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NYer Of The Week: Jessica Nauiokas Works To Give Consistent Educational Environment To Kids In Welfare System

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Where you attend school in New York City often depends on your address, but for children in foster and welfare programs, home is constantly changing. This week's New Yorker is working to give these students a consistent educational environment to help them reach their potential. NY1's Roger Clark filed the following report.

School is considered a safe haven for many children. For students at the Mott Haven Academy Charter School, it's more like a home.

"I always knew I wanted to do work that impacted the life of kids and, most importantly, really develop leaders and change agents for the future," says Jessica Nauiokas, principal and founder of Mott Haven Academy Charter School.

As the founder and principal of the "Haven Academy" in the South Bronx, Nauiokas aims to give students in the child welfare system the environment they need to face unique educational challenges.

For us, we really want to stabilize that educational experience for kids who may be experiencing instability at home," Nauiokas says. "So it's this notion of, no matter how many times you move in your home life, you have one learning environment to grow in, to learn independence, to be self-sufficient, to feel loved, to feel peace, to feel the trust of the adults that are working here."

'They make sure we all do the right thing and we don't get into fights or stuff," says student Carol Lopez.

Haven Academy opened in 2008 with just 90 students in a shared building. It now serves some 265 students and is housed in its very own environmentally friendly building. But a new roof didn't change the mission: enrich students with the academic, social and emotional support they need.

"One example would be a child who's in foster care who has mental health appointments, medical appointments, visits with their biological family, visits with their case worker," Nauiokas says. "In a typical scenario, that child gets pulled out of school a lot to be able to make those appointments happen during a typical work day, but for us at Haven Academy, we can send students upstairs to have their appointments and have them come right back down to join in their after-school activities.

"We are very committed to the most vulnerable population," she adds. "They've had adults who have let them down in the past, and I refuse as an educator and as a New Yorker to let that be OK."

So, for working to break down life's barriers to learning so every child can achieve, Jessica Nauiokas is this week's New Yorker of the Week.

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