Shaniah Card found herself, at 14, with an 8-month-old child and no clear path forward in her studies at East Valley High School.
“I was very stuck,” Card, now 22 and a mother of four, said Friday. “I felt like education wasn’t important. I felt like nobody knew what I was going through, especially being a teen mom.”
Card met Shauna Edwards through a nonprofit called Young Lives that helps young women like her, who number in the hundreds in Spokane County, navigate their high school careers while also being moms. Now, Card is joining forces with Edwards and others to establish Spokane’s third charter school, which would bring all the services teen parents need to excel in school and in child-rearing under one roof.
Lumen High School received unanimous certification this week from the board of directors of Spokane Public Schools, who praised its organizers for finding a specific need in the community and pitching an alternative school that would meet it. Lumen hopes to open its doors in August 2020.
“Ten years ago, when I started, every district had a little day care in their alternative school for students that were parenting,” Edwards said. “For several reasons, those programs went away and didn’t come back.”
Teen pregnancy rates in Spokane County declined during that period, according to data from the Spokane Regional Health District. But in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available, the rate remained well above those in the county and in Washington state, standing at 39 pregnancies per 1,000 female teensages 15 to 19.
Card is working on designing programs for the new school, which has yet to select a site but hopes to set up shop near downtown to be close to bus routes and other services, Edwards said. Teen parents need day care, which the school will provide on-site, but also access to dental and medical care that won’t require them to leave the classroom for appointments or decide not to show up for school on those days, Card said.
“The needs are very circumstantial,” she said. “It’s different for everybody.”
Card didn’t get much support at home, she said, and needed to work to support her children, so she stopped working on passing the GED test.
She stayed in homeless shelters for a while, including one where she had to choose which child she would bring into the shelter with her, as organizers would only allow young parents to stay with one child.
“I would get a job, and then I would have to leave it because I had to get my GED,” Card said. “I want to go to college.”
During this time, she lost a job as a peer counselor because she hadn’t completed high school. The goal with Lumen, Edwards said, was to pair educators who understand the challenges of parenthood with students in a smaller setting for more individualized attention.
“I think our goal would be to help our students be successful,” she said. “What that means for them and their current situations will be different for each student.”
Success could be measured quickly. A January 2018 study from the nonprofit research organization Child Trends reported that just 53% of women in their 20s who had their first child as a teenager received a traditional high school diploma. For non-mothers, that figure is 90%.
Lumen’s board of directors and their nonprofit partners, which include the northeast Spokane Zone project, Gonzaga University and the Bite 2 Go emergency food program, crafted their pitch to Spokane Public Schools based on the state’s 2013 voter-approved law authorizing charter schools.
The board, which governs the only school district in the state that authorizes charter schools, is encouraged under the law to prioritize schools that serve “at-risk student populations,” even though under state law any student may apply and must be considered for enrollment at a charter school.
“This is a well-planned, well-thought-out and much-needed program,” school board member Deana Brower said before casting a vote to authorize the new school.
“This is in line with the reason we authorize charter schools, and you found such a clear and compelling need,” added Mike Wiser, another board member.
Lumen, named because organizers hope to shine a light on the path toward education for teen parents, will receive much of its funding from the state based on a per-pupil formula, Edwards said.
The school hopes to reach enrollment of 120 students by the 2024-25 school year, joining Pride Prep and the Spokane International Academy as the third charter school authorized by the district.
Card said she’s eager to help students who now, like her eight years ago, may not know what their next step is toward an education and a better life for their young families.
“Just what I’ve gone through, I feel like maybe somebody else won’t have to go through as much as I went through,” she said. “I just wish Lumen was open when I was struggling.”