It has been my privilege to serve as an educator working with students in San Francisco and the Bay Area for over 38 years. During this time I have assumed a variety of roles within the SFUSD: Special Education Teacher; Resource Specialist; Program Consultant for the Gifted and Talented Program; Special Education Content Specialist; Assistant Principal and K-8 Principal. In 1998, I provided instructional and technical support to the students and staff at Life Learning Academy in their extended day learning program. I knew from my very first days at LLA, that this unique program changed lives one student at a time. Following my retirement from SFUSD seven years ago, I was elated to resume my tenure as a teacher at Life Learning Academy, doing work that I love, with students and staff I admire, at a school that I firmly believe provides the educational program ALL students deserve.
Why I Teach at LLA
Some years ago I had a student who was completing her probation with SFJPD. She was a bright girl with a tough life who really took advantage of the services and resources offered through probation and LLA. I worked with her numerous community allies to provide a comprehensive program to meet her unique and challenging needs. When her probation ended, she was one semester away from graduation. However, with the end of her probation, her services away from school dropped, her support system collapsed, she was homeless and she began to falter. She would disappear from school for prolonged periods of time. But then she would call, and we would talk, and she would ask if she could come back to school. The answer was always Yes. Because that is what LLA does best. If a student wants to try, the answer is always Yes. Over the next 2 semesters she called and came back 4 times. She was welcomed and supported. Each time she made incremental progress toward reaching HER GOAL of a high school diploma. In May 2015, she graduated from LLA on stage in cap and gown. Diploma in hand, she thanked the school for believing in her and then claimed her victory for herself. She was the change she wanted to be. That’s what we do at LLA.
Sabina is a graduate of the Contra Costa College Culinary Program. She has a Designated Subjects Teaching Credential in Culinary Arts from San Jose State University. She has taught Culinary Arts at Life Learning Academy since 2002, for 5 years as the manager of LLA’s student-powered cafe, then teaching culinary arts classes as the chef instructor at the school. Sabina has spent many summers both working with and cooking for kids at Project Avary, a camp for kids with incarcerated parents, or as the chef for the annual Kyoto Japanese Meditation Archery Retreat. Continuing her to explore her passion for healthy living, she recently obtained certification as a Nutrition Consultant at Bauman College and is teaching health and wellness classed at LLA.
One of the great things about being the chef at LLA is when students discover that they like a new food they’ve never tried before, or when they get excited about eating vegetables. I also love when former students come to the school to visit and tell me about how they used the skills they learned in my class in their day-to-day life or at work.
A Bay Area native, Diana Gradstein is a 15-year veteran of teaching. She began her teaching career at San Rafael High School in 2003 teaching Social Studies to English Language Learners. She has been teaching at LLA for 7 years and loves working with teenagers. Her favorite subjects are United States History as well as American Government. Diana loves teaching and practicing yoga as well, and leads yoga retreats during the summer all over the world. Diana lives in the East Bay with her husband and 4-year old daughter.
Why I Teach at LLA
I had a young woman in class who really resisted yoga for the first month of the class. She finally began to let go of her resistance and embrace the calm that yoga brought to her mind and body. Over the course of the semester, I was able to watch a complete transformation. Her attitude toward yoga, and her ability to practice self-awareness was incredible. She began to learn how to quiet her mind, connect to her breath and body and relax. That was incredibly empowering to her and a beautiful thing to witness. This practice helped her in all aspects of her life, not only on her yoga mat but in dealing with challenging situations off of her mat as well. Here is an article about that student.
I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Community studies and Latin American Latino Studies. My community focus for my degree was to design and implement programing in the arts and nature connection for a community center in a low-income housing project in the Santa Cruz Beach Flats, Mercy Housing Center. I went on to work with Bay Area Wilderness Training, and Civicorps East Bay before landing as the Life and Physical Sciences Teachers at Life Learning Academy where I have now been for 10 years. I got my teaching credential at SF State. At LLA I run the environmental sciences program including the garden, sailing, and rock climbing programs.
Why I Teach at LLA
I had a group of young boys who were brought together to work one day at the school farmer’s market stand. They were all pretty isolated and shy students, but were engaged with the entrepreneurship farm stand program, and excited to share their professional farm goodies with the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market community. That day was so fun, with the three boys working together filling unique roles to efficiently reach the public, and sell the most jars of golden honey, flower bunches, plants, and sweet lemon curd they could. It was also the beginning of a deep connection between the previously isolated youngsters, who continued to support and pull each other up for the remainder of their high school years and onto the graduation stage.
“Change the way you see things, and the things you see will change.”
