New School, New Hope: HEC Helps a Little Girl Reclaim her Self-Esteem & Academic Success

Left to right: Therapist Jackie Ngo, HEC parent Meg Russett with her daughter Thea, and HEC teacher Debi-Szlagi-Johnson.

On the first day of school at Hillsides Education Center (HEC), Thea Russett, 9, greeted her teacher, Debi Szilagi Johnson, known as “Ms. Debi,” with a hug. When Thea was asked if she was excited to return to school, she gave a shy smile and nodded yes.
“At the end of last year, she was crying because she didn’t want to leave,” recalled Ms. Debi. “I cried too, but now we’re back together.”
Thea transferred to Hillsides from a private Los Angeles school with three months left in the 2016-2017 academic year. She had been struggling with behavioral issues that impeded her academic success and damaged her self-esteem. Her mom Meg knew that Thea needed a more therapeutic educational environment, and began researching possible choices.
Meg wasn’t excited about any of the schools until she and Thea visited HEC. “The staff were so warm, the classrooms cozy and friendly,” she remembered. “The kids all seemed happy, and positive about what they were learning.”
She was also impressed with Ms. Debi. “She radiates a calm, but at the same time is firm about her expectations,” she said. The presence of on-site therapists and the school’s unique GROWTH program emphasizing emotional and social development further sealed the deal.
Thea loved HEC from the beginning. Her classroom behavior issues disappeared and her grades significantly improved. Ms. Debi recently named her Student of the Month. Thea and Meg also benefitted from an extra layer of support at home with a therapist for Thea and a parent partner offering advice and referrals for Meg.
As the new school year gets underway, things look bright for Thea. “HEC has given Thea back her self-esteem about her abilities so she can succeed both academically and socially,” said Meg. “I can’t wait
to see what the coming months bring.”
Left to right: Therapist Jackie Ngo, HEC parent Meg Russett with her daughter Thea, and HEC teacher Debi-Szlagi-Johnson.

Family Resource Centers offer numerous community-based programs and services that provide parenting classes, mental health support, and additional crucial resources for vulnerable children and families throughout Los Angeles County, including the San Gabriel Valley and Pasadena. >
Residential Treatment Services provide a safe and stable environment where children and youths, who cannot live at home, suffered trauma, or have severe emotional or behavioral challenges, can thrive. >
Education Center, a therapeutic residential and day school, offers individualized education for students with social-emotional, learning and/or behavior challenges for children in kindergarten through 12th grade. >
Youth Moving On, with support from The Everychild Foundation, provides former foster youth affordable quality housing and numerous support services to help them become responsible, self-sufficient adults. >

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