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Published: March 19, 2024  |  

Daily acts of impact: Board member Ema Lyman’s 24-year career empowering BVSD youth

By Alison Meyer

After dedicating 24 years to serving the young people of Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), Ema Lyman isn’t interested in measuring the broad achievements of her career. Instead, she prefers to focus on the impact she makes each day. “I help where I can. I smile a lot and if I get a smile back, I’ve succeeded. I don’t need to know if my students will grow into success stories — my work is unconditional.”

Lyman, a McKinney Vento specialist and child welfare liaison, provides support to students experiencing housing instability and those in the foster care system. She is also a member of the Impact on Education Board of Directors

Born and raised in Santiago, Chile, Lyman grew up in a family that deeply valued education.

“My parents instilled in me that education was more important than anything,” she said. “Education for the sake of being educated, not for the sake of advancing in status or society, getting a wonderful job or being famous.”

While attending an all-girls Catholic school taught by American and Italian nuns, Lyman, who is no longer affiliated with a religion, learned the value of helping others. “To the nuns it wasn’t important to go to mass or confession,” she said. “The important thing was to feed the family down the street. I was very fortunate because they taught me civic duty and social support.”

New culture, same commitment

After finishing high school, Lyman began studying architecture. Around that time, her father’s company transferred him to an office in Denver, Colorado, and the entire family moved with him. Lyman finished college at the University of Colorado at Boulder, earning an environmental design and planning degree.

Soon after graduation, Lyman got married and had three children. “I was able to be a stay-at-home mom, which is what I always wanted,” she shared. Curious about her children’s experience in a North American school, Lyman became an active volunteer with BVSD. As she volunteered, Lyman started to notice demographic changes in the district.

“There were many more children of color and second language speakers, and the support for them wasn’t there.”

That first-hand experience would stick with Lyman and eventually bring her back to the school district. As her children grew older, Lyman went to work as an interior designer. After a ten-year career, Lyman couldn’t deny her desire to do something about the disparity she saw between schools and her clients. “I learned how much money this state, city and this country has,” she said. “I knew that it was imperative to channel all that into something that would better the community and society in general.”

Officially an educator

Taking action on everything she had learned so far, Lyman applied for a job with BVSD and was immediately hired. Initially, she worked in the Office of Open Enrollment and then as a community liaison and a language assessor. In her 50s, wanting to know more about how to help English learners, Lyman returned to school again. She earned her master’s degree in multicultural and English-as-a-second language education. 

Through her work in the schools Lyman learned about Impact on Education, eventually joining their board.

“It was a natural marriage for me to volunteer with them because I was already very involved and aware of everything they do and provide to our community.”

As someone who has worked directly with the recipients of Impact on Education’s support, Lyman knows firsthand the critical role the foundation plays in Boulder Valley schools. 

Through her approach to taking each day as an opportunity to give, Lyman has spent a lifetime dedicated to empowering young people through education. “To gain a measure of immortality and success in life is to enable and guide the next generation, whether they’re your children or not. It was a message given to me by the nuns whom I loved so dearly and I still believe it.”

BEFORE YOU GO

Impact on Education is an independent non-profit supporting the Boulder Valley School District. We depend on the support of our community to put our mission into action. Will you help us provide opportunities and resources to marginalized students across the Boulder Valley School District?

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