Shawn Brumfield is the founder and director of Pasadena Rosebud Academy a public charter school in Altadena, California. Brumfield didn’t set out to become a school founder but along her journey she discovered the glaring gaps that exist in education and knew she needed to make her contribution. When her son was five years old, she decided it was the perfect time to open her school. I chat with her about following her purpose and passion to educate students effectively.
You can watch the full conversation below.
How did you get involved in education?
I became an educator haphazardly. Teaching was never on my radar. I actually have my bachelor’s in economics. I ended up going into education because somebody recommended giving substitute teaching a try. From there, teaching just became my passion and my purpose. As a middle school teacher, I worked with students in English and social studies. I found that there were so many students falling behind because they were reading two to three grade levels behind.
They had not been provided the academic skills they needed to be successful. That can really affect how a child views themselves; I could tell their confidence was low. I wondered what was happening. I knew these students did not have learning disabilities. I discovered that there was some sort of gap in their education along the way. These students were capable, but something was wrong.
As I got deeper into the problem, I became more purpose and passion-driven. I knew the only way that I could affect change was to do something on my own. I needed to get away from that bureaucratic system that was impeding student development. I knew students needed a strong foundation at that elementary level. That was my driving force behind opening a school.
What year did you open your school? And, when did concrete plans come to fruition?
I always knew one day I was going to open my school. I was already thinking about it in the late 1990s and early 2000s, while I was teaching. During that time, I got married and then pregnant. Once I was on maternity leave, I started to develop plans for my school. And when my son turned five years old, I opened my school. So, I really started doing all the groundwork while I was home with my son as a stay-at-home mom.
How many students do you serve today?
We serve students from kindergarten through eighth grade, and right now we have roughly 200 students. We are a charter school, and we are serving students virtually now due to COVID.
One of the things that is empowering is that we are able to follow our students into high school and beyond because of our familial community. We keep in contact with our students. So, when students come to Pasadena Rosebud Academy, we are not with them just while they are here, we go along with them into the future, and we are providing resources and support to them along their journey in life. So that is amazing to be able to do that with these students.
How does it make you feel reflecting on your progress?
It feels great! Even when I was in the classroom, I had my own thoughts and ideas on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to affect students. A big thing I wanted was for students to gain experiences outside of the classroom.
When I was in the classroom, I started this club called the travel club. I believed students were not getting out and experiencing things outside of the school. Having those experiences in the world really fits with our vision to initiate well-rounded critical thinking.
As a result, we would take the students on a lot of field trips. My dream was to take kids out of the country. Now with my school, we are able to do just that. Before COVID-19 we were able to take our kids to Costa Rica and even a few groups to China.
Our eighth-grade students go to Washington D.C., and New York, so they can experience what they’re learning in the classroom and get hands-on experience. We are able we do a lot of traveling, even at the kindergarten level. We even make sure to arrange an end-of-year field trip for every grade. The kindergarteners go to Catalina Island on the Catalina Express. Our fourth grade students fly into Sacramento so they can get experiences in the capital. It is a really big deal for me to be able to have our students enjoy these experiences outside of the classroom.
Was being a Black school founder top of mind when you were creating your school?
Not necessarily. I was just passionate and purpose-driven. I just wanted to educate students effectively. I think that is what led me initially. Since then, I do understand the importance of what I do now in terms of being Black and educating Black students. So now, I do have a certain mindset concerning my approach to things. It is important for me to work with students of color and to ensure they get what they need to be successful long term.
Do you feel that Black-led schools have an extra flavor or spark to them?
There’s always flavor! As African Americans we have that swag to us in general. So anytime we have programs they are always lively or “lit” as the kids would say. Our culture just naturally brings that swag and that energy to our school.
Do you think that more Black owned schools should exist?
I do. I think what we have to offer is very important. Some of the things that I am doing are really geared towards ensuring that we change the trajectory of the Black and brown experience in America. For example, we have a financial literacy program. We want to ensure that our students are gaining a strong foundation in financial literacy so that they know how to use their money effectively.
We want them to have a wealth mindset. The only way we are going to be taken seriously in this country is through economics and having wealth. It is really a mindset that we need to cultivate. We also want to make sure our students are confident; that they have the experiences to understand that the world is bigger than their immediate environment. Through our travel and all of our outside experiences, our students are able to think bigger, dream bigger and understand that they can do anything. They are not limited.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about launching their own school?
A big thing is making sure not only that you have a mission and vision, but that it is upheld. That is going to be very critical in terms of who you hire. The people you hire must believe in the mission and vision of the school and just creating a positive culture and environment in which everyone can live and work.
You also have to understand all the aspects of the business. A lot of times people just think about the teaching and learning, but all of the things that go into running the school should be a part of that mission and vision. If you are going to lead a school, make sure that you are hands-on and that you are one sticking to that mission and vision. Understanding how everything that happens at the school is tied to that mission is vital; It is going to contribute in a positive way to what you are trying to do in the long run.