Teen parents often struggle to find belonging in their community. Their access to education is difficult and sometimes feels impossible. Many young parents find themselves leaving school before completion and isolated while caring for their child.
Lumen High School, a charter public school in Spokane, was designed by those young parents and a passionate group of educators to address the barriers student parents face in earning their diploma and building community connections.
From the mission and vision of the school to the practical considerations like schedules and building locale, all aspects of Lumen have been informed by young parents’ experiences from their own learning journey.
Rooted in belonging, social justice and the empowerment of students, their children, and staff, Lumen is committed to empowering two generations by providing high academic standards, a specialized early learning center, and wrap-around supports to meet the layered needs of teen parents.
Designed from the beginning by teen parents for teen parents, Lumen is focused on five core values: Belonging; Flexibility; Discovery; Tenacity; Empowerment.
“We’re all learning together,” said Lumen High School Executive Director, Shauna Edwards. “Students, their children, staff and our admin team are all on this journey of life together. This is important, because it builds a sense of belonging, which is foundational before we can dig in educationally.”
The COVID Challenge
“We talk about social distance…I have been socially distant since my son was born.” – Incoming Lumen Student
COVID-19 has exposed the many inequitable challenges that underserved populations face. Teen parents already deal with isolation. They also struggle with economic hardships that create barriers to things like daily travel, access to living necessities, and affordable housing. With the current crisis, all of those issues are even more acute.
That’s why Lumen leadership immediately reached out to their incoming students – students who haven’t even started at the school yet. They put out a survey asking their students what they need right now. The answer? Basics: Food, formula, diapers, access to internet, and cell service.
One student shared that they had to travel on a bus to five different stores with their baby to find a special kind of formula because the stores were out of supplies. The student was scared to bring their child out, but what other options did they have? Lumen stepped up to help and found them that formula.
Lumen leadership worked swiftly to address these kinds of concerns. School administrators are helping students sign up for Amazon wish lists so they can access essential products, like the special formula.
A board member posted a fundraiser to her professional network to raise money to buy diapers. They are also connecting students to a local food bank delivery service and are working with community partners like local restaurants who are donating gift cards for drive-through and delivery services.
“Right now, we are focused on needs,” said Edwards. “And we are going to keep asking through this crisis – ‘what’s causing you worry?’”
Connecting with students in the most relevant way, Lumen began a Facebook group to ensure students could stay connected and supported during the crisis. While most teens are not using Facebook, teen parents are. The parent groups and buy/sell/trade functions of the social media site are helpful for young parents navigating resources and advice.
Between Facebook live and Zoom, students and staff are connecting regularly. Students receive daily check-in texts from the school and the school’s design planning process has been shifted from every-other-month in-person community meetings to every three weeks live virtual meetings.
“This process has actually made us closer,” said Edwards. “Instead of our standard check-ins, we are now doing a ton of different outreach methods to make sure everyone is getting what they need.”
In fact, the shift to virtual design meetings has enhanced student’s ability to participate in the school planning process. Where a young parent would have had to find childcare and take two buses to get to an in-person meeting, now they can participate from their home, with their child present. Lumen has received more input and seen enhanced student access and ideas in the school planning in the shift to virtual meetings.
Students are feeling more connected and have a greater sense of belonging and ownership in the school process now. A silver lining in this incredibly challenging time.
Hope for the future
When Lumen was still in its early formation, outreach was difficult. Families in poverty were weary of new organizations coming in. Initial calls to potential students often elicited a skeptical response. “Who is this. How did you get my number?”
Now, when students get a call from Lumen, the reply is warm. Students are excited and positive about attending the program. They are looking forward to being a part of the Lumen community and building their sense of belonging.
“We are growing closer and closer through this challenge,” said Edwards. “I can’t wait for the Fall!”
How you can help
Join the Lumen Community: Lumen High School is enrolling now. Visit www.lumenhighschool.org/enrollment for more details.
Support Lumen High School directly: Lumen is delivering on its mission every day through this time of crisis. But they can’t do it alone. You can support Lumen High School’s efforts by donating to help the school reach its goal of raising $80,000 by August to finish outfitting all of their high school and early learning classrooms with items like desks, cribs, strollers, and computers.
Visit www.lumenhighschool.org/donate for more details. Support urgent COVID-19 across the charter school sector: With your support, Lumen and our other member public charter schools can continue to meet the needs of students and families in the community. Learn more about our COVID-19 Response Fund.