Teri Delane: Getting My Life Together to Give it Back
Couldn't load media player!
Aug 27, 2016
Guest: Teri Delane
Host: Amit Dungarani
Moderator: Lynn Lawrence
Getting My Life Back Together To Give it Back
Lynn: Hi Teri!
Teri: Hi. It is so nice to be here and I am very honored to be able to talk about our wonderful work.
L: So the way that I've asked to begin is I wanted Teri to read something gives her inspiration.
T: This is a quote by William James, and it resonates for me. "Pursue your purpose with a fearless and restful heart, believing that the future will satisfy your every thought and effort. You must believe that the laws of the Universe can never fail."
L: So I thought we might start our conversation with Teri's history. In 1967 in the Summer of Love in San Francisco. I believe that these were your high school age years, correct?
T: Well, I actually hadn't started high school in 1967. I was only 13 years old. So do you want me to tell my story of hitchhiking from Las Vegas to Haight and Ashbury?
L: I think a little bit of that would be nice, yes.
T: Just briefly, I was just 13 years old, but I had run away from my very violent, very addicted family a number of times. This time that we are talking about, and I was 13, and at that time everyone was hitchhiking. So me and a friend left actually in the middle of the night.
We didn't even know where we were going. I saw Haight street on TV, and it looked like a great place to be with all the hippies and love and peace and all of that. So we set on our way. Got a ride. And ended up at the Summer of Love in 1967. When I think about how amazing it is to be two young girls able to go around by ourselves with nobody trying to do anything but help us. It was obvious that we were run aways along with a lot of other people who either dropped out or left or whatever. We were just staying all up and down Haight street in different flats with older males and females that basically took us in and took care of us. The only reason why I ended up back in Vegas is because I got sick.
I got pneumonia really bad, so one of the women said, "Oh no, you cannot stay here. You have to go home." And she called the police. It was hard for her to do that, but she said, "We can't take care of you and you have to leave."
L: So you intersected that area of Vegas was where your life that included crime and drugs had taken place. If you could shift to your state and what lead you to Delancey Street Foundation.
T: So when I came back from that runaway, by age 14, I had a needle in my arm. I started shooting heroin. And I basically continued doing that through age 20. Meaning that I was running the streets, using drugs, living wherever I could live, and I was going in and out of Juvenile a lot. I was lucky because from 18 to 20 before I got to Delancey Street, I didn't get into any adult arrests.
But during that time, I was in and out a lot of juvenile hall. I was getting arrested for all kinds of different things.
L: When did the worst of the worst happen? When was that epiphany? Someone from Delancey Street wouldn't let you fail.
T: When I look back at my life, there has always been someday that has been there for whatever reason seeing something in me that I did not see myself. So when I was getting arrested a lot, there was a man named Greg Dykes. Greg Dykes is a guy that worked at juvenile hall, way older guy. He saw something in me.
So he used to follow me around. He would just tell me, "you can do better than this. You're more than this." And basically, I would cuss him out and tell him to leave me alone and I was fine.
The last time, I was in the hospital. So this went on for a few years that he stayed in touch with me. I went to a couple of little programs n Vegas and he always stayed a part of my life. The last time I overdosed, because by the time I was 20, I overdosed already 3 or 4 times. So this guy made it so that when I was in the hospital, he came to the hospital when I woke up and he said to me for the final time, "this is the fight you win by giving up the battle."
I don't know why it is, but my three best friends were my family. They all died before age 21 of overdoses. They died pretty much when I came to Delancey Street and found a life of family, of community, where I could really learn not just to stop using drugs, which is the same thing I do in my high schools, not just about one thing. It is about taking a person and giving them the tools necessary to live by, to thrive by, to grow, to push you to your best potential, to pull out your strengths, instead of always concentrating on your weaknesses.
It has to do with having grit, which I've always had. Courage, resolve, strength of character to be able to move forward.
L: When I was reading, what I thought about is in ServiceSpace we ask can you trust the process? And it sounds like Delancey Street Foundation had something that was so extraordinary. Could you just say about your education?
T: I basically was kicked out of school in the 9th grade. I never really went back. I was in and out of high school. Basically, 9th grade was my last complete grade. When I came to Delancey street, that is one of the things that is included in the circle around you. I was pushed by Mimi Sobert who was my mentor at the time to go back to school. I went back to school. I graduated with a bachelor's degree. I went back to school to Golden Gate University and got a Master's in public administration. I went back to school to the Wright Institute in Berkeley. Started out with a Master's in psychology and made a decision that I wanted to do more. I wanted to get a doctorate.
20 years ago, I got a doctorate in clinical psychology. So by title, I am a licensed clinical psychologist. But I have to say that the reason that I did that is because I want everyone to know who feels like they are nothing, who always believes that you are on the outside of the circle, that you can get inside the circle, be a part of a wonderful community and family by getting the right people in your life. And that is what I teach my kids at Life Learning Academy.
