Neighborhood Schools Offer New Vision for Supporting South LA

November 6, 2019
Ryan Imondi

Earlier this fall, we launched our Neighborhood Schools Initiative, which aims to support an entire school or preschool community with services for students, their families, teachers and administrators.

The program launched at three schools in South LA that form a “feeder pattern,” which supports the same kids as they move from preschool through 12th grade. There are roughly 1,000 students between the three schools that include CII’s Jordan Downs Head Start, Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary and Animo College Prep Academy.

At the heart of the program is the Neighborhood School Director who partners with school leadership to identify needs and rally around a shared goal. Each Neighborhood School Director identifies issues facing students and finds resources to support children and families by connecting them with specific CII programs along with other community-based organizations like LA’s Best and Turnaround Arts. This year we are focusing on addressing chronic absenteeism.

CII Neighborhood Schools

Services will vary according to the needs of each site, but all schools will have access to mental health and other wraparound services for students and their families, many of whom have experienced high levels of trauma. In addition, we will provide training and support for teachers and parents and we have placed clinicians and parent partners at the schools. At Florence Griffith Joyner, for example, we have introduced our soccer program that used to take place at a park in Watts.

Mary Brougher, Director of Experiential Learning & Neighborhood Schools, said that the combined resources of many different providers, coordinated by the Neighborhood School Directors, will improve the overall health and well-being of students, and in turn, boost educational success.

With extra attention devoted to emotional wellness, along with additional programming across tutoring, sports and arts, Brougher predicts absenteeism will drop, school culture will improve, and more students will be focused on their next level of education, whether that’s kindergarten or college.

“Each Neighborhood School will be a one-stop shop based on the specific goals of each school community,” she said. “You bring the opportunities to where they are and they take it from there.”

Lali Alvarez, Neighborhood School Director for Jordan Downs Head Start, said each Neighborhood School is about working hand in hand with schools, families and the larger community to address trauma and community violence. For Jordan Downs, she said this approach helps foster family participation at home and in the classroom, making families aware of developmental delays, child development milestones and identifying their own family needs to ensure positive health and wellbeing.

“I am excited that the Watts community will have continuity with the three schools identified,” Alvarez said. “We are following a student from as young as 18 months to 18 years old and seeing them through their educational trajectory, and the overall strengthening of their family unit.”

Learn more about CII’s Neighborhood Schools Team:

  • Mary Brougher

    Director of Experiential Learning & Neighborhood Schools
    Mary will oversee Neighborhood Schools including program design, roll out and day-to-day management. Prior to developing the Neighborhood Schools Initiative, she oversaw CII’s Experiential Learning Program. Mary is a state and nationally licensed Recreation Therapist with over 25 years in the mental health field.

  • Lali Alvarez

    Neighborhood School Director
    Jordan Downs Head Start
    Lali joined CII to work on Neighborhood Schools and brings 14 years of experience supporting education-focused programs. An LA native and first generation college graduate, she earned a BA in Sociology from California State University, Dominguez Hills and a Master’s in Education from Pepperdine University.

  • Robin Leach

    Neighborhood School Director
    Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary 
    Robin is moving over to Neighborhood Schools after six years of working at CII on community-based programs in Watts. Prior to joining CII, Robin spent 10 years working as a teacher at LAUSD. She is a Los Angeles native and graduate of USC with a Master of Business Administration and BS in International Finance.

  • Nawal Salim

    Neighborhood School Director
    Amino College Prep
    Nawal has been with CII since October 2018 and is transitioning into Neighborhood Schools from CII’s Experiential Learning Program. Before starting at CII, she served in program support roles within New York City schools implementing a similar model to the Neighborhood Schools Initiative. Nawal is a Southern California native who has a BA in Sociology from University of California, Riverside and a Master of Social Work from the Columbia University School of Social Work.