Children’s Institute Supports the Whole Child at Three Green Dot Schools


Green Dot Public Schools California has partnered with Children's Institute Community Schools to support three of our campuses with services for students, families, and our community as part of its commitment of fully supporting the whole child. Today, the Community Schools program provides students at Ánimo Legacy Charter Middle School, Ánimo Locke High School, and Ánimo Florence-Firestone Charter Middle School with resources to prepare students for college, leadership, and life. 

Natalie Garcia-Cruz, Community School supervisor for Animo Legacy Charter Middle School, said, "the purpose of the Community School is a partnership between the school and the Children's Institute, and bringing in community resources–A hub of resources." 

The Children's Institute Community School is both a place and a set of partnerships between schools and other community resources toward a shared focus on improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities. The program elements include health and wellness, college readiness, early childhood learning, family engagement, dual generation services, experiential learning services, restorative practices, and economic and community development. 

All students need is a consent form to join Children Institute's programming. No insurance is necessary, removing the barriers to services. 

Zena Roowala, the school mental health service program manager for Green Dot California, oversees all programs that provide mental health services at school sites, including Children's Institute’s Community Schools.

"This partnership has provided more comprehensive services to our schools and support for students, families, staff, and administrators at various levels,” Roowala said. “They're able to look at the resources and the services that are occurring currently at a school site and see how they can enhance them or develop partnerships for needs that are not currently met."  

More than anything, these schools are working to bring service to students, supporting them fully, and eliminating barriers to learning. Throughout the year, students face many challenges in education, but Community School representatives hope to provide opportunities to make students stronger by responding to the unique needs of each community. "We do an inventory of the services already at the school, and then we see where we can fill in the need,"Garcia-Cruz said. 

After all, it's all about the students.

"We wanted to get a sense of the school and the culture, you know, what students need? We were made aware that there is a large population of newcomers within our English Language Development (ELD) group of students. So we're currently working on bringing a provider who can give them legal counsel," said Wendy Gomez, the Community School supervisor at Ánimo Florence-Firestone Charter Middle School. 

All three teams at Green Dot California believe in framing mental health interventions as enhancements to students' performance in school rather than treatment for mental health issues

 "Our communities do not have mental health services widely available, and many times members of our community don't understand the importance of mental health, and there's a stigma behind it," said Maria Mungia, the Community School supervisor for Álain LeRoy Locke College Preparatory Academy. This framing is culturally significant as mental health can be stigmatized, however the school’s Community team works to provide culturally competent and inclusive services to all.

Setting up communities for success

"The goal is for them to be able to help the school be a place for the whole community so anyone can come in and receive resources and services, while continuing social-emotional support, to help eliminate the barriers to learning," Roowala said.

With extra attention to emotional support and programming to support the whole child, Roowala believes that students can focus on their learning. 

This approach to community and wellness has been beneficial in supporting students at Locke. She shared the story of a student who recently moved to a neighborhood near the school and felt alienated. The summer programming helped the student connect with other students during the soccer and photography courses provided by the Children's Institute. Mungia shared that "at that moment, I felt like he had someone he could connect with, and I'm hoping that at that moment, he felt like he belonged somewhere." 

Programming introduced this semester across the three schools includes Girls on the Run, photography classes, gardening classes, and Folklorico dance classes. All programming includes strategies to address the specific needs of students with underlying mental health awareness. 

All Are Welcome

The Community Schools’ teams are working to make programming more accessible to all students, hoping to ease frustration when signing up. "Instead of having people fill out a packet of forms, every time a student is going to participate in a program, we are doing one form a year," said Wendy Gomes, "it makes it much more manageable."

When reflecting on the future of Children Institute's programming, Gomez hopes to expand resources for the initiative. "We are working with the leadership to ensure we're bringing wanted and needed resources. That's the goal for all of us."

Bringing together relationships and assets of a neighborhood, Community Schools will continue to effectively utilize resources to advance the well-being of children and their families now and for college, leadership, and life.