Deven: I just want to jump in here for a second. Personal, very incredible. The level of diversity that you had to endure at such a young age. I guess what I'd be curious about is how did you process all that? At that age, you were too young to understand the root causes of why you went in certain directions, why you made certain decisions, whether it is to drop out of school or to dive into drugs. That is what your surrounding was. Maybe you can help us understand that a bit. I definitely believe that grit and resolve has a big part to do with it, but there is also some kind of process that has to occur to work through those things to move your life forward.
T: Absolutely. First of all, I think my biggest strength actually came from my grandfather who was the only person that I could look back at who has really had incredible strength. I would say that I think that my foundation had to do with him.
Number two, the thing we do at Life Learning, the thing we do at De Lancey Street, is help people work through the process of dealing with their past, number one. We don't stay stuck in our past. What we do is work through it, let it go, and move on. That is a process. It is a process to not be a young woman and pick men that were just like my father which is what I see in our kids. Pick men that are either abusive, because I was in an abusive relationship from age 16-18. And I could not get rid of this guy. I could not. He was stalking me. He was way older than me. He kept me strung out on drugs. He ended up finally going to jail when I turned 18. He went to prison. He was an armed robber.
So here I am running around, not knowing what to do. My own father knew, because he told me, "I'm going to find out all about who Dennis is." He found out and did nothing. He did nothing about it. He was an older guy, seven years older than me. In his twenties, ex-convict. Blackened both my eyes. And he did nothing.
My resolve is that I'm going to learn how to be the opposite of the people who raised me. Learning how to live everyday and understand that there are good people that you can rely on, that there are good people that you can trust. You could put your faith in and not just sit there an angry teenager, not knowing how to come out of it and show your vulnerability. 21:28 Because my anger is all surface stuff, right underneath that was always hurt and softness.
L: Teri, I'm curious. Did you just one day have a revelation that Delancey process would work potentially--that you could shift it upstream and that you could make more of a preventative difference? When did you get the idea for the school and how did that come about?
T: Well, the whole process of the school, because I started other programs before I was part of the juvenile justice reform with Delancey street. I ran a program where I was getting my doctorate and I also got hired to start a jail program in San Mateo County Jail, called Choices. I started a women's program inside of the jail. Due to the success of that program, we started a men's program. The people that I got hired with me were all Delancey Street graduates. That program 20 years later is still thriving, still run by Delancey graduates, and doing really well.
But in between time, because my heart and soul has always been youth, because I was somebody that got it and I desperately wanted to have an impact on changing kids. Because I know that if you get in early and really work on them and help them learn to trust, then they can change. So I became a part of this project that was started by Willie Brown in 1998. He started this project that Delancey Street was advising on. How to deal with many issues all the way from prevention to working at Juvenile Hall and revamping San Francisco Youth Guidance Center.
That all happened. We started a bunch of little community agencies and we started this school because it was clear that there were a group of students that were being failed by the San Francisco Unified School District. They are dropping out. They are giving up on themselves. They are giving up on their education. What I always have been so bothered by is the fact that 99% of the teens that are killed in San Francisco are high school dropouts.
So it is imperative that we create services that this group of kids who live in the worst areas in San Francisco and now are being moved out of San Francisco because they can't afford to live her and go into Vallejo and further places, that we reach these kids by starting a program, a high school, with the best quality teachers. So that is what happened. And here we are 18 years later, I need everybody to understand this. I have been running this school for 18 years. We have been creating miracles. We have been quietly doing it. Longstanding high reputation. 24:50
L: I would love to say that were my children high school aged upon reading about this school surely I would want to send my children to a fully accredited high school that has 6-8 students per class. The curriculum includes digital media, culinary arts, engineering, organic gardening. They insure that the kids get internships and paid employment. There is a homemade nutritious lunch daily. In 2010, Life Learning Academy was a charter school of the year for the whole state.
You said that when we spoke previously that 2 years of college will be paid for. You find them jobs. If this can happen for the most vulnerable, I think it is logical that we should be able to do it with those that have more. It is like you have some secret sauce or something going for education. So what do you think some of the pieces of that might be? What do you think are some of the underpinnings of that are?
T: You know what I think is the problem today? I think it is with addiction and also think it with just the way we look at trying to help people--that we isolate out specific things. For example, nowadays we have got to develop a program just for methyl amphetamine users, so we can deal with their methyl amphetamine problem and what we do at Delancey Street, what we do at the school, is have a circle and the kid is in the middle and all around them are a number of things which have to be included in their lives in order for them to have a full life. And that has to do with education, a job, having money because people need to understand that it is unreal to think that these kids that are 16-17 years old and have no money in their pocket. So a job, a quality education, a portion of the circle has to be learning to give back, which we do at our school. I teach this philosophy that talks about each one teach one, which means that every kid in that school and I have a whole leadership group that no one else has ever been able to turn around to want to talk to kids and if a kid isn't coming to school my leadership people will say, "Ok, John, you are going to call and find out why Sean is not coming to school. And let's get him back."