As a graduate of the Delancey Street Foundation, I am a firm believer that every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.
Why I Work at LLA
Having an employer say to me that in all her years in working with student interns, our student from Life Learning Academy who recently worked with her during the Fall Semester, had shown the most improvement of any student that she had worked wiith and really benefited from her mentorship. And this is why she does what she does, by offering internships to youth, particularly underserved youth. It made me feel very proud to be a part of that particular youth’s work experience.
A native of San Francisco, Dennis began his teaching career shortly after his graduation from UC Davis. After four years of teaching Algebra and Geometry in large public high schools in San Diego, he returned home to the Bay Are, joining LLA’s teaching staff in 2012. Since that time, he has used his knowledge of science, engineering, and technology to infuse his teaching with practical examples and hands on experiences to keep his students engaged and enhance their understanding of math and science.
Why I Teach at LLA
One of my favorite moments in my time at LLA came last year while my class was building the stage in the morning meeting room. A young woman who had frequently absent and often unengaged in class was struggling with the power drills and other tools we use. She was frustrated, ready to give up and loudly wondering why she had to do it. Through patient and repeated encouragement she eventually began to have more success, and within a few days was taking the lead on the project, directing her classmates on what needed to get done and instructing them on how to use the tools properly. Her transformation on that project seemed a testament to our patient and individualized approach here at LLA.
Born and raised in Texas, and a California transplant since the age of 16, I’ve come to call the SF Bay area my new home. I attended several high schools as a teen, including two traditional high schools and three continuation schools. My teen years were rife with difficulty, and so my priority as a teenager was on becoming independent as soon as possible. Thus, I came to the teaching profession as a career-changer later in life. I spent several years working in the restaurant industry before becoming a CMT–Certified Massage Therapist. I then operated a successful small private practice in the central valley for 5 years, and supplemented my income by freelance writing and teaching community college noncredit courses on aromatherapy, body care product making, children’s art, puppetry, and drama before deciding to return to college and complete a bachelors degree. I knew that I enjoyed writing and teaching, and so I chose to pursue a teaching credential in Secondary English Education. I bring a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to the teaching profession, as well as an entrepreneurial outside-the-box mindset born from my own unconventional path to the classroom.
Why I Teach at LLA
One of my favorite experiences I have had working at LLA was during one of our class debates. In ELA, we frequently practice participating in class discussion, and I had students debating the question, “Can Money Buy Happiness?” This question is one of my favorites to engage students with because it encompasses so many important life questions–What does it mean to truly be happy? What is money really for, anyway? What do you need to “be happy?” What is our relationship to money? And so on. As students wrote and shared their positions, asking questions, and debating their points, one student pointed out something that made my English-teacher-heart proud: This student pointed out that the question asks whether money can BUY happiness, but happiness is an emotion, and emotions cannot be purchased. Only things can be purchased. It’s little moments like this, when students display critical thinking and close reading skills while engaging in spirited discussion, that we ELA teachers hope for. This prompted further discussion and reflection on what the deeper sources of emotional happiness are. All in all, the students left the class feeling energized and I stepped out feeling incredibly proud of all of them for engaging in discourse around a topic that will serve them well in the long run.
I started college with the intention of becoming an interpreter. I have always loved learning languages and working with others, and I knew that I wanted my career to involve me connecting people to the resources they need no matter what language barriers they face. During my second year of college, I started working with an organization called Peer Health Exchange (PHE), which trains college students to deliver a skills-based, medically accurate health curriculum to high school students. I began teaching in schools all over the Bay Area and discovered that this information was not only important for my students to learn, it was also extremely relevant to me. I continued volunteering with PHE for the rest of my college career and also began facilitating workshops with Shalom Bayit, a Jewish Domestic Violence Agency that provides prevention workshops to students of all ages. Health literacy and basic communication skills was extremely lacking in all of these classrooms, and that I knew that I could use the skills I learned in my linguistics classes to create health workshops that empowered students with the language and skills that they need.
Why I Teach at LLA
During my last semester at UC Berkeley, I was placed as a peer health educator at Life Learning Academy for a small class of boys. Our class had an immediate connection. We talked about extremely personal topics, and still, the students were open, trusting and asked thoughtful questions. They were willing to share their experiences with me, and they wanted ideas and suggestions for how to navigate difficult situations. These classes showed me that students want to have these conversations. They want to talk to someone about things that are happening in their lives, and I am so grateful that I get to be that person. I teach at LLA because the students prove to me every day that they are committed to empowering themselves with the tools that will serve them for the rest of their lives.