Teen parents learn to lead at Lumen High School
One woman’s rage helped in formation of high schoolJune 2nd, 2022
Shauna Edwards says running a high school wasn’t what she initially envisioned for herself, but after working with teen parents and learning of the barriers they face completing a high school education, she knew she’d be involved in shaping the lives of young people in some capacity.
Edwards is the executive director of Lumen High School, a public charter school and nonprofit that educates teen parents in Spokane County. Students at Lumen receive a high school education, parenting and life skills, and workforce development and training, all while their children are taken care of nearby.
“I like access to education,” she says. “I’m mostly passionate about helping people have access to opportunities and taking away barriers blocking them from doing what they want to do.”
Edwards studied at Whitworth University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and later earned a master’s degree in school counseling. After college, Edwards wanted to help others with fewer privileges access similar opportunities.
“It was really a big sense of injustice for me that just because I didn’t have a kid in high school, I got to go on to have all these opportunities and experiences. But this person who is just as motivated and smart, doesn’t get those opportunities because they had a child,” she says.
Lumen’s students are all either pregnant or parenting, with teen mothers comprising about 80% of the school’s students.
Plans for the school started in 2017 while Edwards was still running Spokane Young Lives, a nonprofit that mentors and supports teen parents. That’s where she first learned about the lack of resources and education opportunities for them.
“What drew me from the nonprofit world with the dinners and connections … into education, really was the lack of opportunities in the city for all these amazing teen parents I was working with,” she says.
Edwards recalls joking with a student about why she started Lumen, explaining that being over-caffeinated and passionate about equal access to education helped motivate her.
“Coffee and rage built Lumen,” she says, laughing.
There are six teachers and a total staff of 15—comprised mostly of women—at the school. Edwards says it was coincidental that the available and qualified candidates just happened to be women and explains that the school is constantly working to have a staff that reflects its student population.
“We want to move forward with staff that represents our teen parents … who were teen parents themselves, or from diverse communities,” she says.
Lumen has about 50 enrolled students currently and has room to accommodate up to 75 students.
The school opened in fall 2020 with remote learning in place for students at the time. The school since has allowed students back for in-person classes.
The high school occupies the second and third floors in a multitenant building located at 718 W. Riverside, in downtown Spokane, across from the STA Plaza, an ideal location due to the proximity to transportation for students.
Lumen’s curriculum also involves teaching students deeper learning skills in communication, collaboration, and leadership.
Edwards explains that the lessons at Lumen also are designed in a way to expose students to potential careers that also connect to workforce skills. The school’s curriculum also encourages students to take an active role in advocating for the type of learning opportunities and support they need to stay in school while parenting.
“Learning is not just in the classroom. So much of what we do here is about helping every student be empowered to lead in the things they are interested in … and these skills translate into workforce and entrepreneurial skills too. Providing this for students is the right thing to do.”
Students at Lumen learn how to plan and implement ideas to improve their learning in a variety of ways. Edwards says students learn to create change proposals and are also involved on the hiring committee where they can provide input on the hiring decisions the school makes.
“Students should be the ones who should be leading those and presenting our school, because this is their home and their space. And sometimes students will be like, ‘Wait, you’re the adults. You tell us what the rules are.’ And we’re like, ‘That’s not how it works here.’”
Edwards says Lumen provides a safe space for students to practice leadership, advocacy, and conflict-resolution skills that will help them after graduation.
“As humans, we need to have restorative conversations so we can understand each other better,” she says. “I’m learning as much as they’re learning.”
Remaining flexible and connected has been key for Edwards since starting the school during a pandemic, she says.
“In a role like mine, you’re so into the details and in the weeds of emails and deadlines and reports, it can be easy to run out of time,” Edwards says. “The to-do list is always going to be there, so keeping these connections and relationships in the community is the most important thing I can do to keep centered in the mission, and it gives me more energy to do the to-do list.”
The school’s 2021 financial statement shows $918,000 in revenue from operating grants and contributions, $1.48 million in funding from state sources, and a smaller amount of miscellaneous revenue, for a total revenue of $2.46 million. Lumen receives partial funding from the state, and also receives about 15% of funding through donations, events, and grants, Edwards says.
She says finding creative ways to balance the school’s funding and working to ensure the financial stability of the school can be difficult at times.
“It’s a challenge, but something I really love because it engages our community,” Edwards says. “And this school was built by the community and will continue to be supported by the community.”