On building a foundation of love in schools

Tricia Noyola

CEO, Rocky Mountain Prep


I GREW UP in the Rio Grande Valley, on the very bottom tip where Texas meets the Mexico border. Like most kids in the valley, I lived my life on both the American side and the Mexican side. It was the only way of life I knew.

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When you walk into a school, you can tell—even if you can’t perfectly articulate it—when the people there really love and understand the families and communities they are serving.”

The systems around me had very low expectations for myself and my friends. That culminated for me in high school when my guidance counselor tried to route me into a vocational program. I tried to explain to her that I really was interested in going to college, but she discouraged me.

I did actually end up going to college, but it was hard. I had never done homework regularly. I didn’t know how to keep a planner or keep track of due dates. Over time, I realized the very poor preparation I got was not limited to the valley, but rather, it was happening all across the United States. So I decided to go into education. I went back to the valley and became a middle school teacher. Eventually, I became an elementary school principal and today I lead the Rocky Mountain Prep network of schools in Colorado.

The best education systems are founded on deep love and appreciation for kids—their natural curiosities, excitements, idiosyncrasies—and this excitement that I believe we’re all born with for learning. Why does it have to be boring? Why does it have to look the way it’s always looked? Why can’t we be more silly? Why can’t we sing more songs? Why can’t we play into what kids are naturally like and what kids naturally enjoy to get them excited about learning?

Tricia Noyola

We need far more transparency for families around what’s going on in their schools, how their schools are doing, and actual parent voices at the table. Our parents across the country are saying, “Hey, I understand now more than I did before what my kids need and what is and is not happening at my child’s school.” The worst thing we can do as school leaders is to say, “But you really don’t get it because you don’t work in a school, or you don’t have a master’s degree.” Let’s re-envision how we involve parents as partners in the major decisions we’re making coming out of this pandemic.

What if all of our schools were a love letter to the communities they served? What if they reflect our deepest beliefs about what our kids are capable of? What if they were mirrors to what we believe our children are going to be? And what if we designed them, top to bottom, to maximize our kids’ academic success, their joy, their excitement, and made them places where kids cannot wait to come back to school every day?

When you walk into one of our schools, I want you to feel that we deeply know and are rooted in where we are. So if you’re walking into our school in southwest Denver, I want you to see the love and appreciation we have for the community and the culture of southwest Denver. I want you to see colors, art, and teachers that reflect that deep appreciation. I want you to see classes, programming, and touches all over the school, designed in service of the families and kids that we serve in southwest Denver. Because when you walk into a school, you can tell—even if you can’t perfectly articulate it—when the people there really love and understand the families and communities they are serving.