The Life Learning program combines traditional academic classes with vocationally oriented themes and activities to demonstrate the integration of learning required in the real world. While most schools focus on either academic or vocational skills for students that display an aptitude for one or the other, we believe that learning in one area enhances learning in the other. For example, students who have not displayed an interest or aptitude in mechanical skills learn vocational skills through academics (e.g. applying math skills to construction work). Other students with limited academic skills but strong mechanical aptitude enter academics through work in the Organic Garden or Retail Bike Shop (e.g., learning entrepreneurial and math skills through purchasing food, developing inventory, or working the cash register).
The Life Learning Academy has been written up in several books including chapters in Literacies Across Educational Contexts (Brian V. Street, Editor, 2005) and Independence Movement in the U.S. Public Education (Unoura Hiroshi, 2001).
Teaching and learning about how to live a nonviolent life is critical to our students’ ability to succeed. Before enrolling at LLA, violence and school failure were a daily part of many students’ lives. LLA promotes a model of positive peer pressure that holds students accountable for their actions, but also provides the support they need to resolve conflicts without using violence.
LLA’s overall strategy is to surround students with as many opportunities as possible to discover the value and success of nonviolence and anti-violent problem solving. Whether through peer modeling, hands-on projects, or school-wide actions, all LLA students gain experience with anti-violent teachings and reflect on their own role in creating and maintaining a nonviolent school culture.
LLA has created both specific classroom projects that are based in academics, and student-driven sessions that address interpersonal conflict through peer mediation and successfully encourage peer-to-peer violence prevention. These include Student Council sessions (convened daily) and Student Group sessions (convened weekly).
At the beginning of each school year, LLA conducts a weeklong nonviolence orientation that requires students to think critically about the causes and effects of violence, explore nonviolent philosophies and methods, and prompts students to discover nonviolent solutions to the challenges that confront them daily. To culminate the orientation, students create and showcase theatrical performances that demonstrated real-world nonviolent and anti-violent responses that can follow from confrontations, insults, or threats.
LLA’s Geometry Classes devised a project that uses mosaic tiles to create complex shapes and patterns, while conveying a message encouraging reflection and forethought as a means to avoid violence. The final artwork, an 8.5’ x 4’ tessellating mosaic, decorates LLA’s street-facing exterior wall with a message reading “STOP.THINK.DECIDE.” which refers to a slogan used in LLA’s nonviolence lessons.
LLA’s Art Class recently completed a mural (20’ x 27’) that decorates the outdoor front entrance to the school demonstrating the significance of a student’s personal choice to move away from violence and negative influences, and toward positive, successful outcomes. Prior to designing the mural, the art students explored the nature of symbolism as an invaluable tool in conveying a visual message of nonviolence.
As part of the LLA nonviolence curriculum, groups of students travel annually to Washington D. C. to both learn and teach about nonviolence strategies. The Washington, DC trip bolsters LLA's nonviolence curriculum in several ways. First, students who are selected to travel are recognized as nonviolent student leaders at LLA. As a reward for their ongoing involvement in sustaining LLA's culture of nonviolence, this opportunity signals to other students that committing to a nonviolent life can lead to unexpected benefits.
Secondly, LLA teaches civic activism as an alternative to violence that achieves positive results. While these ideals are reinforced within the school, they were reiterated directly as students participate in the historical and current activities that are hallmarks of Washington. Students examine the decisions that confront our nation's leaders, and reflect on the way their ideals informed their actions.
Culinary Arts Program
The Culinary Arts program exemplifies the approach to academics and vocation at LLA. In our commercial kitchen, students work with restaurant and catering chefs to prepare daily meals for the school, academic classes teach computer programming for inventory control, advanced math for bookkeeping and communication and speech for sales along with the culinary arts. Researching the history and traditions of a given culture to determine menu and ingredients becomes a lesson in history and cultural diversity that enhances literacy and sharpens students’ library and internet research skills. Students learn to grow and harvest herbs and vegetables and plan meals with an emphasis on health and nutrition.
