In the heart of Lennox, a small community near Inglewood, California, is a three-story building with a small courtyard spanning just one block. This is Ánimo Leadership Charter High School, a modest school that has built a tight-knit community where students feel equipped to tackle life after high school.
Ánimo Leadership has continued to be one of Green Dot Public School California's top-performing schools, consistently ranking in the top one percent of high schools in the nation. Principal Danielle Berger believes this achievement is made possible by Ánimo Leadership’s commitment to academic rigor and the success of its students.
"I want every student to leave our gates equipped to be successful after high school," Berger said. "I want every student to feel a part of a supportive community with the desire to eventually give back to the community and continue a life of service to where they came from."
Berger's long-standing education career started in 2007 at Redondo Union High School, where she was an English teacher and a swimming and water polo coach. Fast forward to 2012, Berger joined Ánimo Leadership as an English teacher and taught the subject at 10th Grade level for five years.
When Berger first arrived at Ánimo Leadership, the thing that struck her was the community. Before her arrival she taught in high schools with over one thousand students, she expected a similar experience as in previous opportunities. But Ánimo Leadership was different. Here, she could focus on giving students the tools they need to succeed, in a school that has been committed to support the whole child with mental health services and community resources for all students.
"We care about them not just as scholars but also as people," Berger said. "We care that they and their families are safe, comfortable, successful, and I think they really feel that support."
Coming Full Circle
Ánimo Leadership’s reputation and reciprocated connection with the Lennox community made it the choice for many generations of families. In Berger's twenty years at the school, she's seen cousins, siblings, and returning parents of alumni who have enjoyed their experience at Ánimo Leadership. Alumni have also come back to the school as office assistants, coaches, teachers, and counselors.
"It is a community where every student feels welcomed, nurtured, accepted for who they are and when they leave our school, come back and give back in some way," Berger said. She also acknowledges who influenced her “give back” attitude: Berger’s Redondo Union High School swim coach and biology teacher, Mark Rubke.
"The one person that inspired me to go into education and create these relationships with students – I felt like he really believed in me and pushed me to be the best version of myself."
The community culture at Ánimo Leadership comes from an open-door policy and consideration of feedback. Berger says that being a school leader involves listening to stakeholders such as students, parents, teachers, and staff. She believes that taking everyone's input into consideration is the key to a strong community culture.
"I want students to know that their best interest is always at the heart of my decisions."