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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

Designed with Love: Empowering Parents for Real-World Success

The emotions bubbled up in my voice as I went to ask a question and I had to pause before I spoke. The young woman sitting in front of me had two young boys and all she wanted to do was graduate. She was so close. The principal told us she was just a few days away from graduating. She described with precision her favorite class: Parenting. It was a place that allowed her to balance learning how to be a better mother–something she cares about fiercely–with space for her to just be her teenage self. And while she claimed that she wasn’t “good” at school, it was clear that she was good at advocating for stronger gun control in the state of Colorado, which was a school assignment. As she talked about the letter to the governor she was writing, her face lit up; her speech slowed to emphasize what she was arguing for and her confidence built as she described why she was passionate about advocating for stricter gun control–so her boys could grow up in a safer world. 

New Legacy Charter School has roughly 100 students and makes it its mission to provide a quality high school education to teen parents. From the moment we walked in the doors, I could feel the love and care that was being poured into the school and its students. Flyers about support groups and community gatherings decorated the walls along with student work geared towards project and real-world learning. The first thing I saw as I entered the school were stacks of baby clothes for the parents to take if they needed them. This was a place where parents could be proud of their kids and of the growth they were making to become the best parents they could be. As we walked, I marveled at the intentionality of the building. At the end of the hallway, the school branched in two directions, one for the early childhood education center and one for the high school classrooms. Parents would drop off their children and then head to class.

A student gave us a tour and explained that she could go check on her daughter anytime, which made her feel better about being in class. As she showed us her classrooms and explained what she was learning, she lingered the longest in the parenting classroom. She described how she was using LENA with her daughter to help increase her reading development. She was proud of the steps she’d taken to decrease her daughter’s screen time and increase the time they spent together talking and reading children’s books. The pride in her voice made tears gather at the edges of my eyes. It was clear from her stories, as well as the teachers, administrators, and other students we met that student parents were at the center of the way school was designed. Students felt loved and cared for. I was struck by the intentionality of the system design and immense investment of the staff in the mission of the school. 

Our visit closed as we listened to a student present her exhibition and reflection on Quarter 2. She animatedly described how she’d grown, the projects she engaged in for each of the schools competencies, and her future plans. She described her experience in foster care and her growth over junior year. Now, as a senior, she was actively involved in developing senior activities for her class, receiving acceptances to college, and dreaming of her future. When she began explaining her plans for after graduation, the tears began to leak from my eyes because of the passion and love she used to talk about the impact of New Legacy on her future. She’d researched different schools that had strong programs for her as a parent; she was most excited about historically Black colleges where she could truly grow into herself. She closed her presentation by saying that what she wanted her son to know was that “Your mom is a strong Black woman raising a strong Black man.” I marveled at how this school had used groundbreaking assessment processes, Big Picture Learning, love, and belief in student potential to prepare her for exactly what she wanted in the future. 

The experience reminded me of the power of education and the tremendous impact schooling has on our young people. As educators and school systems, we have so much influence over how our students see themselves and the future they imagine. I was reinvigorated to make change at my own school and design spaces that center our students, their experiences, and how they want to grow so that we can unleash their incredible potential. I left the school with a renewed sense of awe in my spirit and a sense of urgency that if we do not act now, we are not doing justice for our students.



Maria Kaimana, Envision Academy

I am currently a Humanities Instructional Coach at a small charter school in Oakland California. As a part of my charter network’s desire to improve our grading and assessment system, I attended the AFL convening in Aurora, Colorado to learn more about how different schools are designing assessments for students to show deeper learning. Through the experience we were able to visit a school and conduct empathy interviews as we toured the school. These are my reflections on the power of the experience.

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