The voice of California’s charter school movement

For This Mom and Charter School Administrator, Education is Personal

By California Charter Schools Association

Laura Carbajal has worn many hats at Hawking STEAM Charter School, a public charter school with more than 1,000 transitional-kindergarten through 12th-grade students.  

She started as a fifth-grade teacher six years ago, just one year after the school opened its doors in Chula Vista. The following year she became an instructional coach and provided support for teachers in the classroom. Soon she was the assistant principal, then served as principal for three years before moving to her current role as student achievement and programs coordinator. In this position, she creates systems that support students by analyzing data about performance, needs and opportunities.

Carbajal also plays another key role at the school – mother of two students: Eric, an eighth grader, and Alan, who is in the fifth grade. As much insight as she gains from her work on campus, it’s when she’s wearing her Mom Hat -- when the family gathers around the dinner table at night -- that Carbajal gets a sneak peek at how the school’s innovative approach to teaching affects student learning.


Photo courtesy of Hawking STEAM Charter School

Hawking STEAM Charter School, named after theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, teaches most of its subjects through the lens of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). This means that students sharpen their reading comprehension and vocabulary-building skills by connecting science concepts to their reading. Through this approach, Carbajal sees students on campus engaged with their coursework.

At home she hears her sons discussing what they are learning in class with far greater enthusiasm than they might have at a larger school.  

“We talk about concepts they discuss in the classroom and projects they’re working on,” she said. “When I hear my kids having detailed conversations, sometimes even arguments, about the topics being discussed in their classrooms, it makes me realize how aware our Hawking students are of the world around them, and how much they care about these topics."

Carbajal’s commitment to education is strengthened by parenting two students, but it began in her own childhood in the South Bay area of San Diego. Her parents moved their family, including Carbajal and her three brothers, from Mexico to the United States when she was in the first grade. They lived in low-income housing and her parents had limited formal education, but the message to the children was very clear: education is paramount.

“When we got home from school, we had a place to do homework and we were expected to do it, no excuses,” she says.  

Not every family in the economically diverse South Bay area is as lucky, which was part of what motivated Carbajal to return to the community. “This is where I felt I could make the greatest impact,” she says. “We’re about building a system that supports students through challenges.”


Photo courtesy of Hawking STEAM Charter School

Realizing that successful students benefit from an academically focused home environment, Carbajal began hosting “Coffee with The Principal” meetings with students’ families, and workshops to introduce parents to ideas and programs to help their children succeed in school. “They can ask questions and raise concerns, which is something I think my parents would have really appreciated,” Carbajal says.

Though Carbajal has had many roles at Hawking STEAM Charter School, her focus remains the same: “We graduate students who are intellectually curious and well prepared to succeed in high school.”