Esek Hopkins Middle School in Providence, Rhode Island “culture coordinator” Carina Monge is working to connect with students, parents, and local officials to bring her Rhode Island school community closer together.

She's one of seven culture coordinators hired by the district to help address chronically low academic performance. At Esek Hopkins and other district schools, the culture coordinators are inspiring students to re-engage with their studies, and to work through life's struggles, the Providence Journal reports.

Culture coordinator Monge, who is bilingual, spends much of her days building relationships – with students, faculty and families – in a variety of different ways, from connecting with Spanish-speaking parents who may be leery of officials, to working with students with excessive absences, local police, and teens dealing with trauma.

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture strongly support this emphasis on culture. A students learning environment also includes the student’s mental state, home life, and after school community. James Hunter writes, “The form of character is one thing, but the substance of character always takes shape relative to the culture in which it is found” (The Tragedy of Moral Education in America, p. 6). Shaping this culture positively is crucial.

Monge launched “power lunches” and hands out Hula-Hoops to get kids moving, and invites officials like Providence police officer Taylor Britto in to chat with students and offer encouragement.

“When I first got here, school lunch was kind of sad,” Britto told the news site. “Now the kids are smiling. They’re engaged.”

“She has created such a positive environment,” officer Britto said.

Monge helped students launch an LGTBQ club and find an advisor, connected local musicians with the school band, brought in processionals from the community to speak at Career Day, and linked students with summer jobs programs. She also offers her office as a “quiet room” reprieve for overwhelmed students, and works with others to settle disputes and determine discipline.

“She exudes positivity,” music teacher Marilyn Russo told the Journal. “I see kids coming out of their shells.”

“By the time they leave her office, they’re smiling,” Britto said. “To have someone who makes them feel safe … it’s so important.”

Students seem to agree, with one girl telling the Journal her life has changed since she joined the LGTBQ club.

“It made me feel more comfortable,” she said. “Miss Russo and (Youth) Pride have given me a confidence I never had before.”

It would be great if every school had a person like Carina Monge on staff to help students face exceptional challenges and adversity in their lives.  Many schools do not have such a staff member.  However, teachers can help students flourish despite their circumstances by getting help from the UK's The Jubilee Centre by looking at the Centre resource for teachers about Flourishing From the Margins.


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