So it is an "each one, teach one" model. Everything you get, you give back which creates a feeling of gratitude. I think I am really lucky because I have never forgotten where I come from. Nothing will ever make me forget where I come from. So as a result of that I have gratitude to the ends of the earth. I understand that however long that I am able to do this, as long as I'm standing, and even if I am sitting down and can't walk, I will continue to try to teach that the way you get it is by giving it. Not by sitting around talking about your problems. So included in that circle has to do with having mentors in your life, having good job training through our internship program, and community involvement.
So it isn't just one thing that we provide. So we only have 60 kids, but really working with 60 kids, getting them up, getting them involved. For example, Katherine who we hired 3 months ago, and she gets it. So there is a young girl who is basically homeless right now who she somehow bonded with. This girl is the sweetest girl in the world, but she has no motivation, no caring. She has a dad that is drug addict. She is barely making it. So we've tried a lot of things. I have meetings every week with the staff of people that work with these kids. They are in the front every morning when a kid comes in "how are you doing?" I don't start yelling at them because they are late. I ask, "Are you ok? Go have some breakfast. I know you are late." I'll give them a little coffee if they need to.
Katherine has taken this girl who we have had lots of problems trying to motivate, and has kind of pulled her in on this LLA build concept, but she has made her like her little assistant. And this girl is thriving and coming alive. So we are tapping into a piece of Teresa that we didn't know existed. So she has taken to Katherine. We all have kids that will really relate to each one of us and then we will start trying to pull it out. But then they are accountable and responsible.
So if they come to school and they are disrespectful in class and they do it a few times, we have a student council and they basically get called in and are told not to be disrespectful to our teachers. They are told, "You are going to learn that in order for you to be successful in life, there is a certain way you have to treat people. If you don't and you keep coming in here, then you are going to stay after school and do extra duty. What that means is that you are going to mow the lawn today after school." So we go outside, and there is this old school push mower. And he looks at it, and he says, "What is that?"
I said, "that is a lawn mower."
He said, "where is the motor?"
I said, "you are the motor. Start pushing."
For whatever reason, they do it. They don't say I'm not doing it. They just say ok, because what you need to know about teenagers is that they push against structure and crave it at the same time.
L: You said LLA Build and before that you said the word "homeless," so this characteristic is the ultimate vulnerability of these kids. So we talk about successes; we talk about failures. I know you describe something that you felt was a failure in your process that happened a couple of years ago. This is the Shuki story. I think that will lead us nicely into the LLA build.
T: You know what is amazing about Shuki? Is every time I talk about it, it doesn't matter how long it has been--3 or 4 years--it still is so emotional for me because she was such a bright light and she was only 14 years old. She was beautiful and smart. I think it was 4 of her siblings went to my school and graduated. They all were pretty much raised by the grandmother.
The oldest sister was 21 at the time, Jasmine. And Shurkria was in my school and so was Amir. I always stay in touch with Jasmine who said you can use her name and our name anytime you want. They love Life Learning Academy.
So the grandmother used to drag all these younger kids to the school when they were 8 or 9 to eat lunch and say, "as soon as you get old enough, you are coming to this school too."
Wonderful woman. One day she was getting off the muni bus in San Francisco and had a heart attack. So all the kids went different places. Shuki ended up with a family in Vallejo that really was obviously clueless. She called me one day at Labor Day picnic coming up, crying her head off and saying that she was in pain. And I called her sister, who called an ambulance.
And she died basically due to a burst appendix which we all know if taken care of when the pain starts, you don't die from having an appendicitis. With that, I left the picnic. I went back to the school by myself. I sat in my office. I said that I could never forget it. This could never happen again with kids in my school. And myself and with Craig Miller. I got him on that Monday when we came back to school and said we have to do more. I want to create a community. We are going to create a boarding academy. I have 60 kids right now in my school. I want to start out housing the 20 in my school that are homeless. That basically go from bed to bed to bed trying to find a place to sleep.
I am going to create an environment that is similar to Andover or Exeter, but for kids who will never get an opportunity to live in a thriving community that cares about them, where they are busy and working and going to school and having meetings and having an extended life learning academy family. From that point, we became our own 501(3)c. We started raising funds. We have raised close to one million dollars. I need a total of 2.5 more. We have just hired an architect and we have a construction company. It is going to be on our campus in the back where the garden is, where we have 22 thousand square feet.
So it is going to happen. We are now...I am now, noisy. I am coming out and I am saying to the community, "I have a solution, not just a pie in the sky idea, but a successful school, a person who understands the ins and outs of running a community and helping kids change because I was there. And making this happen.
As a result of that, I have contacted 15 kids that went to my school and graduated from 15 years ago up until 2015. I called them all and said, "I need you guys to come up and show up to a meeting, because we need to have your support to go out and speak about how this school changed your life." Do you know that every single one of them, without hesitation, showed up to a meeting with myself and Katherine, and all said, "we will do whatever it is you need for us to do."
I told them. If anything happens to me, it is not the adults that I am going to rely on to make this happen. It is all of you who understand what it is really like to struggle and to work through things that have to make this vision happen. We will start out with 20 kids and then we will have a school built for a hundred.
