A homeless child often carries their entire life in a backpack, and in San Joaquin County, hundreds of children live with so little to call their own. Thanks to tireless efforts made by Stockton’s one.TLC School, homeless children receive an education, support services and an abundance of TLC. According to Sara Garfield, Founder and Executive Director of one.TLC Foundation (Transitional Learning Center), the school is one of two sanctioned public schools in the United States dedicated to serving homeless students– the other in San Diego.
Sara founded the school with the assistance of David Brewer and Helen Crane while teaching at California State University, Stanislaus and volunteering at St. Mary’s Dining Room in 1991. “I realized that there were a lot of children not in school,” she says.
Since its inception in 1992, the school assists students grades K-6 and is operated by the San Joaquin Office of Education in collaboration with the one.TLC School Foundation and the Stockton Unified School District.
The most recent homeless population, estimated by San Joaquin County, totals approximately 1,500 – nearly a third of those being children. While this number fluctuates, Jill De Herrera, the school’s Foundation Administrator, says the school serves 100 of those children each year. The school’s mission is to provide stability and “a safe, positive, nurturing environment that meets basic needs, including breakfast, lunch, nutritional programs, clothing, school supplies, toiletries, books and family services,” says Sara.
“We provide a strong academic program with individualized assessment and instruction, and a teacher-student ratio of 1:5. Students achieve 1-2 years documented growth in reading skills in 60 to 90 days. We also provide medical, dental, and vision referrals, mentors, counselors and follow up for transition back to neighborhood schools, once the family is in stable housing.”
“Homeless children come from various backgrounds and circumstances,” says Sara, “A majority of our children show symptoms of neglect, abuse, depression, lack of consistency in their education and lack of stability in their home life. These factors impair their ability to learn and flourish in most educational environments. one.TLC School is their most stable environment, which enables the children to learn and thrive.”
“We have a very giving community,” adds Jill, “If we weren’t here, chances are these children wouldn’t be in school.” The school sees children who’ve never been in a classroom, can’t read, or hold a pencil. Their’s is a whole child approach, declares Sara, “Children cannot learn if they are hungry, tired and traumatized. Our goal is to keep children in school and assure that we’re meeting their physical, psychological, social and educational needs while giving them the skills and equipment they need.” Door-to-door transportation is also provided to ensure reliable transport to class each day.
All of this is possible through the county and community support. Whether it’s your time, clothing, or money, both Jill and Sara say the school is always encouraging and grateful for any and all donations.
Along with the leadership of SJCOE, the one.TLC Foundation, SUSD, community donations and volunteers (which they always welcome), Sara also credits the amazing staff of accredited teachers, administrators, volunteers, and community supporters who make the school what it is. However, she says, the children who demonstrate incredible resiliency and appreciation are her greatest teachers. “They deserve all the credit.”
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22 S. Van Buren, Stockton