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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

Lighting the Way: Shauna Edwards starts a school for teen parents

The hallways of Lumen High School are bright and full of hope, a reflection of the woman in charge.

As a student passes by, Shauna Edwards quietly calls her name and asks “how did it go?” She knows exactly what “it” means. So does the student, who shrugs, uncertainty etched on her face.

Edwards responds with a touch on the shoulder and a promise.

“My door is always open,” says Edwards, the founder and executive director of Lumen, the first charter school in Eastern Washington to serve teen parents.

Derived from Latin, the word “Lumen” has two meanings: “light” and “opening.”

The school, located above Riverside Avenue across from the STA Plaza, offers both to a group of underserved students who often have lived in darkness.

More than one teen mom has told Edwards of days that begin at 4 a.m., with a quick shower, swaddling a newborn and trudging to a bus stop because that’s the only way she can make it to a caregiver.

Then she hops another bus to school. Eight hours later, she takes the trip in reverse and arrives home bone-tired and wondering how her homework will ever get done.

No wonder that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about half of the nation’s teen mothers earn a high school diploma.

Teens that have a child before age 18 are even less likely to graduate; only 38% earn a diploma and another 19% get a GED.

“The thing for me was that teen parents have always felt invisible,” Edwards said. “But our community rose up to provide them a space.

“When they walk in here for the first time, some of them start crying. Then they say ‘I get to go to this place, a place where it feels like I could learn.’”

Lumen is much more than that for Ciara Delesby, a sophomore who transferred from Lewis and Clark High School.

“I came to Lumen because it was an awesome support for me,” Delesby said. “They really care about us and love us, and they helped me become a better person.”

“And they helped me get my son back,” Delesby said.

Edwards also created Glow Early Learning Center, so students have childcare close by. “We have two nonprofits,” Edwards said. “We exist because of each other.”

MiLeeyah Brough, a transfer from East Valley, said she’s found a home for herself and her infant daughter.

“She’s been here since she was 3 weeks old,” Brough said.

Edwards saw the need more than a dozen years ago – the challenge of helping kids who in one sense grew up too fast yet missed out on what they needed most.

“I had a baby, and they had a baby, but we were living two totally different stories,” Edwards said.

In the fall of 2008, she founded Spokane YoungLives, a nonprofit startup that offered support groups, mentoring, resources and connection to community services for teen parents and their children.

During the next nine years, Edwards and her board of directors found enough support in the community to substantially boost its budget, hire more staff and launch a separate nonprofit to provide housing for teen mothers in the city.

“It was a place for them to come and feel valued and worthwhile,” Edwards said.

At one point, almost every district in the area had a small day care in their alternative school care.

“For several reasons, those programs went away and didn’t come back,” Edwards said

Too many girls – the ones without help from family or friends – were falling through the cracks and flunking out.

In 2016, she connected with Gene Sementi, then the superintendent at the West Valley School District, who reinforced the need.

“He asked me ‘Have you ever thought of starting a charter school?’ ”

Others offered the same suggestion, but it fell to Edwards to do the work.

She applied to the Washington State Charter School Association and its incubator program, “where they walk you through this crazy process.”

That included forming a design team, obtaining grants, meeting with community stakeholders, finding a site and winning approval from Spokane Public Schools, which oversees charter schools in the area.

That came in the summer of 2019, when Edwards and her team won unanimous approval from the board.

“This is a well-planned, well-thought-out and much-needed program,” former school board member Deana Brower said before the vote.

The mission was straightforward, and it’s reflected in Lumen’s mission statement: to empower two generations by providing high academic standards, a specialized early learning center and wraparound supports to meet the layered needs of teen parents.

With an opening targeted for the fall of 2020, more work lay ahead. Fortunately, space opened up downtown following the closure of an English language school on Riverside.

That Lumen sits across the street from the STA Plaza was icing on the cake.

The celebration was muted by COVID-19, which forced the school into remote learning.

However, Edwards always seems to find a bright side in the darkness.

Through weekly home deliveries of food and other interactions, “we got to know their home life, a lot of insight into what their lives were like.”

And as the school moved through remote learning and hybrid models, “we got to see what works and what doesn’t,” Edwards said.

There’s more work ahead. Minor construction is happening at Lumen and Glow, and both have room to grow.

Looking back at the accomplishments, “I was just the person who brought the community together and said that we need this process going,” Edwards said.

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