June 9, 2016 – Yesterday marked a significant milestone in our community, with the first senior class graduating from New Legacy Charter School. The ceremony, which took place at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning in Aurora, was a celebration for many. For Jennifer Douglas, the Founder and Executive Director of NLCS, seeing all nine seniors receive diplomas was a major success for her school’s first year. For the graduates, Wednesday opened doors that are often closed to those without a high school degree. And for the Urban Land Conservancy, we celebrated the success of our wonderful community partner, and first investment in Aurora!

The recent New Legacy Charter School Graduates at their robing ceremony on May 31, 2016.
The recent New Legacy Charter School Graduates at their robing ceremony on May 31, 2016.

New Legacy takes an extremely unique approach to the traditional school model, by offering a high school education to both pregnant and/or parenting teens, plus an adjacent early learning center for their children. Their motto is straightforward: Impacting Two Generations at a Time.” ULC first acquired the land in August of 2014, when it was still an abandoned bowling alley. In only eight months, through partnerships with SlaterPaull Architects and JHL Constructors, a state of the art charter school was built. Less than four months later, and New Legacy welcomed their first 85 students, nine of which were seniors. Throughout the year, the number has ebbed and flowed, as new students joined mid-year and others left on maternity leave. New Legacy hopes to see 100 students for the 2016-2017 academic school year, which is just shy of their 110 person maximum capacity.

ULC has kept a close relationship with the charter school, and had the chance to speak with Jennifer Douglas and members of the graduating class last week. Douglas, who has worked in the public education sector for 16 years, explained that there is nothing simple about starting  a charter school, especially one like New Legacy. But when stresses set in, she turned to her students.

“I am very excited and proud of [the students],” Douglas said. “During the hard times this year, I’ve often thought about graduation and what it means for our students. Their determination keeps me inspired and motivated, even when the work is hard.”

Jennifer Douglas posing with recent graduate Jenny Soto and her two-year-old son.
Jennifer Douglas posing with recent graduate Jenny Soto and her two-year-old son.

Despite the inherent challenges that arise as a teen parent, each member of New Legacy’s senior class received a diploma, and most all are attending college this fall. ULC spoke with a group of four graduating seniors last week, each with college acceptance letters to boot. Their future ambitions range from dentistry to psychology to engineering. And each student recognized the value of their time at New Legacy, and how completing their high school education will benefit both themselves and their children in the future.

Victor Hernandez, 18, was accepted into the Community College of Denver and hopes to become an engineer. Despite his timely graduation and successful high school career, Hernandez had challenges to face early on. After finding out his girlfriend was pregnant when he was 16, Victor dropped out of high school and took a job installing carpets. He explained that he wanted to be able to provide for his girlfriend and daughter. However the work was difficult, and that was when Victor realized he wanted more for his daughter. He wanted to give her the chance to attend college, and he knew that meant he would have to finish high school and graduate from college himself. And thanks to New Legacy, he is on the right path.

Victor Hernandez, at his graduation from New Legacy Charter School on June 8, 2016.
Victor Hernandez, at his graduation from New Legacy Charter School on June 8, 2016.

Douglas recognizes the struggle that many of her teen parents face outside the classroom, and understands that it can be difficult to focus solely on their high school education. Currently New Legacy is running at an estimated 75% attendance rate, one that Douglas would like to see rise in the future.

“Some of our biggest struggles have been working to support students who have so much going on in their lives outside of school,” Douglas said. “While we would like to think that we can discount all of this and just focus on their education, it isn’t that simple. Life challenges create barriers to education and we are learning how to best support our students in working through these challenges.”

ULC is proud to be a partner now and in the future with New Legacy Charter School. The bright futures that they are creating for our community’s youth is both inspiring and empowering. We look forward to seeing all that your recent graduates accomplish post graduation!