Monarch School Project

  • Highlighted Program: School for Unhoused Youth
  • Looking for volunteers
  • giv4 Category: Prevention
  • Contact for more information:

    Melissa Bailey 

    Director of Development
    [email protected]

What makes your organization unique in its approach to addressing homelessness?

Transformation begins here, at the nation’s only K-12 public school exclusively for unhoused youth. Since 1987, we have been a place of belonging for thousands of unhoused youths, offering a unique, innovative, and stable environment that fosters learning and healing. The school is a public-private partnership between the San Diego County Office of Education and the nonprofit Monarch School Project, a 501(c)(3) corporation.


Our trauma-informed and strength-based community empowers youth to overcome the challenges impacting both their education and well-being. Monarch youth are defining success on their own terms and thriving.


Monarch embraces youth and their families with academic growth, social growth, emotional support, and life skills designed for individualized success, enabling youth to define their own paths to achievement while stabilizing and supporting their families.


What is a misconception you think the public has about homelessness?

Shockingly, 50 percent of the country’s unhoused population is found in California, and that includes 64,000 kids. Students who do not earn a high school diploma or GED are four and a half times more likely to experience homelessness as adults. Ensuring those kids continue to receive an education is a daunting task - Monarchs’ resilient youth and families are navigating and enduring unsteady housing, transitional, or hidden homelessness.


When was the organization founded?

Named by our students in recognition of the transformational power of the butterfly, Monarch School has served as home to thousands of unhoused students since 1987. Our unique and innovative school provides students with the stability, security, and hope they need to build productive and healthy lives.


Sandra McBrayer founded the school in 1987 recognizing the need to get unhoused youth off the streets and in school. She was later named Teacher of the Year by President Bill Clinton for her work. In 1999, the Monarch School Project, a 501 (c)(3), was established by San Diego Rotary to help relocate the school to a new facility. Today, the partnership between the school and the nonprofit continues to make Monarch a recognized leader in the education of unhoused youth.


Nearly four decades later, we continue serving the community, inspired by the incredible potential and impact of community members dedicated to creating a world where everyone has a home.


You are part of the "Prevention" giv4 homelessness category. Can you explain more what work your organization does in this area?

Monarch seeks to prevent the vicious intergenerational cycle of homelessness - prevalent wherever housing costs and access outpace income - as part of its mission to nurture resilience in unhoused youth and their families. We empower students to influence their own growth in the areas of academic success and social emotional learning. We reinforce the existing strength of families so that students can thrive in school and in life.


Is your organization looking for volunteers? Are you looking for committee/board members with particular skill sets? Do you need in-kind donations of any sort?

Community volunteers fulfill a critical role at Monarch, including academic and general program support. The contributions of volunteers help us meet our students’ greatest needs while allowing us to use budgetary resources for critical programs. Current volunteer opportunities include:


  • Math and literacy tutoring
  • Personal shopper in our Butterfly Boutique “store” for students
  • Assist with food distribution at our monthly Farmer’s Market
  • Host an in-kind drive for our students and families
  • Assemble hygiene kits and snack packs for students
  • Host a Family Dinner at Monarch


Are there any recent articles/publications/videos by your organization that you'd like to highlight?

TEDxSanDiego video: Social Emotional Learning study, Unhoused Students are Stronger than You Think presented by KishaLynn Elliott, Chief Operating Officer


Op-ed in the San Diego Union Tribune (January 2024) Don’t accept homelessness as a fact of life in San Diego. We must do the work to end it, by Afira DeVries, President and CEO.



What else would you want people to know about your organization?

Many assume that Monarch is state-funded, but the reality is that it is a nonprofit organization— which provide essential funding for its programs and services that far exceed the role of a “regular” school. Monarch School Project found, in our three-year, social-emotional learning study conducted with The Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education at the University of San Diego from 2016 to 2019, that 60 percent of our students maintained or increased their feelings of safety at our school.


I would love to learn more directly from Monarch Schools
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