Wallenberg Traditional High School is one of the smaller high schools in SFUSD with an enrollment of less than 700 students. By comparison Lowell High School holds over 2,600 students. Wallenberg’s tiny campus was once an elementary school before transforming into a high school in 1981 named after Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of European Jews during the Holocaust. Accordingly, the school’s maxim is: “One individual can make a difference.”
For the past four years Logan Cai, a student currently in his senior year, has been proving the truth of that maxim. The school requires students to perform community service in order to graduate, but Logan’s service has far surpassed the minimum requirements. Among many other projects, Logan has been volunteering as the school’s librarian. His efforts have earned him the 2011 Jefferson Award for public service.
Budget shortfalls in 2009 caused SFUSD to lay off Kate Farrell, the school’s librarian, and cut her position from the school’s budget for the 2009-2010 school year. Wallenberg was on the verge of becoming a high school without a library until Ms. Farrell made a suggestion: let Logan run it. Logan and his partner Fanny Lau were founding members of the school’s Ravenous Readers Book Club and Ms. Farrell had trained them as library interns. When the budget crisis occurred she believed her interns were ready to take the reins.
Cheryl Foster took over as Wallenberg’s principal in the fall of 2009. “At first I was very skeptical of the idea and reluctant to give that much responsibility to a student,” she says. However, upon meeting Logan she became convinced he was “the perfect man for the job.” She adds, “Something that would have been daunting for most adults, he took on without hesitation.”
After proving their knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System and their commitment to the responsibilities of the job, Logan and Fanny found themselves in charge of deciding what to do with the library’s Proposition H funds. They did what any kids would do. Through School Loop, an online communication network used by SFUSD, they sent out a survey to their fellow students about reading tastes and interests. They received 114 replies, and subsequently made purchases “tailored to our audience” as Logan puts it.
The library continued to be the home of the Ravenous Readers. Logan describes the club, “It was a place where students were invited to talk about whatever they’re reading.” They also organized such as events such as author’s visits. Barry Lyga, author of Goth Girl Rising, visited the club to promote his series and take questions from fans.
Logan estimates that on most days—including Fridays— the library had about 30 students visiting it after school for a variety of reasons: tutoring, studying, reading, relaxing, and sometimes socializing. Logan calls the library, “a place for students to enjoy free time after school.” Ms. Foster describes the importance of the library to the school’s culture, “It’s one of the few places that all students could gather after school with an academic tone…There were adults there monitoring, but the tone was enforced by the students.”
Currently the library is under reconstruction. It will be re-opened next school year equipped with new computers and even more books. Logan’s library service, which has all been on a volunteer basis, won him the prestigious Jefferson Award. He was the only SFUSD student considered. However, Logan could have very well won for his numerous other activities at Wallenberg.
Listing Logan’s extracurricular activities seems almost comical. He did everything: he served as Class Treasurer and later Student Body Treasurer, he participates in the Asian Club, he helps combat homophobia as a member of the Gay Straight Alliance, he played on the Championship-winning golf team, he co-founded the school’s Film Club and kept it running after the sponsoring teacher was laid off, he is the Treasurer of the school’s chapter of the California Scholarship Federation, and he has led the school’s Yearbook for two years.
Also, Logan served as the school’s webmaster, setting up and administrating its website. Ms. Foster explains that Logan’s technical prowess enabled him to figure out web design issues before most faculty members and made him ideal for the job, “At Wallenberg, we value our students and want to acknowledge their talents and skills…With the website he figured it out how to do it before a committee of adults.”
Much to his disappointment the school district eventually removed Logan’s webmaster status this year, uncomfortable with a student having such responsibility. Nevertheless, Wallenberg’s faculty was amazed at Logan’s ability to serve the school. “He had his own [faculty] mailbox! No kid’s ever had that!” exclaims Patrick Mulligan, the school’s P.E. teacher and Logan’s golf coach.