L: I think I remember Katherine told me that Delancey Street had been replicated, and that their model since it was proven had been replicated. This is novel. This hadn't been done before, this public boarding concept.
T: A free public school boarding academy, yes. It has not been done with our kids who have no hope, have been kicked out, dropped out, and have no high school motivation. So you can look at some programs, like in DC there is a seed program. There are a couple of other boarding academies that I think they are pretty much private. But they look like they deal with our kids when you go on their campus, and they are wonderful, don't get me wrong, but they are all high school motivated students. They just don't have money for college. I'm talking about a group of people like myself who was absolutely not high school motivated and really didn't feel like I was going to be able to do anything. I believed I was going to end up like my three closest friends. 39:52
L: In our circle, we talk about supporting more than one form of capital. I already heard you say, "Whatever it takes." We talk in terms of not just financial capital, but things like intellectual capital, spiritual capital, social capital, experiential capital. What could we do if we were so moved?
T: So what we are trying to do is get it out there so we can break ground in January. We need people to make noise because the truth is, I need people to come up and say, "We'll write you a million dollar check to help these kids." That is what we need.
People can say all kinds of things. We are really meeting all kinds of wonderful people. Since Katherine has been here and we hired our first full-time development director, we are out every single day. And everyday, they say, "Where have you been? We have not heard about your program." That is because we just been doing the work. Now I'm coming out.
We need money to build this place for these kids to live. And social media. We are trying to get all of our stuff out there, so we can get lots of followers, so people can call us up and say what can we do. Until we can become a community doing that to help the kids because my goal that when we do end up building the one for one hundred that I will take kids from all over the country.
L: Do you envision yourself organizing volunteers so that these other forms of capital besides financial capital like social media?
Katherine: This is Katherine. Just want to jump in. I'm the director of development. So LLA is all about community, so we always have volunteers on our campus from all different aspects of the community from corporations sharing their expertise with our students with development and career pathways. We have individuals that come and work hand in hand with our students to clean up the campus and work on restoration projects. So we are all about welcoming folks to our community, but to work hand in hand with our kids on improving our school and the programs that we already have in place.
Amit: I actually wanted to jump in. Lynn I love your question, because I definitely feel there are so many ways to contribute to something like this. There is really something special in what you guys have built here, and none of this happened over night. This is years in the making. Teri, going through your own process, your own journey, all these individuals at Delancey Street Foundation. Where did the idea for a school like this even come up? When we talk about something that will truly succeed, what are the design principles that went into something like this? The values that you built this around, there have been people who had similar ideas, but when it come to execution, it was a very big challenge for a number of reasons. Would love to hear that story from the idea to where you guys are at today.
T: The school as a whole, the idea about developing this school came up when Mayor Willie Brown contacted Delancey Street because the juvenile justice system in San Francisco was falling apart. Because we are good in dealing with criminals and people who are hopeless, the mayor's office contracted with us to come up with a plan. There were all kinds of players that were involved with this plan making. It was myself and Craig Miller that actually started the school who were involved with the planning process.
We did like a year and half long research about what were the needs in San Francisco for youth. And we started all the way from preventions where we started some programs like Safety Passage at gyms at certain neighborhoods. We started Community Assessment and Referral Center which is a community agency that takes kids when they get arrested and finds ways of diverting them rather than locking them up.
45:40 The biggest lack that we found was kids' needs not being for their education. So there is a whole group of kids that are the at risk kids that people couldn't deal with, so they were dropping out by the droves. So we started a school based on that. My whole idea was to take the Delancey Street model and replicate it in all the ways that work within a high school, which is creating community, student engagement, leadership, dress code, working toward a system of rewards. Anyone who understands the teenage brain understands they are at the height of...their brain is the most open right now. It is also dangerous because they are very likely to take the wrong kinds of risks.
So we teach them the method of "stop, think, and decide" which is all over the country right now. We've been doing it for 18 years. I teach them along with our teachers that everyone one of you have the opportunity to stop and think before you react. In like 6 seconds. So we are the adults in their lives that are surrounding them and helping them change.
Amit: So how do you choose the other adults in their lives?
T: I train them. Here is the thing. So Craig Miller is my COO for the staff. He will get the resumes. He will talk to them first, if he likes them I will talk to them alone. I basically interview them the same way I interview a student because I interview every student that comes before I send them to be re-interviewed by students. When I talk to a staff member, my question is "what is it about you that is going to make it hard for a student to give up?" Number 2, are you able to not personalize kids' behavior, because it is not about you. I actually do not know how they get up every morning and come to school. They do because they are motivated and they love our school and they never forget it. But I don't want teachers, I don't care how wonderful their resume is that doesn't get what we are doing.
I say to them, "if you are coming to this school, you are going to do more not less. You are not going to be able to take off and have your downtime at lunch. We are going to sit in the dining room with our kids and you are going to teach them how to chit chat at the dinner table. You are going to teach them manners. You are going to teach them math. You are going to teach them how to get along with each other whether they like each other or not."
