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Educating California’s Disadvantaged Children

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March 18, 2015

In 1992, the community of South Central Los Angeles was the center of riots and civil unrest. Amid the uncertainty and chaos emerged a program to help educate both parents and children alike—South Central Los Angeles Ministry Project (LAMP). Started by eight congregations of Catholic sisters who wanted to make a positive impact on the low-income, primarily Latino community, South Central LAMP serves women and children who are often overlooked and underserved.

Offering educational opportunities through a family literacy program, early childhood education and prekindergarten, as well as a two-week summer enrichment program for children up to age twelve, South Central LAMP engages parents as partners in their child’s development.

“Our main goal is to let the parents know they are their child’s first teacher,” said South Central LAMP’s Executive Director Diana Pinto.

Educating one hundred children each weekday, South Central LAMP focuses on parent participation. Through Parent and Child Interactive Literacy Activities (PCILA), parents join their children in the classroom to work on literacy learning activities together. Daily attendance is taken and shared homework assignments are given.

“We find ways to help bond parents with children,” Pinto said. She continued, “It is important to have expectations for children and parents to help them grow.”

South Central LAMP also provides support services through their Family Advocacy Program. The Family Advocate meets with families in the program to set goals, provide referrals and other information.

“We teach parents how to advocate for themselves and their children,” said Pinto.

Although South Central LAMP programs don’t include religious teachings, their founding congregations are still involved in promoting the mission of providing support to economically poor women and their families through volunteers, grants and board membership.

Like South Central LAMP, Sacramento’s Mustard Seed School also provides an education for an often underserved population. Established in 1989 as a program offered by Sacramento Loaves and Fishes, Mustard Seed School offers schooling to homeless children from pre-school through eighth grade.

Since the school’s inception, it has served more than 5,500 children. According to Mustard Seed’s director, Angela Hassell, the children’s backgrounds and family dynamics vary widely. Most of them aren’t able to attend public school due to lack of a birth certificate, immunization records or a permanent address. Mustard Seed provides an education until they are enrolled in the public school system.

“We’re an emergency school. The average stay here is about one month. Our primary goal is to help find stability for the family and get the kids into public school,” Hassell explained.

Mustard Seed educates about 30-35 children per weekday, with an ever-changing array of students. In addition, the school provides outreach and support staff to assist the families with other needs, such as counseling and medical and dental screenings.

Mustard Seed has two Jesuit Volunteer Corps positions included in its staff and many of its volunteers come from nearby Catholic high schools and churches. Hassell added that Sister Libby Fernandez, Executive Director of Loaves and Fishes, is a member of the religious order Sisters of Mercy.

“We receive a lot of support from the faith community, specifically, the Catholic community,” said Hassell.

Hassell started as a teacher at Mustard Seed School over 11 years ago when she was a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She has been the school’s director for about six years and says the most fulfilling part of her job is her day-to-day work with the kids.

“Seeing the kids get excited about learning is the biggest reward,” Hassell said.


South Central Los Angeles Ministry Project

Mustard Seed School – Loaves and Fishes, Sacramento