This School on a Bus Is Bringing Education to Everyone

Great Big News. October 1, 2019

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Shelia Hill grew up in San Francisco’s Sunnydale Projects. It was a rough neighborhood. She got into trouble when she was young and dropped out of school. She thought it wasn’t for her. Hill’s attitude changed after she had her own children. One day, her son asked why he should bother going to school since she didn’t. It was a lightbulb moment. Hill realized that she had to do better for herself and her family. She learned how to read and got her high school diploma through Five Keys, an organization that gives members of underserved communities a chance to restart their education. Today, Hill works for Five Keys as a community ambassador. She goes out into neighborhoods considered education deserts on the Five Keys bus and encourages residents to board the mobile classroom where they can study with a teacher and earn their GEDs. Hill doesn’t want anyone to feel ashamed for not finishing school. So she always makes sure to share her own story, letting people know there was a time when she couldn’t read. And she’s big on follow-up with potential students. “I’ll call them. I’ll bug them. I’ll text them. I’ll email ’em. Whatever it takes,” she says. “I just want you to get your education. That’s it.”

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Reentry and Opportunity Center Improves Outcomes for Probation Clients

LA Sentinel. July 4, 2019
By Cora Jackson-Fossett, Staff Writer


The new Los Angeles County Reentry Opportunity Center aims to increase successful outcomes for probation clients.

Described as a one-stop shop, the facility houses community and county service providers to assist clients with a second chance to change the trajectory of their life. The DOORS or Developing Opportunities Offering Reentry Solutions section contains representatives to aid with housing, jobs, training, legal assistance, mental health services and more.

“The center represents not only elevated services, but a meaningful second chance to demonstrate what is possible when county government collaborates with the community that it serves – someone is given another opportunity to succeed,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas during the grand opening celebration on June 28.


“This is an innovative one-stop shop where people can get help to find a job, go back to school, get connected to much-needed housing, get their record cleared, and receive healthcare, therapy and other services crucial to turning someone’s life around.”

The new 60,000-square-feet building, located at 3965 S. Vermont Ave. in South Los Angeles, provides intake and check-in space on the first floor, staff offices on the second floor and the DOORS center on the third floor. Also, brightly colored murals decorate the walls throughout the facility.

Modeled after New York’s Neighborhood Opportunity Network, DOORS’ on-site services will be conducted by staff from A New Way of Life, Chrysalis, Five Keys Schools and Programs, Legal Aid Foundation of L.A., SSG/HOPICS, and the county departments of Mental Health, Public Health, Public Social Services and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services. Ridley-Thomas added that plans are underway to open the Homeboy Art Academy to “infuse arts and culture programming into clients” and enhance professional development skills.

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Buses as Tech Hubs: Way More Than Just Wi-Fi

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Education Week. June 21, 2019
By Michelle Goldchain @goldchainam

When students in a San Francisco neighborhood were afraid to walk to a community learning center because of the threat of gang violence, an effort was made to bring the learning to them—by bus.

A nonprofit called Five Keys arranged to have a vehicle loaded with Wi-Fi, as well as other tech tools that students can use to meet a variety of academic needs, roll into impoverished communities throughout the city. 

The idea of delivering internet connectivity to students and communities via buses is not new. But over the past few years, the scale of those efforts has increased as the mobile tech hubs have been transformed—gutted, reconfigured, and reimagined—so that they provide students with a much broader array of tech access and services than just internet connectivity.

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The buses delivered by organizations like Five Keys are staffed with educators who provide academic support for students in different subjects. In some cases, the buses offer full-fledged computer laps where students can prep for the SAT or take part in anti-bullying programs. Some of them come with desks and swivel chairs.

School districts and other organizations see the buses as one of many options for closing the so-called "homework gap": the inability of students, especially those from poor backgrounds, to access reliable internet service away from school. Those barriers to connectivity prevent many students from doing online work away from school, at a time when lessons are increasingly being delivered via technology.

You Got Your High School Diploma?’

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What happens when you put a classroom on wheels and park it in the poorest neighborhoods of San Francisco?

By Elizabeth Weil | Photographs by Eugene Riley and Chris Shurn | March 27, 2019

One day late last August, Shelia Hill sat at a table on a sidewalk in Sunnydale, outside a San Francisco city bus that had been painted an exceedingly upbeat shade of apple green, yelling at every car that rolled by.


“Hey, how YOU doing? You got a minute?”

Shelia — who is 51 and has bright red hair and who is fond of sharp sweats, lacquered nails, and a pair of Adidas that say love — was sitting with Katie, the bus driver, trying to recruit students. Shelia was doing all the work.

“How’s your day going? Blessed?”

“Hey, YOU got a diploma? You want an application?”

Sunnydale —  the name of a housing project but really the name of a neighborhood — is one of the poorest, most forgotten parts of San Francisco. If Shelia could get people to fill out applications, she could perhaps get them to change their lives, since the bus was a traveling classroom, the latest project of the Five Keys Charter School. Shelia had done it — she’d bucked nearly 40 years of failing at school and earned a high school degree. Though to be honest, she hadn’t done it on her first try. Or her second. Or third. Or fourth try, either. By the time Shelia arrived at the Five Keys classroom at 1099 Sunnydale Avenue, in 2014, she’d not learned how to read in high school and dropped out. She’d not learned how to read at San Francisco City College and dropped out. “The lady told me I was wasting my time,” she says. “That I just need to get a job, let the school thing go.” She’d fallen into drugs, prostitution, bad relationships, and jail.

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How This California Program Promises College Access To Students Behind Bars

While in jail, this Five Keys student completed his high school diploma and earned a full scholarship to attend Academy of Art University upon his release. ROBINSON KUNTZ

While in jail, this Five Keys student completed his high school diploma and earned a full scholarship to attend Academy of Art University upon his release. ROBINSON KUNTZ

Steve Good, Executive Director of Five Keys, is a guest contributor for the College Promise Campaign

DeShawn*, age 21, was likely headed for prison. But while in jail awaiting his trial, he was able to graduate from high school, attend college classes, and earn a full scholarship to a prestigious art university. For the first time, from inside a prison, he was recognized as a person with a bright future. Released in December of 2018, DeShawn now has a second chance to achieve not only his professional aspirations but also his full potential as a member of his community.  

Women are earning college credits while in jail through a partnership of Five Keys, City College of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. ROBINSON KUNTZ

Women are earning college credits while in jail through a partnership of Five Keys, City College of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. ROBINSON KUNTZ

At Five Keys Schools and Programs, we are helping DeShawn and thousands of others reverse the school-to-prison pipeline. Our programs—offered behind the walls of county jails, as well as at neighborhood centers in economically isolated communities—are designed to build trust, acknowledge each person’s dignity, and empower individuals to take advantage of opportunities that can change the trajectory of their lives.

Five Keys serves over 20,000 Californians annually at more than 100 sites, including inside 20 county jails. Five Keys’ social justice mission centers around the vital connections that must be made between education, workforce development, behavioral and therapeutic services, community engagement, and transitional housing for the homeless.

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