Pasadena Hillsides Education Center Announces New Director
Alicia Jennings has been named the new director of education for Hillsides Education Center (HEC), a therapeutic residential and nonpublic school for students experiencing social-emotional, learning, and/or behavior challenges.
In her position, Jennings is responsible for the organization and operation of the school. She plans, directs, and coordinates all activities and is tasked with creating and maintaining an educational program responsive to the needs of individual students.
Jennings, whose start coincided with the new school year, is a professional educational advocate and administrator with a 10-year history working with youth who are at-risk, emotionally disturbed, or have been in foster care. She has served as the education director in nonpublic schools for the last five years, and previously worked as an academic counselor and lead teacher.
“We are thrilled that Jennings will take the helm of HEC,” said Joseph M. Costa, the president and chief executive officer of Hillsides. “In her career, she has successfully led nonpublic schools through California Department of Education state review and WASC accreditation with a six-year approval. She has also partnered with multiple charter schools and community programs to provide outstanding educational opportunities for youth in foster care and students with an emotional disability.”
Jennings was attracted to HEC because of its cutting-edge work in therapeutic education. “I believe that foster youth and children with emotional challenges have the right to a calm, compassionate, and accepting learning environment that gives them the tools to be leaders in the community,” she said.
She comes to the position with several goals in mind, including maintaining a healthy budget.
“HEC is not just an educational program, it’s a community resource for families in crisis,” she said. “We have a responsibility to be here for not just our current students but generations to come.”
She also intends to create a project-based educational environment where children take part in more hands-on and cross-curriculum projects.
“I want to take learning out of the textbook and into the real world,” she said. “Experiential projects facilitate critical thinking and executive functioning, which is what our student population is here to develop.”
As an example, Jennings cites a project she did a few years ago where students worked on a semester-long interactive project to re-route the Los Angeles Metro system so it would be more accessible to low-income neighborhoods. At the end of the class, students presented their plan to the city.
Another goal is to expand the school’s STEM and STEAM curriculum. Her long-term vision is to create an innovation lab complete with 3D printers, a robotics program, and computer animation.
She’ll also rely on science as her guide to address the needs of the students. “I look at education not through a behavior-modification lens, but a neuroscience lens,” she said. “We now know that through kindness and compassion, you can actually rewire a child’s brain to recover from trauma.”
Jennings was raised by parents who valued education and used it to pull themselves up from disadvantaged childhoods. “I was taught that education is one of the best ways to build resiliency,” she said. “I feel strongly that when we can give that trait to students we are not just giving it to those individuals but to future generations,” she said.
She received a bachelor of arts in English and communications from Brigham Young University in Laie, Hawaii and a master’s of counseling psychology at National University in Los Angeles.
HEC, which is celebrating its 36th year in the community, is one of five core programs of Hillsides, a Southern California foster care and mental health charity. The school offers students in kindergarten – 12th grade individualized education with a one to four teacher to student ratio. Students have access to individual, group, and family counseling as well as enrichment activities such as music, art, speech therapy, vocational arts, and a one-on-one English tutoring program, Reading Rocks. For more information about the school, please visit hillsideseducationcenter.org.