Our Community Design Team

The design of Empower Community High School is led by a Community Design Team (CDT) which includes students, families, community members, and educators. The CDT holds bi-monthly dinner meetings during which every member of the team has an equal voice in decisions impacting the school’s model and design.


All photos below were taken during the bi-monthly Community Design Team Meetings


Aurora Public Schools

Educational Services Center 1

15701 E. 1st Ave.`1

Aurora, CO 80011

March 8, 2018

Dear Aurora Public Schools:

We, members of Empower High School’s Community Design Team, are determined to build a charter school in Aurora. This application comes to you from a diverse group of thirty students, families, educators, and community members who have routinely gathered in a small room to collectively devise a new school from our shared values and vision for education.

Every aspect of Empower Community High School’s (ECHS) model was designed by this dynamic group of students, parents, educators, and citizens. From the start of our process, we have operated with the belief that each of our members is essential to our purpose. Who are we? We are students who are experiencing positive and negative school practices. We are parents with feedback and ideas for school improvement we want to see implemented to benefit all of our children. We are experienced educators informed by past failures and successes. And we are the community of Aurora sharing our varied skills and our deep understanding of the necessity for continued innovation in our school district. All members of the CDT were crucial in the development of each aspect of our proposed school.

I am a co-founder of the Mardale Jay Writing Center and a member of the CDT. I am someone whose passion for education was enhanced by participating in a student-led AP Language and Composition course junior year of high school. Now, as a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, the skills I acquired in that class continue to be put in practice. Many of these skills are beyond the technical and the academic. I learned to advocate for myself and for others. I learned that diligence and conviction are essential to propagate real change.  The skill of transforming voice into writing has allowed me to interact and work in communities with people who share my desire to transform their lives.

When I worked with high school students in the Writing Center, I noticed that their strong ambition to change the world was no different than that of the adults in the building.  I came to understand that the change they desired could not happen if students continued to participate in a system where they were passive, static and voiceless. For that reason, I chose to lead the CDT. I hope to demonstrate that it is important that young adults have the power to create change within our communities. We are capable  leaders who have the most vested interest in our success. Who better to determine our paths? Who better to identify our needs and passions?

The beauty of attending the CDT bimonthly meetings was that new people regularly appeared and participated in the development of the school. Every person contributed their ideas into group discussions where we collectively finalized key components of the school. For that reason, working on the CDT was empowering. As a facilitator, it was fascinating to observe the power of the vision shared across people of different ages, races, ethnicities, and genders. We proved that that there were no barriers for people to create together regardless of languages spoken. Our conversations were multilingual, and the outcome was powerful. We demonstrated that there were no limits to creating positive change around us.

The  CDT members are diverse in culture and ideas, but we all want to build something transformative within the community of Aurora. This application carries the voices and hearts of students, parents, educators, and community members who have worked and dreamed of its submission to you. A first transformative step happened when we gathered voluntarily and spent unpaid time to build an institution that would benefit Aurora’s students. The genuine passion to transform the community was energizing and inspiring; it made the CDT successful. We are ready to take the next steps and open our school’s doors for our Freshman class in 2019.

The CDT’s model for the school is undoubtedly unique because it heavily focuses on students and the community. Too often, schools are focused on students’ academic progress, and they overlook the fact that students are part of a bigger community outside school. The adversities their communities face heavily affect students in ways that can interfere with student achievement. It is imperative to bring forth the opportunity for students to change their surroundings. People often hold that students are the future, but then continue to implement old ideals and antique ways of schooling. The model created by the CDT supports the idea of student-led learning with an academic curriculum which prepares them for higher education while enhancing cultural awareness in the process. Additionally, the CDT finds importance in utilizing education as a means of working and improving the community.

This application stands apart as truly distinct because the ideas, planning, and application work comes from students as early as elementary school to current principals and well-known community members. Every member of the CDT contributed their ideas for an institution in an area that has limited choices for education. We have imagined this to be the beginning revolution for students to experience a long and positive change in their lives. We have planned this school as citizens who want to transform the community around us.

Our hope is that this school will bring forth a new academic and communal curriculum that will justly serve Aurora. Students will have control over their education and will not question the innate and special gifts they have to create an impact.


Ariana Villalovos-Estrada

On behalf of Empower’s Community Design Team