Who We Are

We are poets, foodies, barbershop singers, writers, consciousness junkies, activists, climbers, snowboarders, and pianists.

We are also educators with a vision. We have freedomresources, and a workplace grounded in our wellness.

Read through our stuff, and if your life's work aligns with ours, we want to hear from you--we want you to join us!



Dajia Maestas
Manual Writes & School Founding Team

My Why: I am a co-director and co-founder of the Mardale Jay Writing Center. During my senior year of high school at Manual, I worked with a group of seniors to created the first student led high school writing center to be built by students in the nation! As a student of color who has attended Title One schools in an urban district for the last twelve years, I have seen firsthand how the innate passion for writing and learning can fade when school is a place where you are repeatedly told your skills are 'unsatisfactory.' Most conversations I had with teachers about my writing were focused on deficiencies. In this environment, avoidance started to feel safer than taking a risk and failing again. I learned to see writing as something that only exists in the world of academia, a place where they have historically been marginalized and silenced. It wasn’t until high school when I got my mojo back, when my intro to lit teacher, Olivia Jones, opened my mind to a new way of writing. I discovered that writing was my voice. She encouraged me to use writing as a powerful tool to influence change. She inspired me to share my voice with the community. Ms. Jones helped me realize my voice and my writing matters and that I definitely have the power and responsibility to impact my community. We founded the MJ Writing Center because we want to offer students the opportunity to engage with writing freely so they can discover that it is their voice and it can be healing. We want them to experience how writing gives you the power to change something big in the world. I want to show the students in my community that their writing matters and that their voice is powerful, just like Olivia Jones did for me.

I love: lemons with salt, hanging out with my annoying little sister, the feeling i get when my son wakes up, looks at me and instantly smiles, helping students find their voice through writing, the feeling of accomplishment. chicken alfredo (I could literally eat it for the rest of my life), and most of all I love the little family that I created: me, my son, and my boyfriend, and the feeling I get each and everyday when it's late at night and all I can do is sit and think about what the future has to offer for us.


Christiana Rodriguez
Manual Writes

My Why: I am one of the 15 founders, of the Mardale Jay Writing Center, and now serve as a co-director. I am 19 years old, and I am a proud, independent Latina. I graduated from Manual High School in 2017, and I am currently, in my first year of studying Business Management at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Being able to become a co-director of the Writing Center is a dream come true. Building the writing center with my peers during my last year of High School was a life-changing experience. It gave me hope because we made a difference in our community. Now that I am able to work in the center as a college student, I am thrilled to continue building the legacy that we started last year as seniors. I want to continue to help students on the east side community to help them find their confidence and their voice through writing. I want them to know that writing can help change the society around them and that they are use writing to challenge the injustices they face in their lives outside of school.

I love: sleeping with my window open on summer nights, blasting my music on my speakers when no one is home, being happy, making a difference, the neighborhood I come from, no matter what people say about it, Taco Bell and EVERYONE knows it, my family, and my life. 


Ariana Villalovos
Manual Writes & School Founding Team

My Why: I am a college student whose sole purpose is not to get hundreds of Facebook likes on my college graduation picture, but to explore the depths of independence yet learn the importance of unity. I am majoring in Ethnic Studies and will be pursuing a teaching career so that I can share with students those parts of their culture that are not often covered by districts’ education requirements.

Today I might doubt my career choice but my 10 year old self already determined that education would be the path to cross until my legs could no longer walk on their own. With the help of teachers and mentors, I realized how the power of education can transform young people to become revolutionaries. While being involved in the Writing Center at Manual, I worked with students that were only a couple a years younger than me and I noticed that their strong desire to change the world was no different than that of the adults in the building. I realized that was the reason I wanted to teach, because I believed every voice was powerful enough (regardless of age) to create such revolution.

I love: handwritten letters, creative writing, hot chocolate, foreign languages, being bilingual, cultura Mexicana.

(...The one with the beard...)

