When the Monarch School for students experiencing homelessness was forced to close early last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students lost more than a campus. They lost stability, critical support and access to essential services that Monarch provides, such as physical and mental health services, food, clothing, showers, parent resources and much more.
Victor Rodriguez, a senior at the Monarch School, was sleeping with his younger brother and parents in their family car even before COVID-19. Because education was critical for Victor and his family, they would rely on internet access in places such as public libraries to complete their schoolwork. But that all changed when the pandemic hit.
When libraries and other public spaces shut down, it became harder to complete daily homework assignments and keep up with classes. Then the Monarch School stepped in and provided Victor and his family with support.
Thanks to grant support from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, the Monarch School was able to provide hotel vouchers to students and families like Victor so they could regain access to basic resources.
A public-private partnership between the nonprofit Monarch School Project and the San Diego County Office of Education, the school is the largest and most comprehensive K-12 program for homeless students in the country. Monarch School staff serve up to 300 students like Victor every day and because of the nature of the students’ lives, the wraparound programs and services are critical to the success of each individual.
Thanks to the $100,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund and other generous supporters throughout San Diego, Monarch School was able to pivot quickly by not only providing online learning but also meals, housing resources, clothing, personal protective equipment, and converted many of its existing staff to serve as case managers to provide regular check-ins to further support their student, family and alumni needs.
“I’m really proud of the work that the Monarch School team has done these past months,” said Director of Student Engagement Katie Bradel. “I see it in the faces of our families when they come to distributions to receive gift cards for groceries. I see it when I’m talking with kids on Zoom classes online. We’ve been able to figure out, not without its challenges, how to keep that community and keep those relationships blossoming.”
Mara, a parent of a current Monarch School student, shared why the support has been so important.
“When COVID happened, I was employed, but I was also pregnant which meant I was in the high-risk category and had to stop working,” she explained. “So with the kids not going to school and me without work, we didn’t have many places to turn for support. [Monarch School] helped me for a month with a hotel when I was looking for a place for my family. I’m really grateful.”
More help, though, is needed. Nearly eight months after the pandemic upended lives throughout the region, Monarch School, along with most San Diego schools, remains shuttered and faces the challenges of supporting their students through a much longer closure than anyone imagined.
Across the country, there are more than 1.3 million youth experiencing homelessness and 22,000 in San Diego County alone. These students can be found sleeping in shelters, on our streets, or doubled or tripled up with other families night to night.
“Think about your own kids,” said CEO Afira Devries. “Think about your own families. Think about what this time is like for all of us now. Now imagine what that would be like for a child that isn’t sure where they’re going to sleep from one night to the next. For a family that isn’t sure what stability is going to mean at any time, and especially now.”
Devries continued, “This is an organization that has always made it possible for kids to walk through a door and recognize that they’re not alone, that here they can get the education that they need and deserve to have the best life possible and to feel like they belong. The reality, though, is that’s not something you find everywhere, it’s something that’s special and it’s something that absolutely has to be protected, through anything that comes our way, including the uncertainty that we’re living through now.
“What we have to do now is make sure that it’s possible for children to find the emotional, physical, and educational support that they find here. And we have to do it in ways that are unconventional and new.”
The Community Response Fund has been doing its part by being at the forefront of helping tens of thousands of area residents ranging from preschoolers to seniors, who have found themselves impacted by the relentless economic and social impacts of COVID-19.
You can help by donating today.