So I have a teach for example, who grew up in LA. She is our academic director. She is in her early 20s. Brilliant young woman who came from Los Angeles. She is a first generation college graduate from LA, immigrant family, went to Yale and graduated with a bachelor's degree. Even though she doesn't describe herself as someone who was in poverty because she had an intact close family, but she knows what struggle is.
One student asked, "What the hell can Craig teach me?"
I said, "He can teach you how to be a good friend. He can teach you how to be a good family member, a good boyfriend, and a decent person. So don't you ever judge somebody because of how they look." And that is what we teach them.
L: I was just observing what you describe what you look for in a teacher, the perspective of deep engagement. I think I see that from what I read in your model for the students as well. Something that captivated me was the classroom remodel project that's on the site, where it included re-carpeting the floor with pieces of scrap instead of whole pieces of carpet. There was a quote in there: "Community is not made in the matching of fabrics, but in the sewing of the seams." I just love that.
The kids helped design the classrooms. They are invited truly into this deep engagement.
T: Thank you because the thing that I want to really emphasize, I started going on Facebook a few years ago for one reason: I wanted to stay in close contact with the graduates from Delancey Street. I have hundreds of graduates that I'm in contact with. Guess what they do? Come back and give back to the school. The same circle applies to them as it does to my kids.
So what happens if I get great carpet, brand new carpet squares donated. I ask my Delancey friends to come and teach the kids how to lay this carpet, how to paint the walls, because we are developing a construction curriculum because there are a number of kids that don't want to go to college and that is fine. On the first two days of school when we just came back, we painted; we carpeted; and we did it all together along with the teachers.
And do you know that we had a 100% attendance. It is these things that create community, bonding, togetherness, and great food which we really believe in. We cook breakfast and lunch. We have a culinary arts program where we have a wonderful chef that teaches our children how to cook, and we serve the meals and eat family style every single day.
L: What restores you because your work in the world sounds like a 100 different jobs.
T: This. This is what is hard for people to understand and someone asked me that yesterday who was interviewing us for this blog that they were doing.
I said, "It is hard for people to understand. This is not a part of my life; it is my life. I have a husband that I've been married to for 20 years who is a retired captain in the fire department, and he also graduated from Delancey Street a number of years ago. He is a great guy because he is the opposite of me. He doesn't have to go, go, go. And I have a Golden Retriever that is my love of life. This is my life. This is my restore. Seeing kids change and stay in touch is what is my life.
L: One of the things we say at Service Space is that we focus on small acts with great love that create positive ripples in the world. I'm going to read a short poem by one of my favorite poets Mary Oliver. It's called "The Poet with His Face in His Hands." On this subject of redemption. I saw a quote from an LLA student "whenever I fall, I get back up again. I don't have to, but I do."
You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn’t need any more of that sound.
So if you’re going to do it and can’t
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can’t
hold it in, at least go by yourself across
the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets
like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you
want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched
by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.
So with that, I'd like to go to Q&A.
Amit: Teri, if one of your goals today was to really get your listeners excited and engaged about everything that you are doing, Mission Accomplished! [laughter]
I can't wait to go down and tell my family about what you guys are doing and spread the word, so very exciting.
I can't but keep coming back to your past and sort of where all this stuff had started because I think when people stories such as yours, when people hear all the great things you are doing at LLA, they feel inspired, but then there is a point where you almost seem overwhelmed. They don't think they could ever do something like that. What ends up happening is people don't realize that there were a lot of small steps that end up happening to get to that point. There were a lot of failures that had to happen to get to that point. You didn't just have a million dollars to get this thing going. I thought it might be nice to dive into those specifics.
How did you guys come up with a curriculum? Or when you talk about values, do you have committee that sets up those values so there is consistency across the board or do you just know it when you hire them from the beginning?
T: No, it takes training to help people understand the complexity of teenagers. The way to engage them that is a push and pull process, where you give them a little and you take a little, but you always understand.
So we have staff meetings, and I train in the really cognitive behavioral stuff which is teaching kids how to think about their thinking. To tune in and help them understand that they have control of themselves, but that takes a long time to change that. They are so engrossed in negative thinking and in beliefs that they are failures, that to try to help them learn that they can change the way they feel by the way they think if they change that, then they understand that their actions will then change.
So with the teachers, for example. So there is a kid that is in a group home. Very bright kid, that got arrested. And he was coming school very irregularly before he got arrested. And I really liked the kid. Sometimes he would show up around 11 and 12 very disheveled and he is clearly on the street corner, but he is so smart. So I would try and try and try to talk to him, but I couldn't make any in roads because he was toxic from marijuana all the time and whatever else he was doing.
