Lyle was a stay-at-home mother when she first noticed that immigrant children were being turned away from public schools in the early 1980s because they had no documentation. She decided she would teach 10 children preschool readiness skills a few times a week in a maintenance room of the San Juan del Centro apartments so that they would be able to attend school the following year.
When she arrived the first day, she found not 10, but 43 students and their eager parents waiting outside. Word had gotten around, and mothers lined the block to get their kids into Lyle’s free, unofficial preschool program.
Lyle saw a need in her community, and decided to do her small part with a few hours a week.
Since then, the organization has grown to help nearly 2,000 students and families each year. Last year, all 37 of the center’s high school seniors graduated, and this year, 73 are on track to graduate high school. Many were accepted to universities, community colleges and trade schools; some are the first in their immediate families to continue their education after high school.
Lyle said she often hears about racism or classism from students at the center, who use it as an excuse not to turn in homework. Their teacher doesn’t expect them to, Lyle recounted, because he or she is prejudiced and doesn’t think minority students can learn anything.
The director quickly corrects the students’ thinking. She has little tolerance for students who conform to the negative stereotypes of their ethnic group.
“Here’s the problem with that,” she said. “One, racism has existed since the beginning of time, and it’s probably not going to end tomorrow. Two, that teacher you didn’t turn the homework in to? She has a job. She has a college degree. It really isn’t hurting her that you didn’t turn your homework in. Let’s look at how you can still be empowered, and get your homework done.”
The center takes a calculated approach to help students and parents succeed. Instead of simply saying they’re working to close the achievement gap and improve lives, Lyle said they look at the literal tools students need.
“What does it really mean to be economically self-sufficient in Boulder?” she said. “It means that if you’ve got a family of four, you better be making close to $26 an hour. What kind of jobs will pay you that much? What kind of skills do you need to get that job? We backtrack.”
If students want to go to a four-year college, they have to earn a high enough combined GPA and ACT score to get in. The Family Learning Center looks at the minimum scores colleges accept, and then helps students achieve those scores from the time they start school until graduation.