Lisa Latimer: Reflecting On Our First Year

When I was asked to open iLEAD Agua Dulce, I accepted the challenge, though I had never opened a school before.

The day I walked onto the Agua Dulce campus, it was overgrown with weeds, you couldn’t see the gardens, and it needed a lot of TLC, but I saw the vision and I knew how much potential it had, and I was incredibly excited to get started.

Our charter was approved on June 21st, 2018, and that is when the adventure began.

We had a staff of 8, and we were thinking “How are we going to get this all done?” We decided to have a school beautification day. We had no idea how many families would show. On that day, an army of over 60 amazing people showed up with power washers, rakes, weed whackers, paint brushes, tree trimmers, and more. In one day, they helped to make our school beautiful and inviting.

It was that day that really resonated with me. I felt a huge sense of community. You see, it wasn’t just parents who came to work, it was entire families, plus members of the community who do not have children at our school. This community is like no other, and day by day it kept getting stronger.

It’s hard to believe that we opened our campus in just 8 weeks after our charter approval.

In September, the learners and parents worked together after school to create a one-of-a-kind float for the Agua Dulce parade. We had a trailer that sat 30 of of us and we were towed by a giant COW HEAD that shot strawberry candy from its nose out to the onlookers on the parade route. We were so proud that we won 6 trophies, including Best Overall.

I learned very quickly that we could rely on the partnership of our families and community to help create the best learning environment possible for our children.

In a short time, with the help of Kurt Knetchel and Glenn Ames and donations of materials, our learners designed and built a chicken coop as one of their ongoing community artifacts from our first project.

We had many other events, including:

  • Harvest Festival
  • Winter Production
  • ’50s Ice Cream Social
  • The best outdoor drive-in movie night ever

And it kept getting better when we found out that the grant application we submitted was approved for $475,000, which enabled us to purchase our SMART Lab Exploratorium, Promethean ActivPanels for every classroom, big blue blocks for engineering and design, and items to enhance our outstanding Outdoor Classroom, where all learners from TK-6th grade have the opportunity to learn about and connect with nature. We have an upcoming Makery, an Art Studio, and more technology on the way. And if that wasn’t enough, we were just awarded $50,000 more to add toward programs for our learners who need extra support!

We went through the very difficult process of becoming a WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) Accredited school, which was ambitious for a first-year school. However, we took on the challenge and were elated to say that we received our accreditation.

Talking about ambitious, Mrs. Morrison took on the challenge of having the entire 5th/6th grade class participate in the DreamUP Project where, in short, the learners had to research and design a specific experiment to be conducted in microgravity. This was a very high level project with very specific guidelines. They all worked incredibly hard. Out of over 150 teams, 2 of our teams finished in the top 6, which then had to be judged by a team of NASA scientists. We are proud to say our team studying Aloe Vera will be among the final teams going to Florida to watch their experiment be flown to the International Space Station, where their experiment will be conducted by the astronauts. Click here to read more.

We have had a total of 20 engaging, rigorous, and real-world projects. So real that our 2nd-grade learners who were learning about our government not only exercised their freedom speech, but learned about the process firsthand when a group of learners felt that the road in front of our school needed to be safer and thought of a variety of ideas. After meeting with a member of the Town Council and the Justice Deputy in charge of Public Safety Legislation and Policy from Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office, they have been invited to read their individual persuasive essays at the Los Angeles County Supervisors Board Meeting at the beginning of next school year, where their 7-year-old voices will be heard.

Our TK learners dove deep into how to help animals in their habitats. They problem-solved and worked collaboratively, designing and creating their own contraptions that will help animals in a variety of ways.

First grade developed and built their own community after learning about the best elements from their own communities here in Acton and Agua Dulce.

The 3rd and 4th graders researched various issues in their world around them, such as homelessness, illness, hunger, social injustices, and poverty. Learners had to create a solution through the use of technology. Through building websites, blogs, vlogs, circuit boarding, robotics, and drone plan design, they spearheaded campaigns to bring awareness to these issues and held food and clothing drives as just two of the ways to help.

Additionally, 5th and 6th grade learners became real entrepreneurs who started up their own baked good business, in which they collectively made close to $700 profit in just one hour.

Our learners have also met with experts in a variety of fields that pertain to their projects, to make that connection with the real world. In just 10 months they have met with:

  • Acton Agua Dulce Town Council
  • Assemblywoman Christie Smith
  • Congresswoman Katie Hill
  • Urban Forestry Manager
  • Justice Deputy in Charge Public Safety Legislation and Policy
  • Two-time Cupcake Wars winner and Food Network Champion
  • Fire Department
  • 3 professional permaculturists
  • Engineers
  • General contractors
  • NASA
  • Vasquez Rocks rangers and birds of prey
  • Mars Science Laboratory/NASA JPL Scientist
  • Paleontologist
  • Musician/Author
  • Artists
  • And more…

We had after-school clubs led by our facilitators, where our learners had fun doing ballroom dancing, spirit squad, environmental art, mindfulness, home ec, improvisation, reading and math club, crafting, life skills, and outdoor explorers.

We also had competitive sports teams including soccer, basketball, and flag football.

As we grew in enrollment, so did our staff. We now have 14 on our iLEAD Agua Dulce team, in addition to a phenomenal student support system with ed specialists, OT therapists, counselor, and speech therapists.

We are all so honored to have laid the foundation for the years to come, and would like to thank the community and our families for entrusting us with your child’s education.

The Best is Still Yet to Come!

Couldn’t make it to the inaugural iLEAD Agua Dulce Jamboree on June 8? Enjoy this video tribute to our volunteers.




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Calling Space Artists! Design a piece of artwork that could be launched to the International Space Station. Enter the TK-12 DreamUp to Space Mission Patch Artwork Design Challenge!

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