Nathan Pai Schmitt
HNC Co-founder

My Why: As a mixed race person, I grew up in a world of diverse cultures, conflicting values, and no one with the experience to teach my sister and me how to make sense of it all. Finding a home in the space between meant that we had no choice but to understand and truly empathize with conflicting sides of culture, race, class, and so on. In a world of such divisive discourse, even among those who are ostensibly "on the same side," my purpose is to facilitate true collaboration between those who see themselves in eternal conflict. I see HNC as a vehicle through which a collective of the people most impacted by systems of oppression can build together. This is a fact: our futures and fates are inexorably tied, and the only way out is together.

I Love: cooking, rock climbing, food, hiking, traveling, couchsurfing.org, more food, dark chocolate, people with weird diets (because I am one of them), hosting dinner parties, and being in heinous vertical positions on epic rock.

Wisdom Amouzou
HNC Co-founder

My Why: The students in this video taught me what it means to teach. They are why I'm committed to this work and why we haven't the time for conformist models of education. My life goal is transformative resistance, developing revolutionary love, and actively decolonizing my mind. 

My family came to this country seeking asylum. I arrived in Aurora at the age of 10 having immigrated from the West African country of Togo. I attended Aurora Hills Middle School and graduated from Gateway High School earning one of the top four grade point averages in my graduating class. I was also one of 7 students in the district to win the $20,000 APS VISTA Scholarship which got me to college. It wasn’t until I got to CU Boulder that I began to analyze and understand the vicious systems of inequity that impacted the K-12 education of my peers and I in Aurora. This fueled my passion to join the classroom and eventually co-found HNC. 

I Love learning new instruments, singing, #IAmNotYourNegro, mi familia, writing tall tales and my roots.

Jesse White
Center Director - Compass Makerspace

My Why: The structure of education in America has largely remained the same for many decades and, as a child, I felt that the traditional model of schooling did not serve me. This is why I chose to be a teacher and my life’s work has become a search for an authentic approach to education. A socially, environmentally, and technologically aware approach that meets the needs of the world today. An approach that harnesses the ideas and talents of young people to help make the world a better place. An approach that embraces real-world experiences and experimentation, and persistence in the face of failure.

I began teaching 16 years ago in Charleston, SC as a history educator at the middle school level, and developed county and state curriculum for content across grade levels. A native of Colorado, I returned in 2010 to continue this work in the Denver area, most recently as an art teacher and the director of HackSchool for HNC at my high school. Hackschool is a program that provides students with a makerspace and encourages them to discover their interests and strengths through authentic education while creating solutions for the world’s problems at the same time. I am also an avid outdoorsman and have designed and led outdoor education programs that include camping, backpacking, hiking, survival skills, and snowboarding at both the middle and high school level.

I love spending time with my wife, dog, chickens, and bees; being outdoors, snowboarding, practicing aikido, designing and building new things, and gaming.

Olivia Jones
Manual Writes

My Why: As a teacher, I am moved every day by the power, beauty, and potential of humankind. Education should never be isolated by abstract curriculum or limited by the four walls of a classroom; instead it should be driven by students and connected to the larger world. For then, education serves as an act of liberation. Spending the last four years writing and learning with students at Manual High School, I have witnessed the immeasurable power of voice. Together, we have worked to create a space where young people use writing to resist and transform persistent structures of privilege and oppression.

I love reading outside, the ocean, postcards, storytelling, rain in the summertime, my family, soft serve ice cream, transformative literature.

Brian Huang
Center Director - HackSchool and Education Engineer

My Why: For the past five years, Brian was the Education Engineer for SparkFun Electronics, an open-source electronics education company. Brian started his career as an electrical engineer. After 8 years working in the industry, he fell in love with teaching and working with students. He left engineering to pursue a second career as an educator, earned his Masters in Education at CU Boulder, and worked as a high school teacher for 5 years teaching physics, engineering, and mathematics. Brian combines the lens of an engineer with that of an educator to provide a unique perspective to teaching and learning for students. The multiple facets of his background are told and re-told in stories and anecdotes throughout his workshops and provide a vantage into engineering and electronics that few are able to provide. His journey through both engineering and education have culminated to his current position at HNC.

Our amazing advisors

Robb Pike

My Why: My career has taken me all over, and I have worked with hundreds of organizations, philanthropists, and thought leaders--my calling has always been the world of education. My teachers shaped and continue to shape the way I interact with the world. I have a smile on my face more days than not because of them. With this team, I found an idea which combines my belief that the key to change is education, that true learning can only come from the student, and that the power within each of us is stronger than we know.

