Date: May 21, 2020

Author: Andy Scholl

Life Learning Academy (LLA) is a proverbial lifeboat for the Bay Area’s most vulnerable teens. Most of its students have experienced trauma, poverty, and housing insecurity. And all of them have been unsuccessful in traditional school environments.

“We help kids turn their life around and give them a better trajectory for the future,” says Dr. Cassandra Blazer, director of policy and evaluation at LLA. “Most come to us as high school dropouts and leave as college hopefuls.”

A San Francisco public charter school founded by the non-profit Delancey Street Foundation, LLA takes in roughly 60 students on an annual basis. In addition to a rigorous academic curriculum that helps 15 to 20 students earn their high school degree each year, the school provides an “extended family” atmosphere. Students eat meals with staff members. They participate in group sessions focused on emotional development, responsibility, and judgement. And through applied learning—including a culinary academy and organic farming program—they receive vocational and social skills that are essential for future success.

The tight-knit community became even tighter in 2019 when LLA opened a dorm that offers full-time accommodation for students struggling with homelessness and housing insecurity. The school’s IT services partner, Your Technology Support, outfitted the dorm with a Cisco Meraki network and laptops that connect to LLA’s primary campus.

Those connected laptops became vitally important when the global pandemic reached California.

“A couple of students have stayed in the dorm, but most went back to their caregivers when the shelter-in-place order was given,” Blazer says. “We had to pivot quickly to support and educate them remotely.”

LLA staff worked overtime to develop a distance learning program that includes academics, workforce development, and social and emotional learning—often combining them in new, creative ways. The school’s culinary instructor, for example, started packaging and sending ingredients for family meals and creating instructional videos for how to prepare them. The students watch the videos on their laptops and take a picture of the meals they’ve made—helping them learn and apply new skills, get course credit, and put food on a table that might not otherwise have it.

LLA also made the transition to remote classes, teacher office hours, and group counseling sessions. Your Technology Support helped arrange hotspots and Internet access for students without connectivity, enabling them to connect from anywhere using the school-issued laptops. And because the laptops are remotely managed with Cisco Meraki Systems Manager, technical issues can be quickly and easily resolved.

“More than 90 percent of our students have logged on and done some work,” says Blazer. “It’s amazing how committed they are.”

While critical support systems have been disrupted and pulled some students out of the LLA lifeboat, the laptops have provided an essential lifeline. One that connects them back to the people who are committed to their well-being and success. One that can deliver vital educational resources, face-to-face collaboration, and dedicated support—no matter where they are.

“Through all of this, our mission and value to the community have been reaffirmed, and we’ve used technology in ways that will continue after this is all over,” says Blazer. “We just need more laptops.”

Used with permission from Cisco.