Students designed and created a 1,000 square foot organic garden in our schoolyard. The garden features a variety of produce, an outdoor classroom, and native plant species. It is a true group effort, with students, teachers and volunteers working side-by-side to build garden beds and a greenhouse and to plant and maintain crops. Our Biology, Math, Economics and Culinary Arts teachers have joined forces to develop “Organic Opportunities,” a hands-on garden curriculum that teaches students about food production and nutrition. Crops are used in the school’s culinary arts program and student-run café, and our students have developed a new business that provides organic produce to community residents, who do not have any local access to fresh produce. RebelTomato describes LLA's Organic Opportunities to keep other communities start gardens.
Retail Bike Shop
The Roll & Eat Bike Shop (“Roll & Eat”) is another of LLA’s student-run businesses. The Roll & Eat, which was entirely designed by our students, is a student-managed and operated retail bike shop that provides bike repairs, bike parts and merchandise, and also provides services to visitors, residents, and the various school populations of Treasure Island. The concept for the Roll & Eat grew out of the school’s bike shop curriculum, which was designed by our bike mechanic, math and English faculty. This curriculum reengages students in the learning process through the hands-on study of bicycle mechanics. LLA students designed the shop based on a survey of community residents and are excited to use their new skills to contribute to the Treasure Island community.
Youth Fire and Police Science Program
These two programs are designed to imprint in the students a sense of citizenship, civic pride, discipline, responsibility, self-esteem, confidence, self-respect, and an appreciation of the importance of community service. The San Francisco Fire Department’s Regional Training Center located on Treasure Island is utilized for site visits and demonstrations. Curriculum also utilizes the local full-use San Francisco Fire Station located on the island. Students also learn about various careers in law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and emergency response methods. Upon completion of the Youth Fire and Police Science Program, students have gained experience that will be helpful in applying to jobs in a variety of fields.
Students have an extensive and immediate opportunity to develop contractor skills through the design, renovation and repair of their school site, which includes the LLA garden and greenhouse, as well as off-site at the student-run bike shop.
Art, Photography and Digital Arts
|LLA teacher Adam Yas with art students
A professional photographer teaches beginning and advanced Black and White Photography classes, and students learn the tools and techniques at LLA’s on-site darkroom. Students also do dance and plays in our performing arts theatre and create art projects.
Our latest accomplishment is the development of a state-of-the-art digital arts lab. Opened in February 2009, LLA’s new digital media lab contains a class set of iMacs that are equipped to operate industry-standard graphic design, page layout, illustration, and publishing software. These tools will allow LLA students to become proficient with current technology that college design courses and employers in the industry employ. In providing LLA students with these tools, our goal is twofold. First, we intend for students to produce real products – posters and t-shirt designs, record songs and poetry, and multimedia presentations – that express a message of nonviolence and positive community action. Beyond the production of these creative works, students will gain real-world technical skills that are immediately useful as they pursue school internships, and their long-term educational and career goals. By adding these skills to their résumés students will gain access to valuable career opportunities.
Students have access to a state-of-the-art computer lab and high-speed internet access. Computer training includes word processing, web design and research, and PowerPoint presentation.
Service to one’s community is a fundamental part of the school culture at LLA. Students are actively encouraged to help one other in the cooperative learning groups that are the focus in many classrooms, as well as through our unique student-centered governance system, in which students act as advisors and mentors for their peers. It is equally important to increase our students’ understanding ofthe meaning of service by creating opportunities for them to serve people outside the circle of their fellow classmates and immediate community members. By integrating service-learning projects into the curriculum of various academic classes—from music to math, science to Spanish—we havedeveloped ways for students to be able to share with and teach others what they have learned through their studies. For example:
As part of the Treasure Island community, the LLA Bike Shop students repaired and donated bikes and gave a student-led bike safety talk to 5-9 year olds at the Treasure Island Boys and Girls Club. Students demonstrated how to wear a helmet properly, as well as what to check on a bike before going for a ride, and spoke about bike laws and how to ride safely on busy streets.