So he finally gets arrested, and he goes into a group home. And he's at least away from his environment and the pressures. But what started happening is that as soon as they allowed him to start going home, he is going home into this environment with a parent who has no money and she is pregnant yet again. And she is with a guy that doesn't work. And Darius, as young as he is, was providing income by selling drugs and doing all kinds of other things to bring money into the house. And also getting beat by the guy that lives there. 61:21
He started to act out in his classes, because he is going home. They don't know that. What people are looking at is always behavior. And I am always teaching them, this is why we always have administrators on duty. We have four or five people that are up in the front. One of them is Josie. Josie is my first student that I hired full-time that graduated from this school four years ago. Came from the Mission. Gang member. Dropping out of school. Graduated from Life Learning and became a leader. So I hired her full-time to be our student mentor. The person that helps them mediate conflict.
So teaching the teachers that "yes, I'm going to deal with his behavior right not. I'm going to let all of you know that work with this boy. Give him a break. Give him support. It is not the time for us to get on him. He came in. It is very difficult for him to talk. I pulled him in, just started talking to him." They all know where I came from because I tell them about myself when I interview them.
I tell them, "I only want one thing from you because you don't have anything to give me. And that is your word to non-violence."
I have no idea why they give their word and keep it, but they have for 18 years. We have kids that grow up in the worst environments, who see nothing but violence all around them inside and outside their home, and they don't fight at my school. People cannot understand that. The teachers have to be taught, "Yes, slides us notes about what is going on with him, but get off of him until I can get him through this tough time."
And he did. He came back this semester; he had been out for the summer, working the whole time. He is going to graduate. And every single kid in that school, I know their stories. So I share that with the teachers in the staff meeting, so they don't just look at behavior and they understand that this is the process of teaching them how to help these kids. 63:49
Amit: Wow. And it seems like such and incredible shift. I'm sure there is light that turns on with some of these kids when they realize what they have here before them.
T: Yes. Absolutely. One of the things that I really missed growing up that I found in Delancey Street was really important to create at LLA and I have was the thing of tradition. It is really important that we create some traditions. So at Thanksgiving, we have a huge Thanksgiving meal. And I'm always talking to them about finding your gratitude.
And at Christmas time, I have a friend in Washington D.C. who in the past 10 years single year wraps us a gift individually for each kid in our school and gives each one of them twenty dollars. And at Christmas time we have a beautiful Christmas tree. They have gifts under the tree. We play Christmas music. We have a Christmas meal. We do a little Christmas play that they themselves put together. Kind of like one of those Scrooge plays that they come up with that is fantastic.
And they all remember that because I have them write a thank you letter because it is not just empowering them and giving to them, but making them earn their way which creates their pride in themselves, and their confidence in themselves that they can make it and change. 65:49
A: So obviously, I would assume that your clinical psychology background has been extremely helpful both to your own process and with working with these kids. Do you guys have other councilors that are on staff?
T: No, because we don't need them. Honestly, if there is a kid that really needs more, see I don't look at it that way. And to be honest with you, when I sat in my PhD program I was amazed at how I didn't get a whole lot from what was going on.
Being a kid who was sent to counseling because I was acting out in school, instead of them looking and saying, "Wow, I get it. Her environment and her family is a complete disaster. No wonder she is angry, no wonder she is fighting." It wasn't me that had the disorder really; it was the family system.
So, when there are kids that look really depressed, I have three or four people that are therapist who come to me with them. But they have to be on the same page. In other words, I want them to empower them, not to take them back through their history, and they keep having to go back into the environment. I want them to be able to teach them tools to strengthen them, because they have to go home every night. It isn't to open them up; it is to empower them.
So, honestly, the way I changed wasn't through any traditional therapy. It was by coming into an organization, finding my strengths, yelling at me about me about the things that were going to get me in trouble, and keeping me moving.
A: I think I should introduce you to my wife. [laughter]
I have a question that came in from Ronnie in Washington D.C. She enjoyed the story about the student that you hired, and she was wondering if you had any other stories of memorable students over the course of the last 18 years.
T: Oh my Gosh, Yes! Do you have enough time for me to go through all of my ambassadors that showed up. It is so amazing when I show you. For example, let me tell you about Brandon Jackson who knows I use his name.
Brandon Jackson is one of my LLA alumni ambassadors for LLA Build. So he's a kid and he came to me. He came to my interview and I turned him down. I didn't think he was sincere. I thought he just wanted to come and hang out with his friends because he had been getting arrested a lot. I just didn't feel that he wanted to be at the school.
I told him no. He starts calling me. He found a way to get my cell phone number. He calls me and calls me. And I'm sitting there with my husband, and I have no idea why he keeps calling me. My husband says, "Well, tell him."
So I finally answer the phone and Brandon says to me, "Teri, you of all people should know that everyone deserves a second chance." Now, I'm completely silenced. And my husband says, "Tell him."
And Brandon says, "I have no place else to go."
So then I whispered into the phone, "Ok, can you start tomorrow? Do you need me to get you some clothes?”
He came. He was a wonderful...he turned out to be such a wonderful kid. He was homeless, and there is a friend who he had at the school and I went to this kid's mother and said, "Please take him in." He did.
Brandon stayed at the school for three years. He graduated. And now a free years later, he just got an award for being a kid who used to be in a gang, that came back to the neighborhood and gives back to kids who are in gangs.
