The Hero Series: Mrs. Catherine Desrosiers


Tustin Connect High School
Tustin Unified School District
Tustin, CA

Their TLC Connection:

In 2022 a couple of Tustin Connect teachers attended Tilly’s Life Center’s first Summer Institute. Soon after, the school contracted TLC to lead end-of-the-year SEL classes with a cohort of their middle school students. In 2023 a few more Tustin Connect teachers attended the Annual TLC Summer Institute and the school was awarded a TLC Mental Health Awareness Grant.

Population Served:

Tustin Connect serves K-12th grade students from across Orange County, but primarily students enrolled in the Tustin Unified School District. Most students come to Tustin Connect because the traditional school schedule doesn’t work for them – whether it be due to extracurricular pursuits that mandate a flexible schedule or due to mental health challenges.

School Description:

An independent study school with a hybrid model incorporating both synchronous and asynchronous teaching methods. Tustin Connect does not have a traditional school structure, however, they pride themselves in maintaining a strong sense of community amongst their staff and students.

How They Are Using Their Grant:

The grant money awarded to Tustin Connect has allowed for the creation of the Hope Squad Club. It has also helped financially support student-driven projects within the club. The Hope Squad is a suicide prevention program made up of peer leaders who are trained to refer peers and/or friends who may be having suicidal thoughts to trusted adults. The club has used TLC money to buy supplies and food for their Hope Squad meetings. They also bought club t-shirts, hoping to create more community and spread awareness for Hope Squad.

Below are excerpts from an interview with Mrs. Catherine Desrosiers. At TLC we know that without leaders like Catherine, students will not receive the social-emotional support they need.

Q: What brought you to Tustin Connect and your work in education?

A: My interest in education began when I was an undergraduate. I was an intern at a tutoring and tennis program in East Palo Alto. I loved working with students. After 7 years of teaching science at a traditional high school, the opportunity came to teach one section of Chemistry at Tustin Connect. It was mostly online and very different, but I liked the community and teachers at Tustin Connect. The following year enrollment increased, and they needed a full-time teacher, so I decided to see what it would be like to work in an alternative education setting. I wanted to see what it would be like to have the flexibility to meet with students one-on-one – something that is almost impossible to do with students at a comprehensive school. Now, I can sit with a kid for 30 minutes and give them the help they need. I was hired as Tustin Connect’s Chemistry and Physics teacher in 2021. Last year I wanted to pilot a “Behavioral and Mental Health” CTE Pathway Course and my administration supported the initiative. I am now in year two of the course and loving it.

Q: What do you love about Tustin Connect? What makes it special?

A: I love the hybrid model at this school because of the flexibility leadership opportunities for teachers. I have the freedom to pitch a program that fits the needs of our kids, and more ability and access to make it happen. I don’t have to deal with a bell schedule or a master schedule, which leaves a lot more room to be creative. The relative “smallness” of the school and community makes it more intimate. It isn’t something you can easily replicate at a larger campus, unfortunately.

Q: How would you describe social-emotional learning (SEL) to people that don’t work in education?

A: SEL is the study and practice of how we interact with others in a healthy and positive way, and how we interact with ourselves in a healthy and positive way.


Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your educational career?

A: I don’t have a specific accomplishment in mind. I take most pride in consistently showing up each day and being there for my kids. I am most proud of that – adapting, showing up, and just being consistent. It has led to so many amazing moments. Moments that I can’t put on a pedestal in front of others.

Q: If you could reimagine what schools look like and your role in them, what would it look like?

A: SMALLER. I think they would be smaller. I love the idea of a teacher-mentor model with the teachers as the guide – that would be central to the school. I’m not sure exactly what it would look like. But it would be a model where students have more options, and wouldn’t be as limited in their choices by state mandates. Currently, the state has so much influence on what courses schools offer. They have so much influence on how excellence is measured and achieved in education. I am certainly not against state support in public education, but I would envision a model that increasingly prioritizes the needs of local communities and students.