Special Attention at Little Village Academy
At Little Village Academy (LVA), Principal Lillian Lazu pays extra attention to the social and emotional learning (SEL) needs of her students. “This is our philosophy,” Lillian shares. “In order for a child to be successful, you have to address those hidden emotional things they are struggling with.” From special education classrooms to community partnerships and student advisories, Lillian ensures that her students and their families know she supports them.
For Lillian, this mission is personal. Growing up, her parents fostered sibling groups and eventually adopted four children with special needs. At a young age, Lilian learned to embrace her new siblings’ differences and wanted to learn more about supporting them. “I wanted to understand my new siblings and help my parents. Now after earning my master’s in special education, I know how to help students like my brothers and sisters in the classroom,” she says.
Lillian extends the same attention and support to all of her students with her phenomenal SEL programming. This past year, LVA was recognized as a model SEL school by Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS). In Pre-k through fourth grades, students receive daily SEL lessons. Younger students each get a chance to be celebrated, taking turns to be recognized as the PATHS Student of the Day. Staff members are also celebrated, with a different teacher featured as the PATHS Teacher of the Week each week.
In fifth through eighth grades, homeroom classes have advisories. Twice a week, students meet in a circle to share with each other, their teacher and even Lillian about their own lives. Students have the opportunity to discuss whatever is on their minds — from weekend plans to personal struggles — and peers have the opportunity to celebrate or offer support. In some classrooms, these advisory periods take the form of individual conferences, where students can request meetings with teachers to talk about specific issues. Lillian believes it is important for students to have spaces in school where they can debrief about issues outside the classroom. It reinforces LVA as a home away from home.
Lillian also takes into account the needs of parents and the surrounding community. LVA works closely with the local New Life church for tutoring and mentoring programs. “I can text New Life about a concern I have about a student, and they will come immediately to check-in, to have a conversation and to meet with the parents. Not only do they provide mentors for the students, but they teach students how to give back,” Lillian shared. For example, students participate and lead clothing and food drives throughout the year.
At LVA, parent programming is based on community input. This past year, Lillian identified an immediate need for her immigrant families to receive more support. “We provide workshops so that families understand their rights,” she says. All the workshops are done in Spanish, which is the native language for most families at LVA.
“We try our best – we are teachers, we are mentors, we are social workers, counselors, nurses – not only to the students but to the parents,” Lillian says. “The students and families are the reason I work. They are the reason I smile, and everything we do is for them.”