His peers are equally impressed and thankful. “The district should hire him when he gets out of high school, because without him Wallenberg wouldn’t be able to function. Not only was he in charge of the yearbook, library, and website, but even more importantly he has a great sense of style,” says classmate Diana Ambrocio referring to both Logan’s service and his trademark sweater vests, which have become an iconic sight around the halls of Wallenberg. Another student Andrew Li adds, “Sweater vests make the man.”
Other than his library service, Logan’s most meaningful work occurred with the school’s Wellness Center. Logan served as a Youth Outreach Worker (YOW) during all four of his years at Wallenberg, working to promote physical, mental, and emotional health among his fellow students. During his freshman year he created a nutrition presentation that proved so successful he was asked to present it around the Bay Area including at a national health conference held at U.C. Berkeley.
Heather Graham oversaw the YOW program during Logan’s first three years before leaving the school to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Work at U.C. Berkeley. YOWs receive a small stipend for their work, but as Heather explains Logan initially joined the team as an unpaid volunteer, “[During Logan’s] freshman year I took him on as an intern/volunteer with the Youth Outreach Worker team for the Wellness Center as I thought upperclassmen would be better suited to handle the responsibilities of educating their peers about difficult subjects such as sexual health and violence prevention. Yet by the end of the year he had put in more time than any other student in the program and I felt so guilty not paying him that I begged district administrators for extra cash to pay him.”
She calls Logan a “dear friend” and says that Logan’s service shows what is possible, “when students feel empowered and are trusted by adults, to literally change the way their school operates. It became almost as humorous as it was amazing at one point because virtually every club and student action group on campus was either run by Logan, started by Logan, or [included] Logan as an active member, clipboard in hand.” She echoes Ms. Foster’s sentiments about Logan’s impact on the school, “His community will be forever changed because he took initiative, remained motivated, and completed daunting tasks that many adults would've shied away from like revitalizing the library.”
Logan has been toiling away to better his school community for four years and in doing so earned the respect of everyone who has passed through the halls, but on April 12, 2011 the entire city took notice. In honor of his Jefferson Award Logan, Ms. Foster, his history teacher Ms. Judith Mahnke, and several friends were invited onto the field of AT&T Park for a pre-game ceremony before the World Champion San Francisco Giants took on their bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ms. Foster called the experience “amazing” and added, “I am so happy that Logan is getting recognized.”
The students had an opportunity to meet Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt and see behind-the-scenes action at AT&T Park. After the pre-game ceremony finished and Giants fans had applauded this extraordinary student, Logan and his fellow Wallenberg guests took their seats to watch the game. Ms. Foster explained that, “Part of the fun was watching Logan’s reactions, because he’s not familiar with baseball.” Logan admits that he’s still doesn’t “know who Tim Lincecum is” and says, “I don’t really get baseball, so I was confused sometimes why people were cheering at certain things.”
San Franciscans will hopefully forgive Logan for his unfamiliarity with the Giants’ two-time Cy Young winning pitcher, as he spends a lot of time studying rather than watching sports on TV. In addition to all of his extracurricular activities, over his four years Logan has taken A.P. U.S. History, A.P. Spanish, A.P. Calculus, A.P. Chemistry, three years of Honors English, Honors Biology, and Honors Modern World History. When does he sleep? “Around 12 a.m. or 1 a.m. Fridays 10 p.m.”
Despite all his accomplishments Logan maintains “a humble and unassuming” nature according to Ms. Foster. He will be attending UCLA in the fall to study Business and Economics (though he says he might “change [his] mind”). He is the recipient of the Meritus Scholarship. Ms. Foster remarks, “UCLA has no idea the force coming their way.”
Why has Logan chosen to do so much for his school? He responds matter-of-factly, almost dumbfounded by the question’s obviousness, “Because it was fun.” When asked if Wallenberg should have paid him an assistant principal’s salary for all of his work, Logan thinks it over carefully, “It would have been nice because it would help me pay for college…But was it necessary? No.”