The Barrio Logan College Institute Moves in with Monarch School
By Frances O’Neill Zimmerman
From late afternoon to early evening daily, a bilingual team of eight devoted staffers works throughout the week with 200 committed barrio kids — some as young as Grade 3 — establishing curriculum, coordinating tutors, arranging for in-house speakers and field trips, setting up collaborative learning experiences, conferring with parents, interfacing with students whose names and histories they know well.
This is Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI) where students absorb what an old teacher friend of mine used to call “the culture of school.”
Learning how to study. How to shake hands in greeting and goodbye, with an abrazo here and there. Tutorials in language arts and math. Goal-setting. Learning about self-organization, follow-through, discipline, promptness. How to be resilient when there’s disappointment.
BLCI students will be the first in their families to go to university, knowing they are following patterns set by these mentors on the staff. Development director Luis Murillo, 30, has for now set aside an earlier interest in law school, saying, “I love what we do here.”
Barrio Logan College Institute is on Main Street at the corner of Beardsley, in the gentrifying heart of Barrio Logan, just across from Perkins Elementary. Perkins was BLCI’s first client school. After almost two decades in a rented one-story building with an open front door and a bright mural of children on the exterior wall, BLCI is preparing to move.
A spin-off of BLCI will be established this summer at Castle Park Elementary in Chula Vista, thanks to a $30-million five-year federal “Promise Neighborhood” grant and 14 key public and private partners.
And the original BLCI will move a few blocks west to shared space in a new building owned and occupied by the K-12 Monarch School for homeless kids. BLCI executive director Jose Cruz, 32, calls this shift “moving from a sustainable model to expansion.”
One wonders if Barrio Logan passersby won’t miss seeing BLCI at the corner of Beardsley and Main as a proud signpost of communal vitality and their kids’ ganas. One wonders if this is good fit for these two very different institutions. Presumably they will productively co-exist, independent of one another. BLCI will offer college readiness preparation for Monarch kids, but homeless transience may limit success of the BLCI model.
Each school will retain its own leadership according to BLCI director Cruz who is a graduate of SDSU, worked at UCSD in science outreach and has a Master’s in Education from Harvard University. Monarch’s CEO is Erin Spiewak who also sits on the Board of the controversial Downtown Charter High at the yet-to-open new Central Library.
Monarch School began as a drop-in center for homeless youngsters in 1987. It started near Little Italy with one teacher and support from the County Office of Education. It became a favored project of downtown movers and shakers such as Malin Burnham and Admiral Ronne Froman, one-time Monarch board president and recent interim CEO, respectively.
Froman is now head of the Monarch board. After raising $15 million and getting a $5 million gift from Canadian developer Nat Bosa and his wife Flora, the Monarch School in 2011 got City Council/CCDC (successor) approval to buy and remodel what formerly had been the site of the City Housing Commission — and one-time City homeless shelter — located in East Village at 1625 Newton Avenue. The new Monarch School opened there last month.
BLCI is an entirely free after-school program that focuses on four-year-college-as-a-goal for mostly Latino students from grades 3 -12, drawn from public, charter and private schools across the city of San Diego.
The day I visited, there were kids from UCSD Preuss, Darnall, Pacific Beach Middle, La Jolla High, Bishop’s School, Nativity Prep, High Tech High, Grant, Perkins and Kimbrough Elementary.
The BLCI operation functions on a spare budget of $770,000 a year with an average gift of about $12,000. There is no public funding and the recession has hurt everyone involved. BLCI students’ median household income is $20,000 a year for a family of four.
BLCI students usually are children of newcomer parents who speak English as a second language, struggle economically, deeply value the importance of education but know little about the labyrinth of college preparation requirements, applications and scholarship funding processes and possibilities.
Families participate in BLCI’s program — 100 parents attend an annual 10-week workshop which emphasizes practical information as well as how to forge loving open communication between Mexican immigrant mothers and fathers and their very Americanized offspring. The education bug is contagious: four BLCI parents are presently working on their own GED diplomas.
In this year’s BLCI senior class, there are 11 students. In the past, BLCI had offered four $5000/year scholarships over each of four years, but austerities have halved that figure now to $2500 over the same time. SDSU guarantees free admission to up to three qualified BLCI students.
All seniors have mastered filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and are required to apply for 10 outside scholarships as well as for BLCI partnership grants. They have worked on their college applications’ personal statements since they were juniors. They have learned the ropes. They are ready to go to a university.
Pacific Beach Middle School seventh grader Stacy Alvarado sums it up:
“At BLCI you learn … you’re not alone.You don’t fall apart. There’s someone to help you. I’ve been here since 4th grade and this place is like a second home.”
And when a student goes off to college, the helping link is maintained: BLCI staffer and mentor Gaby Kovats-Murillo stays in touch with the student and her family. Again, director Jose Cruz:
“No one does this alone. A lot of people are invested in these kids’ success.”
Fran Zimmerman has lived here since 1970. She appreciates her local relatives — two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandkids. A Democrat, she has taught English as a Second Language to adults and History and Literature to public high school students. She was elected to the San Diego Unified Board of Education from 1996 through 2004.Today she’s an elected trustee to the La Jolla Community Planning Association, reads aloud to pre-schoolers and shares the nearby beach with the former Governor of Massachusetts. Her first job out of Radcliffe College in 1960 was at the Boston Globe.
Photos by Brent Beltrán