Tucked behind a church off Roscoe Boulevard in Northridge sits a small charter school working to support, not just its students, but their families and the larger community.
On Saturday, Sept. 29, Magnolia Science Academy-7 Northridge (MSA-7) held its third annual Community Resource Fair. Free and open to the public, the fair had 17 booths that provided everything from on-site COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots to diapers, compost bins, mental health services and financial advice.
“Here you can do a one-stop shop. You can come here, you can get your vaccine, you can get some diapers, you can make connections with other organizations,” said Meagan Wittek, principal of MSA-7.
“Our goal is to be the liaison, and take away the work from the community and our families of having to find these resources.”
Some of the community partners included Baby2Baby, Dignity Health, Southern California Medical Center, ONE Generation, New Horizons and Plaza Comunitaria Sinaloa.
Additionally, there were opportunities for the community to engage with public servants, including representatives from the LAPD, State Sen. Caroline Menjivar’s office and LA City Councilmember John Lee, who made a personal appearance.
“When you help the family, you help the children,” said Lee.
He admired the fair for providing resources for families as a whole, and “resources that are so incredibly needed today, like mental health for young people.”
What started in 2021 as a local site to administer COVID-19 vaccinesgrew to include other community partners in the second year as the school recognized the expanded needs of the community. And this year, it doubled in size.
“I had some stress this morning, but when I came here I felt more energetic,” said Maria Choudhury, a parent of a child who attends MSA-7.
Choudhury, who also brought her sister-in-law to the resource fair, had a box filled with a month’s worth of diapers, shampoo and other basic necessities.
“You know, we don’t feel ashamed to take anything,” she said, reflecting on how at ease the school staff made her feel with accepting help.
This reaction is the kind of comfort and support that the school aims to provide. “It’s important for families to know they’re not alone,” said Cecilia Macias, the community school coordinator at MSA-7.
“I want families to feel comfortable and to understand that you can come and ask us for help. We’re here. If I don’t have it, I’m going to find it. I’m going to find some partnership to bring in that resource.”
The resource fair is just one way the school is providing for its community.
MSA-7 is one of the 10 tuition-free charter schools in the Magnolia Public School (MPS) network, which uses a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) focused project-based learning curriculum. In their mission statement, they cite using a “whole-child” approach.
“Part of that is the extension of the whole family and the whole community. So we know that we have to have a healthy community, healthy school community, healthy families in order for our whole child to really be taken care of,” said Wittek.
MSA-7 serves 280 to 300 students from kindergarten to fifth grade. Many students are economically disadvantaged, with 80% of students receiving free or a reduced cost lunch and many come from single-family households. Additionally, a third of the students are ESL (English as a second language) learners, with about 15 students residing in this country for less than a year.
“In order to truly become a community school, you need to know what are the needs of the people in your community,” said Macias.
One family, a single mom with three kids, was evicted from their home in the Northridge area after the rent was increased. They relocated to Victorville since that was all they could afford. So that her kids didn’t have to be uprooted from both their home and school, the mom made the commute every day for six months. MSA-7 got donations of gas cards and gas money from local churches to help the family during that time.
Some of the other ways the school tries to address the needs of its student demographics are by providing financial literacy, immigration support, language classes, therapy, food assistance and more.
“When the family unit is strong, then we know the child is strong, and they can succeed better and perform better when they’re here at school because a lot of those barriers are removed for them,” Wittek said.
By alleviating the burden for the families, Wittek hopes that it will help the students thrive in the classroom.
“I wish I had a school like this when I was in elementary [school] because there’s so much support,” said Tiffany James, a parent of a third grader at MSA-7.
James noted some of the resources their family has taken advantage of, from after-school clubs to free mental health therapy. Not only did her daughter get one-on-one therapy sessions, but the therapist also came once a week to their home for family therapy to help facilitate conversations about things her daughter might have a hard time communicating.
“She’s really grown, like just with her self-confidence. And I think academically she’s at a fifth-grade reading level,” said James about her daughter. “She’s just thrived here. It’s such a community.”
With new grant funding from the California Department of Education, MSA-7 has the opportunity to scale up the services they provide.
“We would love to be able to have just this beautiful place for our families to go into and get whatever they need,” said Wittek, describing a dream of opening a parent and community center on campus fully equipped with a food pantry, a hygiene health center and a community closet.
“We’re a little ways away from that at this point, but this grant definitely helps close that gap between dream versus reality.”
The resource fair doubled in size this year, in part due to the school’s recent accreditation as a community site through the Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP). Established in 2020, the program seeks to give resources to schools to establish them as hubs for the larger community, in order to address barriers to learning.
“This program was established during the pandemic when they [the California government] noticed that schools were the hubs, schools were the ones feeding children, schools were the ones providing resources,” said Macias.
Through the grant, MSA-7 was able to hire Macias as a full-time community school coordinator and to bring in other programs, resources and services for the students and families.
“They [MSA-7] were already doing the work of a community school. They just didn’t have that title. They just didn’t have those extra funds,” said Macias.
The school is already thinking about how to improve next year’s resource fair and how it can continue to be a hub for the community.
“We want to make sure that the whole family is taken care of, the community is taken care of, so that we can do our job of educating the students here,” said Wittek.