South LA charter school sets positive example for helping low income, homeless students and families

More than 17,000 L.A. schoolkids are homeless. And now with the COVID-19 pandemic, educational inequities have been drawn into the spotlight.
SOUTH LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The numbers are alarming: more than 17,000 LA schoolkids are homeless. And now with the COVID-19 pandemic, educational inequities have been drawn into the spotlight. The working poor and those experiencing homelessness face the added challenges of shared computers, or no computers; and poor Wi-Fi. But as many of LAUSD's schools struggle to continue teaching, Crete Academy in South LA might become an example for how to help low income students and their families.

"Our model was designed to support kids in these situations... and thus we have the infrastructure and the personnel to address many of the needs that other schools are not able to," said Dr. Hattie Mitchell, Founder, Crete Academy.

Crete is a non-profit, LAUSD charter school founded in 2017 for students TK-6th, and is dedicated to fighting homelessness and poverty. They do that by focusing on the family not just the students, 30% of whom are homeless. Their annual toy giveaway last month is one way the school helps their students escape the images of homelessness that are just outside the school's gates.

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"The focus of this school is to provide support and wrap around services for all families that attend, but a specific focus on the families that need us the most. And that's why an event like this is so special," said Brett Mitchell, Principal, Crete Academy.

Staff also works to connect families to housing and healthcare, hoping to steer families to services that cost them little or nothing. And for parents, Crete hosts campus resume-writing and interview workshops. The school also has a wellness director who helps create an action plan for the family and regularly checks in to see how they are doing. It's that connection that has made navigating COVID more feasible.

"Little did we know that the relationships we have been cultivating the last four years is what would carry us through this time," said Mitchell.

"What makes them successful is not only having those things, but just knowing that, 'I come through those walls, and I can have those things if I need it,'" said Samantha Friedricks, 4th Grade teacher.

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In 1976, 35% of degrees earned by Black students came from HBCUs, but in 2018, that number had dropped to 13%, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

And on those walls of Crete Academy, college banners familiar to most, unheard of for many of the students here... but by seeing them every day kids begin to believe college is within reach.

"All of the schools that are listed we want them kids to see them regularly," said Mitchell. "We want them to know college is for them; we want them to dream and believe."

"The school gives them so many different opportunities, from nursing to police officer to teachers. So they open such a wide range of opportunities for the kids to choose from that they're still navigating what they want to be when they grow up but the school helps them a lot with that," said one parent.

Enrollment has increased 30-40 students a year and is now close to 200. When in-person learning resumes, it will be more manageable with a staff of 25, but also important, keeping overall enrollment low helps keep the family connections strong.
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