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I am going to start a school and it won’t be the first time.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would start a school. I am a journalist not an educator. I did receive the Texas Education Association ”Journalist of the Year” award but that hardly qualifies me to start a school.  However, in desperate times, my inner activist comes out.  It has happened before.  My emotions and my “mom intuition” are pointing directly toward a big change. I am fighting it but I am trying to peacefully and personally to do what I know I need to do. 

I am a busy working parent who gets up at 2:45 a.m. as a news anchor in Denver, CO.  I have three kids at three different levels of education. My older two are self-sufficient in high school and college but the same can’t be said for my 10 year old. How can I send my youngest child back to public school in today’s uncertain world of coronavirus and health mandates that will undoubtedly take precedence over real learning? I am thinking back to what happened when my now 19-year-old daughter was in preschool.  As I ponder what to do, I decided to take a look back. As I write, I am sitting in my car in the parking lot of the school that now exists because I followed my intuition.  How can I not listen to that inner voice that led to change and provided a new way of learning and a new school for thousands of kids? My heart is heavy thinking that my son may not be here this year.

My husband and I moved to Colorado when we had just one daughter, a toddler, in 2002.  We bought a house in a little community that was expanding rapidly. A large sign on the corner of an empty lot down the street from our new home read, “future home of Douglas County Elementary School”.  We were thrilled with the idea of growing with our new neighbors and the community around us.  A year went by and the sign disappeared.  We were just one year away from our daughter starting kindergarten. I called the school district only to find out that there was no longer a plan to build a school on that parcel of land. I asked why and was told that there were not enough kids in the community to fill a new school.  I knew otherwise.  Our community was bustling with young families. I rallied a few other parents and with the help of my husband, Tyler Tysdal, we surveyed the community.  He ran the numbers and created graphs after we walked house to house asking questions and compiling information.  Our discoveries were shocking.  The kids in our community were finding alternative options for education as they were not happy with what the Douglas County School District had to offer. In fact, out of 350 homes, we found 567 school aged children attending 21 different elementary schools.  

I wanted something better, something new, something people would flock to instead of run from. I used my journalistic skills to get answers and to find a program that would be hard to resist. I called on the community to get behind the idea of a new school, with a new curriculum and an option to traditional learning.  Countless hours went into a 70 page business plan to build a magnet school based on brain-based learning and community involvement.  A former educator, and mom, helped me write the educational plan.  The President of the home owners Association got behind our initiative. We formed a committee to work through details. Within six months I found myself in front of the school board with a plan and a proposed school. We had letters of intent from hundreds of families who agreed that if the school was built, they would transfer their children from other schools around the Denver metro area to attend. More than 300 students were committed to the school which meant more than a million dollars in per-pupil funding for the school district; funds the district didn’t know the were missing out on. 

Two years later, in the fall of 2007, my vision became a reality.  Our daughter was in the 1st grade. She had six amazing years at Lone Tree Elementary and went on to great success in highschool and now is enjoying her life as a student-athlete at Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida. The first round of students to start kindergarten at Lone Tree Elementary Magnet School graduated this year, 2020, the year of COVID19.  In person learning will not take place for many of those students as they transition to their next adventure.  

We have been blessed with 13 years of memories and an excellent education at Lone Tree.  From serving as the PTO president, to volunteering in the classroom and watching countless performances to forming bonds with principals and teachers who have since been married and have families of their own.  I have no doubt that the decision to act and stand up for what our community needed was the right one. But now with so much uncertainty and fear surrounding COVID19 and our kids going back to school, I am having that same feeling of “doing what I need to do”. Tyler and I have spent countless hours talking, planning and praying.  

We won’t be surveying the community and we won’t hold town hall meetings with curriculum proposals.  But instead we are now looking to keep our 10 year old son home so we can focus on learning instead of “distancing” and “masks”.  Our schools are simply not equipped with the technology and training necessary to keep students healthy while advancing educationally.  We know how important it will be to keep him connected socially.  I want more than anything for things to be “normal”, for him to be back in the school we helped create.  But with so much uncertainty my intuition says hold off.  I know that school will look different for each and every family.  I work full time and I have no idea how we will manage having him home.  I am talking to other families, planning days that we can trade responsibilities and looking for help from friends and family.  For others who are going back into the “hybrid” model the district is proposing, there is no judgement, no shame, no agenda. 

Educate yourself on what options are available, listen to your gut and walk forward without fear.  Our kids are watching how we react and what we do in the face of change and crisis.  I want to lift up other parents who are scared of doing something different. I want my daughters who are now 16 and 19 to know that if something doesn’t feel right, they can step up and do something about it. I want my 10 year old son to know that his mom is looking out for him and although he may not understand why he is learning at home this year, we did what we felt was right.  Our kids need us to be their advocates. They need to see that we are involved and that we care about education and about their development. 

It won’t be easy this fall. I know I will be tired and at times I will wish he was at school from 8-3, giving me freedom and flexibility.  But I also know that it won’t last forever, we will have a different kind of flexibility and we will create memories that he will share with his children one day. 

There is no holding back the power of a parent who wildly loves their child and will go to extreme measures to do what needs to be done for their future.  That might be a new school, it might be homeschool, it might be sending them into an unknown and finding out that it really wasn’t that bad.  Whatever it is, do research, go forward with confidence. Show your children that you are invested in their education and their health. You will never regret it.  

When we first moved to Colorado
Natalie, Addy and Ty Tysdal

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