-based money transfer service, had a long-term solution in mind. “We are going to bring our engineers here to help these kids learn how to code,” Kunze said.

Xoom is partnered with Junipero Serra Elementary through Circle the Schools, the latest project of sf.citi, a nonprofit philanthropic collaborative of tech companies.

The program aims to put companies and schools together in partnerships. Companies are required to donate at least $5,000 to the San Francisco Education Fund, one year of tailored assistance including three to five activities or events for the students of the partner school.

So far, twenty companies have been partnered with schools. “Ron [Conway] says there’s over a thousand companies in his organization,” Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza said at the launch. “Here’s some new math for you- 1,000 companies, 132 schools; we can at least have two companies for every school. Maybe three or four.”

So far, Xoom has gathered 500 books for the school through a book drive held this spring, and they will organize field trips, provide recess monitoring and safe drop off services, and offer resources to the school’s existing engineering program, led by Karen Claxton.

“Every partnership is unique,” said Alex Tourk, managing director of sf.citi. “[The partner companies] have the intention, the desire, they just need the know-how” to contribute to schools.

There appears to be great excitement for the project at both the companies and schools.

“We’re totally excited!” said Eve Cheung, principal of Junipero Serra Elementary. “Tech has always been important for us, and they’re giving us so much help.”

Xoom intends to “enhance the existing computer program [at Junipero Serra] and push that effort to make coding a field like science,” according to Bobby Aitkenhead, a Vice President at Xoom. “I don’t think you can be too young to learn to code. Coding is building stuff, just like legos.”

Aitkenhead is passionate about assisting the demographic of Junipero Serra Elementary. “The parents of the kids [at Junipero Serra] are the people we serve. We provide support to immigrant families,” many of whom live between Bernal Heights and the Excelsior.

“The city thrives on tech companies, and there is a lack of supply in the US,” Aitkenhead said. “We are in the business of providing an exploitation-free future for immigrants,” Kunze said, “and that’s a great match with a [school] like Junipero Serra that’s so diverse.”

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