Jul 01, 2018
Gema Linares Guardado
Principal, Carson Gore Academy of Environmental Studies
Gema Linares Guardado was 10 years old and didn’t speak English when her family fled civil war in El Salvador to begin a new life in Los Angeles. She fondly recalls teachers “who believed in me and kept pushing me” as inspirations to pursue a career in education. Today, the former teacher gives back as principal of Carson-Gore Academy of Environmental Studies, a Los Angeles Unified elementary school in which Spanish is the first language for 65 percent of students. Her drive to help students succeed “is what gets me up at 4:30 a.m. every day,” Guardado says. Here, she talks about how her efforts are bolstered by Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits™, which presents workshops on nutrition and fitness, and Cedars-Sinai Share and Care art therapy groups.
Carson-Gore has a very interesting mission and environmental focus. Tell us about how the Healthy Habits program fits in.
Carson-Gore is a Public School Choice school that teaches the common core curriculum while integrating education on how to protect the environment. So the Healthy Habits curriculum is very complementary. It empowers our students to protect their health by choosing the right foods and getting more exercise. We have an edible garden on campus where the students get to harvest vegetables they learn about in the classroom. And the students are very proud of the healthy snacks they bring to school—foods like cucumbers, strawberries, grapes and oranges. Cedars-Sinai’s Healthy Habits educators are highly qualified, and they make learning fun. The program has even motivated teachers to improve their health habits.
Cedars-Sinai helps us make sure all of our students are able to achieve. We get a lot of students at Carson-Gore who have just arrived in this country and have no English skills. … I tell them in Spanish that they will make it.”
Does the Share and Care art therapy program have a strong impact on students’ lives?
Definitely. Share and Care counselor Lauren Hunter gives our students tools to cope with many difficult things that can happen to them, such as the loss of loved ones. Her art therapy groups support children through grief and help them overcome behavior issues and get along better with peers. She sees some students individually, including one boy who used to hit other children on the playground and spent a lot of time in my office. We’ve seen a big change in him over the past year and a half. He’s doing much better. Share and Care does a great job supporting our students’ emotional needs. If they feel safe and happy and can express how they feel, then they can concentrate on learning.
How do parents respond to these programs?
They have really opened up to the Share and Care program as they have seen what it does for children. At first, we were telling parents about it; now they come to us seeking support for their kids. Parents also love Healthy Habits—they begin eating better at home as their children bring home recipes and share what they’re learning.
How do you feel about Carson-Gore’s partnership with Cedars-Sinai?
It feels like I won the lottery! Cedars-Sinai helps us make sure all of our students are able to achieve. We get a lot of students at Carson-Gore who have just arrived in this country and have no English skills. They’re in culture shock. I tell them in Spanish that they will make it. I love watching them flourish. We have to keep fighting for them.