Pubdate: Sun, 29 Nov 2009
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Youth)


With a convicted bank robber and a former methamphetamine user in
charge, John Muir Charter School on Treasure Island is not your
typical public school.

But the typical public school experience didn't work for the 105
students at John Muir.

Among them are former robbers and thieves. Some are teenage parents.
All were academic failures elsewhere and, at one point or another, on
the state's long list of high school dropouts.

Each one wants another chance.

This school gives them that as well as health care, bus passes,
individual support, construction job training, and a capitalistic
reason to show up: a paycheck.

John Muir offers its students a fast track to the elusive diploma and
the option of vocational job training in various construction fields.
Getting a paycheck with benefits gives them one more reason to go to

"We're taking the kids our school system can't handle," said Garry
Grady, the former bank robber, as he sat in his musty administrator's
office watching students head back to class to solve algebraic
equations, complete a plant biology worksheet and finish a lesson on
Adolf Hitler.

He summed up his students in five words: "These are the crack

The students, who range in age from 16 to 24, get paid $50 per week
for attending class; they get $7 per hour during the weeks they're
learning to hammer nails, frame a room, or paint a wall, for example.

The Glide Foundation, with public grants and nonprofit donations,
provides funding and support services.

Glide also pays Grady to run the program with his counterpart, the
former methamphetamine user, Kyle Moneypenny, a previously homeless
man turned credentialed teacher and now John Muir director of
education. A desire to learn

Every stereotype suggests the young people at the school have no
future outside a jail or a graveyard, but Grady and Moneypenny know

They know that most of the students get up at 5 a.m. or earlier to
catch public transit to arrive at the former Treasure Island
elementary school campus by 7 a.m. They know that since the school
opened four years ago, about 200 young adults are now high school
graduates. The stipend they receive is a lure, but a diploma is the

"I've got to get my education," said Lamont Mims, who that morning
caught the 5:19 a.m. BART train out of Hayward, followed by a bus out
of San Francisco to get to school well before his first class at 7

He would get paid $10 that day for his attendance. That amounts to
$1.50 per hour for his time on campus.

Outside the school, many of these classmates would be enemies - in
some cases mortal enemies - compelled by the street code of
neighborhood gangs to hate each other and hurt each other.

Treasure Island is neutral turf.

There they sit side by side calculating how much lumber it would take
to frame a door.

"This is their last chance," Grady said. "They know it. They want to
change their lives." The school's roots

The San Francisco school and vocational training program opened in

It is part of a network of 43 school sites statewide that fall under
the umbrella of John Muir Charter School, a network under the
authority of the Nevada County Office of Education.

Each John Muir site is affiliated with a vocational or job skills
organization, including the local or state Conservation Corps, the
national YouthBuild job skills program or a local Job Corps.

The San Francisco campus offers both an academics-only program called
Scholars and a YouthBuild vocational/academic program, both affiliated
with the Glide Foundation. State education money pays the teacher
salaries and basic academic costs while donations to Glide from the
Irene S. Scully Family Foundation, the Alexander M. and June L. Maisin
Foundation and corporate foundations, combined with city and federal
money, pay for everything else.

The students get health care through Healthy San Francisco in addition
to bus or BART passes, and assistance from case managers who help with
food stamps, housing or other needs throughout school and up to a year
after graduation. Those in the vocational program also receive
steel-toe work boots and brown construction coveralls.

So far, about 200 of the 500 current or former students have

Makia Johnson almost gave up.

A teenager in the Fillmore district, Johnson was expelled from San
Francisco's Galileo Academy before dropping out of Ida B. Wells High
School. After that she hung out with friends, "doing nothing and in a
lot of trouble."

After a robbery landed her in jail for a month, she had two choices:
spend more time in jail or enroll in the Treasure Island charter school.

"I love my freedom," she said in explaining her decision.

And so she got up before the sun to catch a bus to

That was in 2007. By May 2008, she was a high school graduate,
Cal/OSHA-certified with training in hazardous waste, asbestos removal
and lead.

Johnson, now 21, is a plasterer making $15.63 per hour.

"It changed my life," she said.

About 20 students currently are on the Scholars track, focused on
getting a diploma and heading to college or a post-secondary
vocational school. Another 60 students are in pre-YouthBuild classes
to help them catch up academically so they can qualify for the
school's vocational program.

The 24 YouthBuild students alternate between pursuing academics in the
classroom and learning trade skills at a deserted former officers'
quarters on Yerba Buena Island, on loan for free through the Treasure
Island Development Authority. Books and hammers

At the Yerba Buena site, general contractor Jeff McGallian and
training coordinator Steve Michell are the no-nonsense instructors
teaching everything from Hammering 101 to insulation, lighting and
safety (tuck the thick neck chains in the shirt), along with daily
life lessons.

While Moneypenny and Grady often empathize with their students'
struggles and can joke about the bad taste of bologna sandwiches
behind bars, bad choices at John Muir are met with swift and sometimes
seemingly harsh consequences.

On a recent morning, Moneypenny spent a couple of hours processing the
two-day suspension of a student.

The offense? At the Yerba Buena job site, the male student had pulled
out his cell phone.

Suspended for a cell phone?

"If you're at a job site and a foreman is telling you something and
you pull out a phone, he'll tell you to get out and never come back,"
Moneypenny said. "We needed to teach him some hard, fast lessons."

The students are already judged and labeled with negative stereotypes.
Any mistake they make validates those impressions, the administrator

"We have to beg, borrow and steal to get these kids into jobs,"
Moneypenny said. "I guarantee that (suspended) kid is not pulling out
a cell phone any time soon." 
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