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Education

'It's A Calling, Not A Job': New CEO At The Momentous Institute On Helping Students Learn

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Jessica Gomez was recently named the new executive director for the Momentous Institute. She spoke with KERA's Justin Martin about the organization's future.

The Momentous Institute in Dallas is aimed at helping kids. Its broad focus covers a lot of ground from mental health support for childhood trauma to education services for schools around the country.

The nonprofit also operates an elementary school in North Texas.

Jessica Gomez was recently named as the institute's new executive director.

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On Social-Emotional Health:

Emotional health to give you the short run of it: It's our ability to really understand and manage our own emotions, reactions and relationships.

It's also what we've learned over the years of doing this work is that having social-emotional health helps children achieve their full potential. In other words, we all need social-emotional health. We all benefit from it.

On What The Momentous Institute Does:

We specialize in working at the intersection of education and mental health and really what our charge is to change the trajectory and the odds for children.

We have a pre-K three to fifth grade school in Oak Cliff, and we do therapy services in Oak Cliff and off of Harry Hines and the Northwest highway. So we have two campuses.

Then we have our innovation and impacting that takes what's going on in those laboratories, as I like to call them, and shares it with children we may never meet. They do that through presentations, through trainings, in schools, by working with teachers.

We also do a lot of robust research. We're fortunate to have a lot of researchers that are studying not only our school, but our therapy services.

On The Most Critical Area Of Need For Kids In Texas:

I think about the kids that in the morning they witnessed violence in their home and they're still expected to go to school and show up and learn.

I think about the kid who's struggling to create relationships with their peers and they're still expected to learn. Then I think about the teacher that has to teach them to the test academics and take care of their emotions.

It's a really tall order for anyone. So I think the biggest space we can see is looking at our students as whole beings. I talk about this as left brain, right brain. We're whole beings. We need to take care of not just the emotional part and the social part, but the academic side, you can't isolate. So we have to integrate and see children holistically and systemically. That's another area we specialize in.

We look at a child through the system because no one operates in a vacuum. So how do we interact with those systems to help that child succeed.

On How The Pandemic Has Changed Things:

I remember March 13, they told us let's go home. We all were like, we'll be back in two weeks. We did not predict it would be that long.

Now we were starting to dip our toes into this. Telehealth remote learning, all of that. Like, let's look at it just in case in the future, our therapists, our teachers were thrown into the deepest end of the pool, but these teachers and these therapists and the entire team that supports them quickly pivoted and say, how do we continue to meet the needs of our families who are going through something tremendous?

We continue to meet our clients where they were at in a safe way. So as time passed by, we started to become more hybrid. So what I will say is our therapists, our teachers and all the staff went through a tremendous year. But my gosh, they never lost sight of how do we keep serving our families.

I'm just incredibly humbled to get to represent the work that this team does and just so proud of what we've pulled through over the past year.

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at Jmartin@kera.org. You can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

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