I love anything in the mountains, the moment the lights go down before a movie starts in a packed theater, having gray hair, and my family. Sure they are a little goofy but they are mine.

Alex Hernandez

Alex Hernandez is a Partner at the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF), a nonprofit that supports the growth of the nation’s best public charter schools. He has led over $100M in investments and built the organization’s Next Generation Schools practice, establishing CSGF as a national leader in school innovation. He now leads CSGF’s Impact Team that provides direct services to portfolio schools to help them scale better and reach higher levels of performance faster.

Alex is a former Area Superintendent at Aspire Public Schools where he managed schools in the California Central Valley region. He taught high school math in South Los Angeles and later served as a Broad Fellow at Portland Public Schools. Before that, Alex worked for several years with JP Morgan and Disney’s venture capital arm, Steamboat Ventures. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, has an MBA and Masters of Education from Stanford University, and is a Pahara-Aspen fellow for leaders dedicated to transforming public education. He is a board member of DSST Public Schools, Ednovate, Rocketship Education and 4pt0 Schools. He is also a mentor for the Future Cities Accelerator, a collaboration between the Unreasonable Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation. Alex lives near Boulder, Colorado with his wife Michelle and twin sons.

Christine DeLeon

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Moonshot edVentures founder Christine DeLeon has a wide range of experiences in leadership development, entrepreneurship, and new school models. As CEO of Moonshot edVentures, Christine is responsible for surfacing and supporting a more diverse set of leaders to design and launch the schools of tomorrow. In order to build the pipeline, Christine also co-leads a local group called “Talk to Action,” an organically-formed group of educators focused on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion and its intersection with K-12 education. Additionally, she helped co-found the edGarage, a co-working space dedicated to helping education entrepreneurs along their startup journey.

Christine began her career as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group and later became the Los Angeles lead for The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation’s leadership development portfolio, focusing primarily on school leadership preparation programs. In 2010, she founded the Analyst Fellowship for Education Pioneers, the organization's first year-long fellowship, which has grown from 10 to more than 100 fellows annually in fewer than five years. Christine also spearheaded efforts for districts (including Denver Public Schools), charter networks, and city-based nonprofits to develop and support innovative new school models in conjunction with Next Generation Learning Challenges and Education Cities. She also led the recruitment of the second cohort of Summit Basecamp schools, growing the program from 19 schools to more than 130 schools. She possesses experience in cultivating entrepreneurs through her time as a Harvard Innovation Lab Fellow and is a trained facilitator of Intergroup Dialogues, structured to explore social group identity, conflict, community, and social justice. She holds a BA in Business Administration from the University of Michigan and a Doctorate in Education Leadership from Harvard University, and is a member of the inaugural Pahara Next Gen Network.

I love: creating new things, empowering individuals to reach their fullest potential, yoga, running snowboarding, surfing, FaceTiming my nieces and nephews, and spontaneous trip taking. 

Shannon Kete

Shannon is a senior executive with over 20 years experience in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. In particular, she has a track record of operational leadership in managing rapid growth and transforming education enterprises. She began her work in education serving in the Chancellor's Office of the New York City public school system during the early days of Children First, the reform effort led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein. She later served as Chief Operating Officer at the following organizations: PLTW, a national leader in project-based STEM education, Success Academies, one of the highest growth and highest performing charter school networks in the country, and Amplify, a market trailblazer in educational technology. She was also a member of the inaugural class of the Broad Residency in Education Program. Shannon began her career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and later served as a Chief of Staff in asset management. She remains involved in education through board roles and as an advisor to several edtech start-ups. Ms. Kete holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she was a Morehead-Cain Scholar.

I love: baking desserts, camping in the Adirondacks, growing lavender, hydrangeas and clematis in my garden, and drinking coffee in the morning on my porch.

Want to work with us?

We would love to hear from you! We're building a world-class team as we accelerate towards our vision. We always love to meet critically conscious, dedicated, empathetic, and highly effective people. Drop us a line!

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