For Karina Moreno, part of the first PLACE Corps cohort and now principal at Dolores Mission Elementary School, living with other like-minded individuals who were going through the same program was an experience she will never forget. PLACErs tend to live in groups of 6-12, in renovated convents. At large-group monthly masses and community nights, PLACErs pray together and discuss their faith. Living in the same quarters also provides ample opportunity to discuss classroom challenges and share lesson plans.
"The transition from being a student to being a teacher when you're in your early 20s can be emotionally, physically and spiritually challenging," Moreno says. "To be part of a supportive community with other people going through the same things was really powerful. The schools where we taught were based on religious formation and building a community, and then we would go home and build a similar community."
After teaching in Catholic schools for six years, Moreno decided to take on a new challenge and was hired as principal at Dolores Mission in 2007. The Jesuit-sponsored school, located in the East Los Angeles district of Boyle Heights, draws heavily from three surrounding housing projects. Despite often trying circumstances, standardized test scores have risen each year at the school. "There is some instability and violence that occurs in the outside community, but what we have created here is a safe and inclusive environment where we have high expectations for our students," Moreno says. "We are challenging them to be critical thinkers because we want them to become leaders in their community." Not surprisingly, Moreno has three current PLACErs teaching at her school. The school's vice principal, Kelley McCann, is also a PLACE Corps alum, and is enrolled in the Ed.D. program at LMU.
Diana Murphy, PLACE Corps director, notes that many PLACE Corps graduates have gone on to leadership roles. "They all share a 'can-do' attitude," she says. "They don't know 'impossible.' They don't see limits to what these under-resourced Catholic schools can accomplish."