Funders’ Collaborative for High-Quality School Options: A focus on the Whole-Child

Since its inception in 2011, the Trust has managed the Funders’ Collaborative for High-Quality School Options, a unique collaboration of local and regional funders who are committed to ensuring that all Newark students have access to high-quality school options.

In the 2014-15 academic year, Newark schools faced an unprecedented number of changes as a result of significant restructuring plans implemented by the district.

In an effort to increase the number of high-quality school options, the Trust broadened the program to those schools that were greatly impacted to help ease the transition into the new year, while avoiding and/or responding to inevitable implementation issues.

A total of 13 schools were selected. Despite their unique challenges, all schools were united around a common desire to adopt a more holistic and integrated approach to improving student outcomes, particularly during times of instability and uncertainty.

School Profile: Luis Muñoz Marin

Principal: Maria Ortiz

Project: Creation of a Therapeutic Learning Center

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 The Therapeutic Learning Center provides a safe haven and oasis for students.

Luis Muñoz Marin elementary, is a PreK-8 school for social change located in the North Ward, serving approximately 1,000 students.

In 2014-15, Luis Munoz entered its first year as a ReNew school with 90 percent new faculty and support staff teachers and administration, including a new principal, Maria Ortiz.

When Principal Ortiz first arrived at the school, she conducted a thorough data analysis of the state of school. Through that analysis, data revealed some concerning findings.

For example, the analysis showed during the 2013-2014, a series of student incidents resulted in the endangerment of teachers’ safety due to high levels of student misconduct. Additionally, the data highlighted that a high percentage of teachers did not feel supported and believed that the school’s culture of achievement was compromised as evidenced by high reported suspensions of students.

With full implementation of One Newark, the school ended up serving additional 250 students from varied backgrounds and socio-emotional needs. With many students entering an unfamiliar space and a history of behavioral issues, school staff knew that the focus had to be on increasing the availability of social and emotional supports and services.

Therapeutic Learning Center

To respond to these challenges, Luis Munoz created the Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC). The goal of the TLC is to provide a safe haven for students, support staff, and teachers to; establish more positive relationships, handle challenging decisions constructively and ethically, and develop care and concern for others.

Starting as an empty storage room, Principal Ortiz and her staff used funds to transform the space into a welcoming and relaxing learning environment. This center serves as a multi-sensory and nurturing space where students self-initiate and self-regulate their behaviors and habits and teachers utilize restorative practices to better serve the unique needs of their students.

Through partnerships with local mental health agencies and providers, the center has provided a wealth of social and emotional supports for the school community.

Since the launch of the center, administrators have reported that:

  • Students feel more empowered because they have a voice and are receiving individualized attention;
  • Students have acquired new and engaging approaches to express their emotions appropriately;
  • In this new setting, students feel more content, relaxed, focused, and comfortable;
  • Students have fostered more positive and close interactions with faculty.

In the coming year, Luis Munoz Marin plans to expand its current programming to middle school grades. The Trust looks forward to continuing to work with our current cohort to strengthen social and emotional supports and programs across the system.

We look forward to featuring other schools in our next newsletter.

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