New route: A bus takes learning to places where the streets are deadly

With the Self-Determination Bus Project, a San Francisco-based nonprofit hopes to address safety issues that keep adults from earning their high school diplomas.

Published Oct. 9, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO––Where Shelia Hill comes from, people get shot for crossing the wrong street.

Visitacion Valley, a district that sits on the southeastern end of San Francisco near the San Mateo County line, has a history of substance abuse, drug dealing, and gang violence going back to the 1970s. It’s not unusual, Ms. Hill says, for young men in the neighborhood to kill each other because they come from rival gang territories – areas that could be just two blocks apart.

“They can’t even go to the corner store without risking their life,” she says. “It’s crazy, but it’s real.”

Hill’s own salvation had been Five Keys Charter School, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that runs a community learning center in Visitacion, also known as Sunnydale for the avenue that winds through the neighborhood. Hill, 48, spent two years working to get her high school diploma through the program’s independent study plan. Today she’s a full-time teacher’s aide and community ambassador for Five Keys, helping to bring in students from neighborhoods like hers. But she knows that most Sunnydale residents have to put safety before any kind of education – much less a career that would pull them out of a life of violence.

So she was thrilled when she heard that Five Keys was converting an old city bus into a state-of-the-art classroom that would cater especially to divided neighborhoods.

“The bus can pull right up to the community and people who want their education, they can get on,” Hill says. “They don’t have to let the barriers stop them no more.”

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