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First-ever study on social, emotional development for unhoused students

University of San Diego study found Monarch School students rated high in social skills, self-esteem, and sense of belonging.

SAN DIEGO — San Diego's Monarch School serves unhoused youth. A first-of-its-kind study at the University of San Diego proves the school's success in helping students educationally, socially, and emotionally.

The Monarch School in Barrio Logan is the only school in the nation dedicated to teaching unhoused students. It's more than just a place where students learn but also where they're overcoming trauma.

"When you think about the unhoused population, you probably start reflecting on their lack. They lack housing, access to basic resources, and financial means. Still, the study shines a light on what they possess," said KishaLynn Elliott, the Operations & Evaluation Vice President for Monarch Schools Project.

The Monarch School is fostering their growth. Art is being used as a form of therapy. Kids are finding healing through each stroke of a paintbrush.

"Art is important. We expected that. We saw that, but now we have the data to show that," Elliott said.

The University of San Diego studied the students and school for three years. It found kids in art therapy had huge growth compared to kids that weren't involved.

"These students are living in trauma. We are creating a safe environment for them at the Monarch School. Still, you imagine how they see themselves is reflective of their conditions when it is reflective of their social-emotional potential," she said. 

The kids rated high in social skills, self-esteem, and sense of belonging from the start of the study and continued to grow over time.

"They're taking this opportunity to repair harm in their lives, to restore themselves and build themselves. I think seeing that come out in the data supports the work Monarch is doing," said Lisa Smith, a University of San Diego researcher involved in the study.

Smith said a second study with the Monarch School is underway to better look at pre and post-pandemic results.

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