I have so many stories like that. That I will sit on the phone with you and never get tired of telling you about all of them.
A: Well, I definitely want to hear more of those stories. We have a caller in the queue.
Mish: Hi, Teri. This is Mish in New York City. Listening to you brings tears to my heart. From what I'm hearing, would you say the main ingredient or what is happening here is you are giving them love, you are making them feel worthy, you become that family that they never had, this is the foundation of what is creating the success that you are having? It's the love?
T: 100%, but it is not just the love. It's the fact that they know it is love. That it is not judgment about who they are. But it love to be able to like a parent has to do. To say, "I love you, but I"m not going to let you walk off a cliff.”
Mish: Right. So these are kids that most of them didn't have a family life and they come to you and you become their family.
T: Absolutely. And I listen to them. And I also want to say that I teach the teachers. That the biggest skill that you can have, which is a pain, because teenagers just want to go on and on, but you need to hear them out. Because you have to know, and I teach a parenting class at Delancey Street in the evenings for people that are resuming with their children. And I tell them, "You need to know what your teenager is thinking" Because so many times what happens is people tend to want to cut them off and lecture, cut them off and lecture.
I tell them, "You must listen, and then teach. Listen and teach." They don't get listened to. Do you know? All of their parents tell them to be quiet. "I'm the parent. You're going to do what the hell I'm saying."
And then they do what they want. And then you don't know what they are doing. So I know what these kids are doing. Everyday, all day. If they are missing from their class, our teacher gets a hold of us up front and I will find them. 72:56
If they come in high, I will make them mow the lawn until they get sober. I do not send them home and I don't suspend. And I started not suspending before the new thing came out in San Francisco--the big no suspension thing--because most of the time people are afraid to deal with these kids. I am not afraid to deal with them and I don't want to send them home; I want them there.
Mindy: Well, I hope this catches on and government funding will be able to create many more schools like yours. And God bless you for everything that you do.
T: Thank you so much. Please spread the word.
A: So that brings up a good question. So let's say that at some point in time, that you are able to get a substantial amount of funding. How do you replicate this? We can't clone you or your staff. How do we build other programs that are like this?
T: It is a process that anyone can replicate if you get the right group of people that are dedicated to wanting to do it. And that is what I teach my teachers and that is what I teach my kids. The ones that are the alumni, they know how to do it; they will carry it on. The young teachers that I have will carry it on, because it is carrying on a process. It is carrying on dedication and belief in change, and belief in our kids, and pushing them in the right direction. And having always no you and your feelings in tow, but what is in their best interest.
A: That is so awesome. That aspect is definitely forgotten.
This model is definitely unique, but I feel like other schools like inner city public schools can learn from it. I definitely think that no matter how good intentioned people are, there are parts of the system that are broken. Are there things that can be done at a policy level that can change the way we are approaching education.
Katherine: This is Katherine, and I will say in terms of replication. We have folks coming through our doors all the time. We've had hundreds of individuals and organizations over the past 18 years travel to see the campus, meet our kids, meet our faculty to really understand our secret sauce. And take the ingredients of that and implement them into their organizations or whether it is an entrepreneurial endeavor.
We continue to do that. We have received funds from the State of California for replication projects in terms of putting together studies and guides for these folks that are visiting us to take back home with them. We will continue to do that. We love to do that.
Teri is incredibly generous with her time and happy to get on the phone with folks and really spread what we are doing. I think that with the boarding academy because this is the first of its kind, once we open our doors we know that people will literally be coming through our doors to say, "How did you do this? How do we do this? How do we bring it elsewhere?"
So we really do feel that the resources and enthusiasm will come forth in a massive way once this academy opens.
A: I think the idea of the academy itself and having a place for these students to be on site is wonderful. So that begs the question, since you don't have it right now, and some of these kids come from homeless backgrounds, where do these kids go after spending a day at the academy now?
T: Well, that is the thing. The idea is that we create what works. We have such a high attendance rate. We have a 95% graduation rate. And the SF unified school district has about a 70 something percent.
As difficult as it is, they get there. And we also...because they go home into this horrible environment, but they spend a lot of their hours in their waking moment in nothing but positive, fun, exciting place. Kids know that they can come in in the morning, be in a bad mood, and people aren't going to be on them, and we'll notice that they are in a bad mood.
The second part is that I want before a foundation and told them that I have about 10-15 kids at times that can't get on the bus due to safety issues. And I asked them to buy us a van, and they did. So I have a safety passage van that will pick up 10 kids that Josie the student I told you about, is the person that picks up the students and brings them to our school in safety and takes them home.
So what I do every single year is look at it with Craig and others and say, "We need to look at what is not working." Then we revamp it. If I ever get to a point in my life where this stuff becomes rote, I need to do something else. But it never will. It never becomes rote. It becomes I am propelled daily forward by watching kids feel a part of a community and start thriving and growing. There is no better feeling in the world than that.
A: So what does the typical day look like for a student at LLA?
