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Friday, June 22, 2018

Commentary: How our LA charter high school is reimagining education for homeless and foster care youth | LA School Report

Photo: Erin Whalen
"As graduation season comes to a close, school leaders across the country have the opportunity to reflect on the way our schools are helping students from all walks of life prepare for their future, including students who are homeless, living in foster care, or experiencing challenges that prevent them from thriving in traditional school settings" says Erin Whalen, founding assistant vice principal at Da Vinci RISE High School.

Photo: Da Vinci RISE High

The harsh reality is that more than 63,000 homeless students live in Los Angeles County and another 28,000 are in foster care. In the face of such sobering statistics, a bright spot: education can be the tool that empowers our youth to rise above the circumstances they’ve been dealt, and charter schools are uniquely positioned to meet these students where they are and ultimately help them achieve stable and successful lives.

At Da Vinci RISE High School, we believe this is one of the biggest social justice issues of our time and aim to create intentional spaces for “disconnected” students to reach their full potential. Our students don’t have the option of focusing on just being students and consequently, school isn’t and can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. Yet, instead of providing additional support for these communities, bureaucratic school systems continue to disenfranchise and exclude them–pushing them out of the educational narrative altogether. Many of our students’ educational experiences have required them to check their experiences and identity at the door. This simply doesn’t work.

At RISE, we lead with the idea that our students already have the answers–and we need to listen. When we leverage their voices, instead of pushing them out, success inevitably follows. That’s why we created RISE hand in hand with the communities we seek to serve. Every component of our school, from curriculum to teaching staff, was built to meet our youth exactly where they are.

By continually engaging RISE scholars in conversations around what hasn’t worked for them in prior schools, what challenges get in the way of their education, and what kind of support they wished they had, we began to hear the same themes surface time and time again: accessibility issues, inflexible scheduling, and inadequate understanding and support from instructors.

Getting to school consistently can be one of the biggest hurdles students face. To remedy this, it was important for us to find a location for our school that would be easy for students to access. RISE is located in A Place Called Home, a safe and inclusive space for underserved youth in South Central LA, and we also have a facility in nearby Hawthorne. 
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Source: LA School Report