We are proud of our students and their stories inspire us to do better. While their names have been changed, every other detail about their experience is shared so you can empathize with their struggles and celebrate their triumphs.
Fourth-grader Greg noticed his teacher Stephen Keiley eating a pork chop he’d brought for his lunch. He asked the teacher what it was, and where he got it. Mr. Keiley told him it was a leftover chop from the dinner he’d cooked at home the night before. “You have a kitchen?!” Greg responded with amazement. The idea of having a kitchen and the opportunity to cook was foreign to Greg, who has lived with his mother and three siblings in a shelter, then in their van parked on the street.
Greg’s family, a single mom with four young children, became homeless and traveled from Chicago to San Diego in their van. They stayed in a shelter for awhile, but had to be out at 5:00 a.m. each day, and the large communal room offered no privacy or quiet respite from noise.
Greg’s mom had heard about Monarch and enrolled her three school-age children. Monarch’s Parent Liaison linked them with resources and now the family is staying in a single room in East County. The room has one bed, so Greg usually sleeps on the hard floor. Greg has told his teacher, “Every once in a while, I get to sleep in the bed.” If you ask Greg for his address, he’ll simply say, “I live by the liquor store that sells the cheap BB guns.”
Every morning the family of five boards the trolley for the one-hour trip to Monarch. When the After School Program ends at 6:00 p.m. they ride the trolley home, arriving after 7:00 pm. Sometimes there’s fast food for dinner, but some evenings they go without. Greg arrives at school the next morning eager for the breakfast Monarch provides.
At Monarch, Greg also gets individualized instruction from Monarch’s Special Education teacher, and loves to help organize books in Mr. Keiley’s classroom. He’s good with computers, and knows how to run the classroom’s SmartBoard. Greg loves his hands-on art sessions with Monarch’s Expressive Arts Therapist, and receives counseling for issues such as dealing with anger from our Counselor.
But Greg doesn’t allow himself to completely “be a kid.” He’s used to caring for his younger siblings, and often checks on them throughout the school day. He feels the burdens of poverty and is often sad and has trouble imagining his future.
Eight-year-old Jason is a friendly, outgoing boy with wavy blonde hair and a quick smile. His favorite subject is math, and he loves reading the book series, “How to Train a Dragon.” He enjoys playing basketball and learning hip-hop dance moves in the After School Program, and hopes to pursue a career as a basketball player or a cop.
Jason wasn’t always an upbeat kid who enjoys school. His family fell on hard times, became homeless, and moved into a family unit at a shelter. His father is employed, but the family struggles financially. Jason is one of six children.
When the third-grader arrived at Monarch last summer, he was two years behind in reading and math. At his previous school he had been a frequent target for bullying, and had no friends. Here at Monarch he kicked chairs, told his teachers that he hated life and everyone, and cried multiple times a day. He often put his head down on his desk, trying to sleep through the day. If a class assignment involved a lot of reading, he shut down and refused to try. He didn’t like sitting near other kids.
At Monarch he began sessions with our Special Education teacher three times a week, and worked one-on-one with tutors every day in the Academic Support hour after school. He participated in art therapy sessions with our Expressive Arts Therapist as well as social skills lessons in the classroom.
Jason’s teacher, Tara Barrows, seated him next to students who she knew would show him unconditional kindness. Once he felt accepted, he became more warm and friendly toward others. “Everyone here is so nice,” he has said to his teacher. “I love this school!” Jason now eagerly welcomes new students and adult visitors to the school and takes pride in serving as a Monarch ambassador. Jason initiates friendships, even taking a new kid under his wing recently and becoming a good friend to him.
Individualized attention from teachers enabled Jason to progress academically, and he began to realize how smart he is. He’s now working at grade level in math and reading, and beamed when he recently scored 100% on a math test. Last month he made the High Flyers Honor Roll list. His mom reports that he now reads to his little brother in the evenings.
Barrows says Jason needed one-on-one attention, and teachers who believe in him. “When his social and emotional needs are met, he tries harder and excels.”
When the school day ends, Jason stays for the After School Program and loves visits to the YMCA and The New Children’s Museum. He’s also a fan of the D.A.R.E. dance program. There are still occasions near the days’ end when frustration gets to Jason, but Barrows knows when to draw him aside and redirect him with compassion and understanding.
Jason’s family recently moved to a small apartment. It’s crowded and noisy, so sometimes he has a hard time sleeping. The family’s struggle in tough economic times continues. But Jason no longer dreads school, and is able to look ahead and see a bright future for himself.