Watts Learning Center: We Love Children Program « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

Watts Learning Center: We Love Children Program

Practice Area: Student Discipline

Watts Learning Center:
We Love Children Program

Watts Learning Center

Los Angeles, California
Founded 1997
240 students
Grades K-5
94% African-American, 6% Hispanic, 0% Asian, 0% White, 0% Other
less than 1% English language learners
5% Special needs
96% Receive subsidized meals
Teachers not part of collective bargaining unit

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2006.

The We Love Children Program (WLCP) targets kindergarten to third-grade children with mild to moderate discipline problems: poor attendance, low
academic achievement, poor social
skills, shyness, disruptive behavior, inability to cope with structure.

In helping these youngsters adjust to
their school setting, this early
intervention program prevents problems from becoming more severe, saving students from serious emotional and social problems down the road.

Watts Learning Center’s staff feels that an investment now will deter these children from dropping out of school and making poor life choices that could result in destructive behaviors later on. Evidence backs them up.


Students are screened for the WLCP through their teachers’ response to the Walker Survey Instrument, 19 questions which are designed to identify aggressive, shy and learning behavior problems in students. (Kindergarten students, who are in their first year at Watts Learning Center, are not screened until teachers have been able to observe them in the classroom setting for six weeks.)

The surveys are scored and assessed by a team including the WLCP staff person, a contracted counselor and the school’s executive director. Parental permission is required for the program.

The school holds three 12-week sessions of the WLCP, 12 students per session.

The child aide and student meet one-on-one in the We Love Children room, which is stocked with games, puzzles, dress-up clothes, books and arts and crafts. The child decides what to do in the half-hour session with the child aide; the aide may suggest activities but not state a preference.

Over the course of the twelve weeks, the child aide works to develop a relationship with the child. Through conversations during play, the aide either guides the student to better behavior or encourages the child to speak out more in class if he/she is shy. The aide also provides the classroom teacher with insights gleaned from the students and offers suggestions on how to work with each individual child in the classroom setting.

The relationship between the child aide and the student doesn’t always develop over one session; it can take years to develop. The school counselor, who is contracted from an outside agency, provides support to the child aide in understanding child behavior. In cases where the child aide is having difficulty creating a bond with a child, the counselor will offer alternative techniques. Over the course of each session, the child aide and counselor continually review the progress of students in the WLCP.


WLCP’s $22,000 budget (2005-2006) includes salaries for the child aide (15 hours per week) and counselor (contracted from a nonprofit organization), testing materials and supplies for the We Love Children room. Additional costs include the screening and pre-and post-scoring evaluations and fees from an outside agency (Duerr Evaluation Associates) to score them.

Watts Learning Center dedicates to the program a 200-square-foot room, which is stocked with supplies: arts and crafts supplies, dress-up clothes, games and books. Once the initial investment is made, only a small budget is necessary to add supplies for the children several times during the year.

The child aide receives two days of initial training and attends one to two conferences a year on early mental health.

At Watts Learning Center, a few hours at the beginning of the school year are spent explaining the program to teachers, who throughout the year will receive feedback about their students from the child aide.

Lessons Learned

Watts’s teachers have said that WLCP improved student behavior and thus made classrooms more productive. Many teachers also commented that students who had not previously participated in classroom discussions were now contributing in the classroom. With improved student behavior, teachers could focus more on academic tasks.

A limited number of program staff inhibits its expansion. Teachers and the child aide have said that they are continually approached by parents wanting to get their children into the WLCP.


The executive director has said that a direct link between school performance and the WLCP would be difficult to prove. However, she believes the WLCP is a critical element of the caring culture that Watts Learning Center seeks to create.

Scores on professionally scored pre-and post-surveys showed a statistically significant improvement in student behavior after the WLCP. Teacher and parent surveys also indicate strong satisfaction with the program.

The school has steadily improved its academic standing and currently outscores local public schools by over 150 points on the API. The school’s academic performance places it in the top 30 percent of all schools statewide and in the top 2 percent of California schools with a similar demographic and socio-economic profile.

Clearly, being more engaged in the learning process will benefit students academically, as will a more positive relationship with classroom teachers. When the WLCP is successful, the teacher can change from the enemy to the ally in the classroom.


Center on Educational Governance
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
3470 Trousdale Parkway
Waite Phillips Hall, Room 901
Los Angeles, CA 90089-4039

Phone: (213) 740-0697
Fax: (213) 740-4184
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