Educational Empowerment


(L–R) Spring 2017 Five Keys graduates Tiaria Breaux and Melina Meridji received full scholarships to Academy of Art University where they both plan to study art education. Photo by Bob Toy.

As an accredited art institution, the Academy of Art University recognizes how education can empower not just individuals, but whole communities. In the school’s continuous effort to give back to the city of San Francisco, the Academy presented two full scholarships to Spring 2017 graduates of the Five Keys Schools and Programs, a charter school whose goal is to offer opportunities to disadvantaged individuals through education. 

The recipients—Melina Meridji and Tiaira Breaux—both expressed in their essay applications that they wanted to become art teachers, much to the joy of Marybeth Tereszkiewicz, director of the School of Art Education (ARE) & Teaching Credential Program in the Visual Arts at the Academy. 

“Teaching art is an amazingly rewarding career—it challenges your head, your hands and your heart,” Tereszkiewicz said at the scholarship presentation during the June 13 graduation ceremony at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. “This is what I recommend to all students: To go into a career that makes every single part of them feel motivated.” 

Meridji wrote in her essay: “I hope to pass along, as other teachers did before me, the confidence which enables students to acquire knowledge with a critical mind. I do want students to trust not just in themselves, but in the best of themselves.” 

Five Keys was founded in 2003 by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department with the goal of using education to restore the city’s communities. The school originally operated from a county jail and has since expanded its programs to 70 locations across California, according to the school’s website.

Five Keys partners with several city agencies and workforce development programs, including Bayview YMCA, Glide Memorial and Women’s Resource Center, to establish satellite programs and provide greater opportunities at “positive reentry into the community.” The Academy partnered with Five Keys in 2016 after Mike Petricca, vice president of Campus Safety and Lab Resources, introduced Academy president Dr. Elisa Stephens to Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who oversees the Five Keys program. 


(L-R) Melina Meridji, Mary Tereszkiewicz, Tom McNulty, Mike Petricca, Tiaria Breaux, Vicki Hennessy (Sheriff's Department), Sunny Schwartz (Five Keys co-founder), Steve Good (Five Keys Executive Director). Photo by Bob Toy.

According to Petricca, he and Dr. Stephens were impressed with “the good [Five Keys] does with the prison population” in addition to other disadvantaged communities, such as high school dropouts, disabled persons and recovering addicts. 

He continued to say that they liked how art-focused its programs are and the way it was taught in the jails and probation departments. Graduating Five Keys students earn their high school diploma or General Education Development (G.E.D.) certificate when they leave, but the programs also provide career skills, addiction treatment and rehabilitation, parenting programs and technical and vocational training.  

“We’re part of the community. Dr. Stephens, her family and the school have been part of the community since 1929 and this is an opportunity for the Academy to give back, help out people in need and facilitate art in the community,” Petricca said. “San Francisco is known for art and we believe this partnership is a way to promote art, get people into art and we also believe that having a working relationship with a non-profit is the right thing to do.”

To date, the Academy-Five Keys partnership has been about creating opportunity for students from both schools. This past spring semester, under the supervision of School of Graphic Design Undergraduate Associate Director Tom McNulty, Five Keys worked together with graphic design students to rebrand the school’s logo, advertising and promotional materials. 

In the same vein of opportunity, the partnership is also about students learning from other students—Academy student to Five Keys student and vice versa. 

Two Academy ARE students also teach at Five Keys locations, including Norma Gely, who is in the ARE master’s program. According to Gely, teaching at Five Keys “was a humbling and gratifying experience.” She said connecting with her students on that first day was a huge obstacle, but managed to engage her students by first understanding who they are and where they came from.

“The challenge was to make art relevant to people that didn’t find a need for it,” she said. “An educator must be passionate enough to find ways to connect the material to their [students’] daily lives. This [Five Keys] experience taught me that education is a personalized guide to another perspective—it’s teaching students another possibility, another way of seeing life.”


School of Art Education Director Marybeth Tereszkiewicz and Melina Meridji. Photo by Bob Toy.