Our English Class led a semester-long service-learning project modeling positive reading practices and positive eating choices for children from the Kidango Childcare Center. LLA students reviewed data outlining the importance of reading in early childhood education and studied strategies for encouraging preliteracy behaviors in young children including book handling, recognition of imagery and text, story comprehension, and independent storytelling. The students led bi-monthly reading sessions with small groups of the preschoolers, focusing their reading selections on books about fruits, vegetables, and healthy food habits. Before and after each reading session, the LLA students reflected on their preparation, and then, their performance as reading role models, in addition to the preliteracy progress they were observing in the preschool children.
Life Learning Academy students from the Biology, Gardening and Culinary Arts Classes collaborated to provide 65 Treasure Island families in-need with fresh food for the holiday season. Sixty-five baskets of locally grown organic produce were assembled. Each basket contained just over ten pounds of fresh foods, which included butternut squash, potatoes, apples, carrots, oranges, garlic, collard greens, lettuce, swiss chard, broccoli, thyme, parsley, and rosemary. (This project was supported by donations from individuals through the Goldstar.com holiday fundraising drive.)
As part of the Organic Opportunities Program students harvested and delivered 481 pounds of organic produce to the Treasure Island community between September 2008 and January 2009. The deliveries were made twice a month as part of a free produce subscription service. The goal of the deliveries was to strengthen the local food system by providing fresh produce that is otherwise not readily available. The residents’ deep appreciation for the students and the fresh vegetables resonated deeply with the students and became their favorite part of Gardening Class.
Majors - Fire Air Earth Water
All of Life Learning Academy’s courses and activities fall within one of the four environmental majors. The majors are focused around the elements, fire, air, earth, and water. Within each major is a set of vocational and academic activities that become a student’s area of focus.
For example, students who chose the water major spend a percentage of their time participating in lessons in which water is a central theme. They participate in swim class, study marine biology and oceanography, and examine the importance of water to California’s development. Students majoring in fire study the past, current, and future technological uses of fire. They learn fire science and apply it to their culinary
|Water Major: LLA student sailing trip
|Fire Major: LLA students with SF Fire Dept.
training. In English class, students examine the mythological and symbolic uses of fire in world literature. Earth majors spend time working on landscape architecture projects, including the cultivation of the LLA’s urban mini-farm that produces much of the fresh vegetables used in LLA meals. Students in the air major study astronomy in the LLA’s portable planetarium and have the opportunity to go on stargazing camping trips where, outside in the night sky, they observe the constellations they studied in the classroom using a high-powered telescope.
The following documents represent lessons designed and implemented by teams of teachers at Life Learning Academy. The overall goals of curriculum development at LLA are: 1) to help students draw connections between core content in specific academic areas and real-life applications and 2) to motivate students who have a history of failure with traditional classroom curriculum. These lessons incorporate an investigative, hands-on approach and encourage students to become problem-solvers who can work effectively in a group setting to complete complex projects.
Life Learning curricula include an overview that describes the specific academic goals, the overall timing and pace of the project, and specific California State Standards that are addressed and developed through the activities in the lesson. A rationale and history of the project’s development is included to give the audience insight about the teachers’ perspective and reasoning behind the design of the lesson. And finally, the lesson matrix provides specific routines for ensuring implementation in a classroom; time period, sequence, preparation, materials and assessments.
Downloadable Curricula (PDF)
Life Learning Academy Background
Life Learning Academy Model
- Brief Description of Delancey Street Foundation
- Delancey Circle’s Life Learning Academy Charter School
Life Learning Academy Curricula Author Biographies
- Mission and Vision
- Advisory System (Guiding Principles)
- Student Governance
- Morning Meetings
- Group Process Presentations of Learning
Model Academic/Vocational Project-Based Curricula