Corbin, a student at the newly launched Lumen High School in Spokane, WA, had given up on getting his GED any time soon. When he learned that he had a baby on the way, Corbin put aside his dreams of graduating from high school and going to college. Instead, he got a job. For Corbin, family comes first.
Traditional school isn’t set up to help students like Corbin – or his co-parent, Kenadie – achieve their dreams. It certainly doesn’t begin to address the many complex challenges that come with working, studying, and raising a family.
These complexities have only grown as COVID-19 has created more barriers to success for young parents. When Corbin, Kenadie, and their son, Rowan, got the chance to become founding students at Lumen High School, they were enthusiastic. With this opportunity, their challenges wouldn’t stand in the way of completing their education.
Lumen: empowering two generations of students
Lumen High School is a brand-new model of high school in Washington state, set up specifically to support the tenacity and courage of teens who are also parents. “Kenadie was actually the one who found Lumen and encouraged me to go,” Corbin said. “I dropped out of school two weeks before the end of my Junior year when I found out Rowan was on the way.”
“I learned about Lumen through a program called Young Life and talked Corbin into it,” said Kenadie. “I was already in school and it wasn’t the right fit. I was doing it online, because I wasn’t comfortable going in-person and because I had no one to watch Rowan. Being able to bring Rowan with me to go to Lumen’s early childhood education center, Glow, is something I’m really excited about.”
So, what does a day in the life of a virtual student at Lumen look like?
First, it’s flexible. Students with parenting responsibilities have lots of demands on their time – work, school, medical appointments (for themselves and their children), and childcare just to name a few – so flexibility is a core value for Lumen. But that doesn’t mean it’s not rigorous; students hold themselves to high expectations and are empowered to take control of their learning.
Every day at Lumen starts and ends with Nest. Nest is a place where students connect with a small group of other students and a staff member to prepare mentally, physically, and emotionally for the school day ahead. “It’s a place to build community and vulnerability. To learn and to be kind to each other,” said Melissa Pettey, Lumen’s Principal.
One of Kenadie’s favorite parts of the day, Nest embodies a lot of what Lumen is about – establishing belonging, encouraging discovery, and building tenacity through holistic and relational supports.
Corbin, Kenadie, and their fellow students then attend a rotating core class, which covers a key subject area. On Monday it’s science for Corbin.
“I never did well at science before, but this science teacher, she just makes it real,” said Corbin. “She teaches in lots of different ways so if I don’t get it one way, I can understand it another. I’ve been taught from textbooks, but I’m really a hands-on type of person; they are doing visuals, hands-on, and it’s individualized to me and my strengths.”
After core class, there’s a movement class. Physical activity, sharing, bonding, and laughing are core components of a Lumen PE class. Students are still shy and new to each other, so more connections and circle time are important. Personal connection and student leadership are huge – even virtually. Compliment circles, student presentations, creating student connection and group problem-solving are an integral components of Lumen’s model.
“Student voice IS Lumen,” said Principal Melissa Pettey.
Over lunch, students can meet with counselors one on one online to talk about their schoolwork, their day, or any life complexities making learning challenging. Beyond academic counseling, students also have access to an array of resources including a social worker, mental health counselors, a school support specialist, and a post-secondary support specialist. When school begins again in person, they’ll also have an on-site medical clinic for student and child appointments. The goal is for students to have everything they need to be successful at school.
Independent study and CTE – or Career and Technical Education – classes are scheduled from noon to three and are aligned to support the experiences of parents, including through child development and parenting classes.
Lumen is committed to supporting and rewarding their students and families in creative ways. For instance, students earn ‘Baby Bucks’ – a points system – for good attendance, selfless acts for others, or trying your best. The baby bucks can be ‘spent’ at the school’s on-site Baby Boutique, which provides donated goods for students and their children. The school is also committed to finding resources with the help of community partners for special requests.
At 3 pm each day, students return to their Nest and close their day with support, connection, and empowerment.
“I know we’ve only been in school for three weeks, but I’m completely on top of my schoolwork,” said Corbin. “When I was at school before, within three weeks I would have been falling behind.”
Building Social Connections
This virtual schedule hopefully won’t be the norm for long. Lumen has already started small, socially distanced drop-off for daycare at the on-site early learning center one day a week.
Right now, they are helping set up ways for students to connect safely outside via park playdates and other socially distanced activities such as virtual community events, and all-school meetings.
“I’m excited to be in-person,” said Kenadie, “I want to get out, be able to socialize, and connect with people. That’s really big for me.”
What’s next for Kenadie and Corbin?
As founding students at Lumen, Kenadie and Corbin are game changers – they are disrupting the narratives and perceptions about teen parents with the support of an intentional school model and extraordinary educators and care givers. They are changing their own lives, and by extension, Rowen’s. Additionally, they are showing other youth in similar circumstances that it is possible to thrive as a student and a parent with the right mindsets, supports, and educational opportunities.
Both plan to graduate college and become forensic scientists. Beyond their completion of high school, Lumen will continue engaging Kenadie, Corbin, and other graduates through a mentor program which will provide parents support getting started with college or a career after graduation.
“I’m getting a second chance at school with Lumen,” said Corbin. “Any chance to get my diploma – I’m going to take it right away!”
How you can help
If you would like to help support Lumen, which is located in Spokane, Washington, here are a few ways you can get engaged:
- Donate online to their program
- Donate baby furniture, clothes, diapers, and formula to the baby boutique (but if you can hold them right now until they can safely accept them, that would be great!) by emailing Shauna Edwards, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Volunteer to help when students get back to in-person school
- Volunteer to mentor a parent for the year after high school