Today we’d like to introduce you to Demi Brown.
Demi, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was just a teacher and I wanted to find an innovative Spanish Immersion school that also included physical education as part of its curricula. I thought that once I found this school, I would apply to work there and one day send my future child to that school.
But no such program existed in San Diego. I knew that children in San Diego needed such a program, and found others who agreed and joined me in the hard work of creating a public charter school! We wrote our charter petition and soon the Linda Vista neighborhood was rallying behind us to serve the community. We decided to focus on CrossFit Kids as the fitness aspect of our school, and several local gyms contributed to our start-up by hosting fundraising events.
We started with 68 kids on the first day of school in 2014, and now we have around 140 students. Our students are top performers in the state and nation, particularly our English Learners on the English Language Arts assessments. We know this is because of our focus on an inquiry approach to education, small groups to meet students’ needs, and years of compelling research about the value of learning more than one language. Our school still feels like a small family, and we love our diverse community.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Starting a public charter school is no easy feat!
In fact, we haven’t seen a new grassroots charter school approved in the San Diego Unified District since our charter approval in December 2013. A few have tried. Every little detail must be perfect in the charter petition and we went through a rigorous vetting process. This is an important responsibility, and we agree that new charter operators should be vetted thoroughly.
A lot of sweat and tears went into starting our school. We had several bumps along the way, particularly with finding the right facility in Linda Vista. Our local city Council member (Scott Sherman) advocated for us and helped us get through a lot of red tape.
Now we have earned recognition for our innovative program and outstanding results! Our educators have been honored at the San Diego County Office of Education’s annual Leadership in Bi-literacy Symposium and we even have our own day – December 3 – is Empower Charter School Day in San Diego!
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Empower Charter School story. Tell us more about the business.
Our school offers an innovative Spanish Immersion program and a unique focus on fitness and health to elementary school students.
Students engage in an inquiry-based approach such as design-thinking or project-based learning. We also personalize learning by teaching in small groups in order to meet all students’ needs. We have a character education program and have implemented Restorative Practices, which consist of daily class circles, and involving students in taking ownership of their actions and consequences.
Our school’s holistic approach also includes daily physical education and fitness through a CrossFit Kids program. This program allows students to build skills along 10 fitness domains (such as strength, flexibility, and speed). Later, when a child wishes to specialize in a sport, he/she will have a repertoire of fitness skills to apply to that sport. Our students also have at least 50 minutes of mindfulness/breathing exercises each week to reframe and reset for learning. We also have a school garden, and students participate in weekly gardening lessons.
We are incredibly proud of our academic results and the overwhelming percentage of students showing off-the charts growth! Our English Learners are outperforming the district and state in English Language Arts. Our students are in the 99th percentile for growth in reading, language and math on the national normed MAPS assessment, which means they make more academic growth in one year compared to their peers across the nation. Every year for the last 3 years our students are among the top performers on the state’s fitness test. And – last year every student was able to do a handstand at his/her developmental level!
Most importantly, our students are happy, they love coming to Empower Charter School, and it is a fun place to work with individuals who are all dedicated to seeing our students succeed.
Next year, we are adding a Mandarin enrichment to our school and we will be the 1st Spanish/Mandarin trilingual public school in San Diego! We can’t wait to see our students take off with this!
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t view our ups and downs as good or bad luck.
I think any new organization is going to have bumps along the way. Not every new organization will prevail. We did because we all put in the hard work to make this happen. We have the most incredibly dedicated board members, talented educators, and passionate parents. One employee recently used the word “ganas” to describe our school. This word in Spanish means “desire” and it speaks to the gumption, guts, and strong will that it takes to earn something you really want. So, I would say the fact that we have ganas is what has played out in our organization, not good or bad luck.
- We are enrolling for the next school year and interested parents can visit www.empowercharter.org to apply.
- We are a FREE public school, open to all!
- Address: 2230 East Jewett St
San Diego CA 92111
- Website: www.empowercharter.org
- Phone: 858-292-1304
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org