The new East Village facility will more than double student capacity
By Loralee Olejnik | Downtown News
The Monarch School, San Diego’s nationally recognized school serving the needs of homeless students, will be moving to a new location upon completion of its renovation. In front of a standing room-only crowd, the school held a groundbreaking ceremony Feb. 16 for their new campus in Downtown’s East Village.
The new school will be a complete remodel of the 51,000-square-foot warehouse at 1625 Newton Ave. near Petco Park and the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) hub. It will allow Monarch School to more than double enrollment and expand the programs they offer to San Diego students.
“Today is about helping children take flight,” said Monarch School CEO Ronne Froman, a retired Navy Admiral and former Chief Operating Officer for the city of San Diego. “This is the future of children’s education that are impacted by homelessness.”
Froman said the expansion process has taken approximately eight years. About $10 million of the roughly $15 million capital campaign has been raised through a combination of private and corporate donations. BYCOR General Contractors is overseeing the renovation.
In the still unfinished building with concrete floors and sheet rock, hundreds of students, staff, volunteers and philanthropists crowded into the planned multi-purpose room, which is the size of the current entire Monarch School located in Little Italy.
“Think of this building as a cocoon,” said Greg Cox of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, whose district borders the new school location. “We’ll come back in the fall and it will be a beautiful butterfly.” The new location is expected to be complete by October 2012.
Founded in 1988, the Monarch School is currently located at 808 W. Cedar St. across from the County Administration building. It serves students in Kindergarten through 12th grades, and they are currently at capacity with approximately 150 students at a time in a 10,000-square-foot building. The new building will have the capacity for 350 students, doubling the current number.
In addition, the school provides students access to health and dental care, food, clothing and transportation. It has broad community support, ranging from a large contingent of volunteers who do everything from tutor students as well as drive them to doctor’s appointments, to support from local businesses like Specialty Produce. The produce company donates fresh fruits and vegetables every day for the students to eat.
The Monarch School is unique, not only in regard to the extensive community support it receives, but also in the relationships it develops. “Yes, it’s great to have a quality building, but what’s most important [are] these children and adults and the quality of interaction between them every day,” said Dr. Randolph Ward, superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education.
Ward addressed a group of Monarch students at the groundbreaking, saying, “Look around you and look at the people who care about you. You’ve heard that overused phrase, ‘It takes a village.’ This is it.”
Mayor Jerry Sanders attended the groundbreaking and said, “It’s amazing to me, but the Monarch School is the only one of its kind in the country.” Sanders said the Monarch template should be replicated across the country.
In a report provided by the foster youth and homeless services department at the San Diego County Office of Education, the County had 15,870 homeless students in the 2010 – 2011 school year. This number is approximately 2,000 more than the prior year. Because of their unstable living situations, frequent absences and need to move between different schools often, these students quickly fall behind and lose access to educational opportunities.
“This new campus is about leveling the playing field for our students,” said Joel Garcia, principal of the Monarch School. “The one thing that will not change is the climate, the feel of the school… [which is] a high academic and social experience in an environment that is nurturing.”
Garcia said the school will offer high school students the basic academic courses that are required to attend public universities. About 71 percent of students that graduate from Monarch School enroll in some form of post-secondary education.
In statistics provided by the Monarch School, the average student arrives nearly three years behind standard grade levels, yet the students progress approximately one academic year for every six months they are in attendance.
Fabian San Elias, a senior, came to Monarch in November 2010 after his family found themselves homeless after losing their home in the housing crisis.
“Before I came to Monarch, my dreams and goals were gone,” San Elias said. “I started to believe I was going to be a high school dropout based on the way things were going.”
Nearing graduation, San Elias said he now wants to be a teacher and counselor so he can “inspire young minds like [I] was inspired at Monarch.”