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Special Academy on Treasure Island Gives Hope to Troubled, High-Risk Students

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A San Francisco woman has spent 21 years creating miracles for high-risk teenagers, helping transform campus truants into high school graduates.

Dr. Teri Lynch Delane designed the dormitory on Treasure Island to look and feel like home.

For two dozen students, it's a safe place to live while they go to school next door with other students at the city-funded Life Learning Academy.

Delane co-founded the Academy 21 years ago and opened the dorm last year. Both are free for high-risk San Francisco high school students struggling with truancy or instability like abuse at home or neighborhood violence.

"That's what our obligation is: to give and grab every young person you can and help them believe in hope and change," said Delane.


About 50 students each year learn academics, get internships and gain hands-on skills like cooking, gardening or even caring for the school's roosters.

The model works. Every student graduated last June during the pandemic. And Delane says eight out of ten graduates are employed.

Rashida Coleman's two sons enrolled at the Academy with failing grades, but left with their diplomas.

"Teri, she's like a mom of all the kids," said Coleman. "She's on them. I love it. That's what they need. Discipline and structure."

Delane herself was a teenaged drug addict who credits the Delancey Street Foundation treatment program for saving her life.

She then returned to school, became a clinical psychologist and now shares her story freely.

"The whole reason of doing that is to show people who feel like they are nothing that if they get the right people in their life, they can change," she explained.

Delane's community of caring turned lemons into lemonade for La'Jaya Smith, who's now in college with a small baking business.

"She's literally the only principal I could talk to about anything in life," Smith said. "She was always there. She's really a role model for me."

LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service

"These students all find their own voice and they become so proud of themselves and they believe that they can do anything," smiled Delane.

New students are often referred through the juvenile justice system, social services, or word of mouth. Delane interviews each prospective student. She can be reached about setting up an interview at and 415-397-8957.

Delane credits two San Francisco mayors with making the Life Learning Academy dorm a reality. First, Delane said the late Mayor Ed Lee found an anonymous donor who supplied $1.5 million to complete construction of the dormitory two months before Lee's sudden death in 2017.

Second, Mayor London Breed helped provide city support for the first year's operating costs, funding that was required for the dorm to open.

So for changing the lives of hundreds of students through Life Learning Academy, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dr. Teri Lynch Delane.

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