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Mona Speaks found solace in her female friendships growing up and is now watching the same scenario unfold for her students at Seavey Circle, a community of low-income housing units in Downtown Sacramento.
“It’s kind of like we have our own women’s support group here. They can come talk about their days or their lives or whatever they need to,” Mona said. “I just let my students know that I am here to help them with whatever they need – no judgement.”
This was evident when one student stopped by to ask Mona for some help understanding insurance paperwork for her deceased grandmother.
“I like that they know they can come ask me for help with whatever and not feel uncomfortable. I’m sure some of them have people they can go to for help, but most of them don’t,” she said.
Fortunately for Mona, she discovered this comfort at an early age and is able to shed some light into this community building as a constructive practice within her classroom.
“When I was a teenager, and a kid, I went through lots of different stuff. I mean trauma I guess you could say. So I really can empathize with people who went through similar situations,” Mona remembers. “Dealing with my past trauma took a lot of time and was supported through my friendships with strong, supportive women. I unfortunately do not have a real close relationship with my mom so the relationships with friends helped me find my strength.”
This sense of community is what many students at Seavey Circle have been missing before.
“I love that these classes are helping them find one another in their community, because they may have passed each other walking around more than once, but never knew how much they had in common or got along,” Mona reflected.
Just the other day, Mona said, I heard two women discussing their learning disabilities in the kitchen here. I heard one say she thinks she needs to hire a tutor, and another woman from across the room told them to come on over because every night and they can all work together to study.
Mona said she always knew that she wanted to do social work which would invoke a change in the daily lives of everyday people.
So, she started out her education in liberal studies and eventually completed it with a BA and a teaching credential. She then went on to 7 rich years within the education sector, which all centered on K-12 education within the Waldorf Schooling System. In fact, Mona only considered working with adults after being persuaded by Highlands’ Counselor Sherry Franklin to join the team.
Regardless, Mona started with Highlands only last summer and has taken off running with the full admiration of her students in tow. In fact, she plans on incorporating yoga and counseling resources into her curriculum soon to additionally support her unique student population.
Her first priority though, she said, is emboldening her students to discover their passion and desire to succeed.
“It’s nice that when they come here they can look around and see that everyone is focused and working towards a goal and it’s a positive thing and they can feel that when they come here. So that’s great,” she said. “Like many of my students, I struggled through high school, but I always tell them how different college is and how much I loved college.”
While college is not for everyone, Mona’s goal is to encourage her students to follow their dreams.
“I don’t want them to just finish here and get a job to have a job,” Mona said. “I just want people to be happy in their work. I know what it is like, like when I worked at the state, to be unhappy at work and feel unsatisfied.”
This is why Mona spends quality time each week researching programs and educational tracks that will be useful and interesting to each of her individual students.
“One of my students is rehabilitating a squirrel and so I am emphasizing for her to look into a vet tech program, while another student used to be a caregiver and caretaker, has come upon death and is comfortable with it, so I encouraged her to check out mortuary assistant programs.”
Regardless of the situation, it is clear – with Mona, her students come first.