Katherine: It is grades 9th through 12. We have a 6 to 1 ratio in our classrooms. Our classroom periods are longer than the typical high school class. They are typically an hour and a half to two hours at times, and that allows the teacher to engage one on one with the students and to also lead hands on interactive activities.
For example, if you are in our history class, our teacher, Elly, uses music, digital media, art within her history lesson. So our kids do not do well learning by the textbook. A lot of us are understanding as the education system and the needs evolve in the country, experiential learning is becoming a bigger deal. We've been doing that for 18 years. And that works with our kids. Hence the need to have a longer class period time to have those activities be that much more meaningful to our kids.
So when you come in in the morning, our kids are greeted by at least two staff people. They sign in. It is "Hi, how are you? What is going on? Go get some breakfast.'
Then classes begin. There are small break times in between. Then at 12:30 we have that special lunch. Some of our kids the class period before the lunchtime is culinary. So they'll be in the kitchen with our chef, Sabina, cooking the meal for everyone. So the kids cook the meal and serve the meal.
At our tables, there is no cliques. Every single week, you are assigned a table with 3-4 different people and a staff person. So you are learning to get along with all of your classmates with all of your differences. We put our kids in situations where they end up learning that there are more similarities between them then differences.
After lunch, class period continues. At times, because we are such a community, we will have days where it is a clean up the garden day, and we are all in the back together, cleaning up the garden, music, dancing around, helping, and having a community wide service project. So we do plenty of that and we are also taking our kids out in the city and exposing them to different companies and career paths. We are able to pivot in a number of directions. It never becomes stale.
Our COO says it well--our teachers love working at LLA because they can be their own entrepreneurs and create special environments in their class and have a lot more freedom than a typical teacher does in the general school system.
A: From a curriculum perspective, they have the freedom to create sort of what they view would be most effectively learned using what ever different mediums or is there still specific guidelines that they have to follow?
Katherine: We meet the state standards. We have the traditional requirements that every school n the state has, but our teachers basically take that and integrate experiential learning and create their own activities and lesson plans to be able to teach our kids through a different avenue.
We have textbooks. We have a library. We have the traditional educational tools, but we have our teachers layer on their own creative angle to things.
A: Se we heard some stories of some kids that have come through and been transformed. How about some of the faculty over the years?
Katherine: What is remarkable is that we have an unbelievable retention rate. Our teachers do not leave. Most of our staff has been there 12 plus years. Right now, SFUSD is advertising on the news bonuses to try to recruit teachers into the system. There is a huge problem and I think that goes on in many other cities across the country. We are never in a situation where we are sitting there making class schedules during the summer and we need to fill a staff position.
Everyone gets back August 1st and prepares for those kids to get back. It is really special. It is another special component to LLA.
A: Do you guys have after-school programs as well?
Katherine: We don't. There are many kids that have service projects and things that need to be cleaned up around the school. We definitely have one off opportunities. Our workforce director works to not only have every kid out on Fridays on internships, but also encourages our kids to pursue employment, so many of our kids have a part-time job after school.
A: How do you guys set up the internship programs for the kids?
Katherine: We have a network of over 40 community partners. Everything from mom and pop businesses to corporations like Linkdin that have bought into what we are doing at LLA. And they have to create their own diverse pipelines of talent. So it is a win-win for the business community and for LLA.
And we have a job success class that supports these kids. So we are not just sending these kids out to an internship and saying, "All right go." We are taking them back in and telling them, "You can't have you phone out. You can't be doing social media. You have to be dressed professionally. Look people in the eyes." All of those soft skills that we need to teach, and we have a specific class called "Job Success" where we do that. We prep and then we debrief with the kids.
It is interesting because I've worked within the non-profit industry for about 12 years and have seen a lot of workforce development programs. At LLA, we started two weeks ago. And on the first Friday of that week, workforce starts. So there is no sitting around, we just get to work, which is pretty remarkable. So second week of school, yesterday, we had maybe 6 kids in the building doing on-site internships because our newer kids learn those soft skills and work within the school to have an extra layer of supervision from our staff. Everyone else what out at their internship placement or interviewing.
A: I wanted to deeply thank everyone for joining us on the call, especially to Teri and Katherine for sharing the wonderful work that you are doing, and to you Lynn for guiding us through that conversation.
Katherine: We need everyone to go to LLAbuild.org and watch the overview video we have and meet and hear from some of our kids that Teri referenced today. Share that website out. We need everyone to take the 30 seconds and put something on your Facebook and tag LLASF and LLABuild and friend Teri on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. She is talking and posting almost everyday.
T: But I don't Tweet very well. [laughter]
A: Thank you so much.
About Awakin Calls
Awakin Call is a weekly conference call that anyone from around the world can dial into. It is completely free, without any ads or solicitation. Each call features a unique theme and an inspiring guest speaker. Read more ...
Subscribe To Newsletter
To stay updated about guest announcements, fresh content, and other inspiring tidbits, subscribe below and we'll send you a weekly email.