Tarzana, United States

The Habits-of-Heart after-school program serves disadvantaged and new immigrant students at Tarzana Elementary School (42% Hispanic, 41% White, 10% African descent, Asian 10%). Learning focuses on a "habit of heart" as life skills that will help them enhance their writing, speaking, science, art and music capacities. 60% of the students in this program are girls.

About the project

The lead teacher, Miguel Pena, originally from El Salvador, is the first in his family to graduate from college and earn a teaching degree. He’s been teaching the Habits of Heart program for six years. In a survey of their children’s progress, parents reported that the children demonstrated an increased motivation to learn, an ability to communicate with respect, an appreciation for the role science and the arts can play in service to others and an increased awareness of global connectedness. Parents also reported that the majority of the children had improved their abilities in reading, math, cooperation, self-restraint and responsibility for their own actions.

How we help

Tarzana kids learn to be compassionate and active global citizens. They are linked with Liberia as a “wisdom exchange partner.” Last year, Full-Circle Learning, which provides the Habit of Hearts curriculum, launched an Ebola prevention plan and it was implemented in 31 schools in Liberia before anyone knew that Ebola would break out in that country. Those communities reported that the prevention campaign helped curtail the virus more quickly than in surrounding countries.

The Tarzana kids had been practicing empathy as a habit of heart. Learning that many kids in Liberia had become orphans as a result of the Ebola outbreak, the teacher and parents launched a project called Kids United for Liberia, and helped the class to: 1) collect school supplies to send to the orphans; 2) plan and promote a public march on a Saturday and give speeches in a park a mile away; and 3) collect money from the march for orphans who needed help to pay their school fees, and buy uniforms, shoes and school supplies.

The Habits of Heart curriculum teaches children to understand and practice habits such as courtesy, compassion, interconnectedness, self-mastery, kindness, gratitude and honesty in order that they develop upright characters and traits that will serve them and their communities throughout their lives. They learn how these habits and skills can also support the greater social goals of curing disease, preventing war, addressing poverty, advocating equity, and preserving the planet and how they, even as children, can contribute.

The fall semester at Full-Circle Learning’s Habits-of-Heart Club, in Tarzana, California, brought new students from El Salvador, Russia, and Israel to learn together in a mixed-age, internationally based classroom. This diverse after-school club of students completed the calendar year with the habit-of-heart Universal Connectedness.

To introduce the new school year, each student shared places they had been as well as places they had learned about through literature. They created a book as a hands-on display, to share their learning with others. They explored geometry, geography, and art through their diverse perspectives. They also created a book about their environmental projects, to share with a wisdom exchange classroom in Liberia.

The club received an opportunity for when Full-Circle Learning Consultant and former Country Director Maureen Mungai came for a visit. She told the learners about the Ocean Pollution project conducted earlier in the year by representatives of multiples Full-Circle Learning schools in Liberia, who advocated for cleaner oceans to improve public health and the health of all living things.

Showing them the location of Liberia on the map and sharing a poster with information about the Liberian students, she helped the children understand how to conduct environmental advocacy. They, in turn, shared information about how to teach universal connectedness, a specialty of this diverse international club of recent refugees. Maureen will share their messages with students abroad when she returns to Liberia in January.

Over the course of the year, Tarzana’s learners had a chance to appreciate elders, to resolve differences on the conflict bridge and to appreciate the symbiotic relationships within ecosystems. They expressed their environmental stewardship after science experiments and discussions about the current relevance of local and global water conservation. They made books with diverse colors based on the various objects in nature. Their appreciation of diversity came full circle when they used their math skills to make bar charts showing the amount of water they were able to save at home over the course of the project, through their increased awareness, as they timed showers and tooth brushing. They took their exhibit to the park to teach others how to conserve during the drought.

Parents testified to the impact of the program with universal response to the 19-Indicators Likert survey, which measures, each spring, the real versus the expected enhancement of a child’s socio-emotional or life skills, academic and artistic capacities and motivation to learn. Every single parent saw improvements beyond their expectations in indicators from each category! Most were parents new to the program when the survey was conducted. (A survey sample was attached to the mid-year report.)

The school’s PTA now works collaboratively with Full-Circle Learning to help implement the administrative details of the program, while FCL provides mentorship, teacher capacity building and opportunities for wisdom exchange.

The PTA expressed the helpfulness of the scholarships in sustaining the program. They hope for increased funding in the fall to enable the many recent refugee and minority students at the school to attend. We thank the Mona Foundation for continued assistance, on behalf of the families whose children participate in the Habits-of-Heart Club.

When Orion first came to class, he did not want to participate in the activities. When he did, he did not work well with other students.

Gradually, as he saw demonstrations on the conflict bridge, it all began to click for him and he “did a 360 degree turn in terms of universal connectedness,” according to the teacher. As he began to understand the process and practice of the habit-of-heart, his participation, learning, behavior and happiness shifted. As a result, he eagerly made one of the illustrations for the book Maureen would take to Liberia. He now feels connected to learning, to classmates and to the world.

Improve learning for 28 diverse K-5 students

Click on each of the suggested donation amounts below to see what your investment in education of children of new immigrants can support in this program.


2018 Achievements

Served 28 kids grades K-5, 5 days per week, 10 months a year.

28 families served from very diverse backgrounds. About 45 languges are spoken in the school.

3 service projects carried out in 3 communities, affecting about 200 community members.

2019 Project Goals

  • Provide scholarship for 40 students to attend the program.  Program has been in Tarzana for the past 18 years and the PTA is eager to continue.
  • Provide programmatic support to PTA, and to ensure the effectiveness and integrity of the program.

Change 18 lives!

Give $50 a month, or $500 a year, to support transition of this program to PTA. Total budget $6K.