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Principal of The Monarch School for homeless children speaks to local teen volunteers

Michael Massimino, Karyn Massimino
Michael Massimino, Karyn Massimino

By Marsha Sutton

The 2012-2013 kick-off event for the founding San Diego chapter of Teen Volunteers in Action featured a moving presentation by Joel Garcia, principal of The Monarch School, a public school serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are impacted by homelessness.

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Founded in 1988, The Monarch School offers a comprehensive educational program for homeless children, many of whom are two to three grade levels behind. The school also provides for other needs such as food, laundry and shower facilities, hygiene, clothing, school supplies, transportation and counseling.

TVIA boys in grades 8-12 listened attentively as Garcia described the pain of homelessness and the great need for communities to care for homeless children.

Nationwide, about 1.5 million children are affected by homelessness, with 15,870 living in San Diego County. Last year the number was 13,240.

Many of these children are at risk for malnutrition and obesity, as well as ear infections, dental needs and other physical ailments, Garcia said.

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Homeless children living in poverty often also suffer social and emotional distress. Unstable family lives, temporary and uncertain shelter, and the upheaval of frequently changing schools impact achievement and learning, Garcia said.

The average length of stay at The Monarch School, he said, is six months. One fifth-grade boy has attended 10 different schools in his lifetime, with many students changing schools two or three times a year. These “tough transitions” are tremendously disruptive on children’s lives, he said.

Garcia, who has a teaching credential and began his teaching career at San Diego Juvenile Hall, said many of his students repeatedly witness domestic violence. As a result, “some kids model this behavior at school.” Because most students require interventions and emotional support, the school provides a therapist on campus.

Despite the unstable living conditions of many students, the attendance rate is a high 92 percent. “They want to come to school,” Garcia said.

Before Garcia spoke, the audience of hundreds of TVIA teens and their parents watched a short video of Garcia being honored for his work on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

One of the only schools of its kind in the country, The Monarch School is a public-private partnership between the San Diego County Office of Education and the nonprofit Monarch School Project which raises private donations for the school.

It currently serves 146 students and is at maximum capacity in its 10,000-square-foot building. Last year the school turned away 65 kids due to lack of space.

To address the capacity limitations, about $14.4 million was raised, mostly from private donations, for a new 60,000-square-foot facility in East Village which is expected to be ready in 2013. The new school will offer green space, currently lacking at the existing facility, and will be able to serve 300 students.

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Garcia told the TVIA boys that volunteers matter and what the teens do to help their community makes an impact.

At the conclusion of Garcia’s speech, TVIA chapter president Katherine Foster presented a donation from TVIA to The Monarch School.

For more information about The Monarch School, go to https://www.monarchschools.org/. Click the “donate” button for ways to give.

Serving the north coastal communities of Del Mar, Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe, Cardiff, Encinitas and Carlsbad, Teen Volunteers in Action is an organization of young men committed to developing community leaders through a structured program of volunteerism, philanthropy and personal growth.

For more information on TVIA, see www.tvia.org.


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