Iyana Gross

THERE IS THE notion that you should always be doing something to build your resume to help you apply to college. You should be doing this internship or that job. But when you’re always working toward building something, it doesn’t allow you to sit and enjoy what you’ve done, to celebrate and recognize it.

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When working across differences, it’s important to enter the setting with the idea that ‘I’m coming here to learn from someone else.’”

Personally, I don’t believe in the idea of doing something to build your resume. I believe in doing things I enjoy and that align with where I want to go in the future. Simply applying to something because someone told you to do it isn’t helpful. There’s so much going on in the world—politics, the environment with climate change, our family lives—sometimes a break is needed.

We need to recognize when we need a break. Far too often children or young adults don’t say no because our ‘no’ is taken as laziness. But in reality, it’s us recognizing when we’ve had enough and we need to re-energize ourselves so we can then focus on what we need to do in the future.

Nzinga Muhammad


BEING IN GEN Z is about being a part of the past, but also being part of the future. It’s almost as if we’re reincarnating what our ancestors fought for, but now it’s on a larger scale with technology. Social movements can start on Twitter.

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We are the generation to advocate for things to change.”

Our politically progressive movements are helping to shape technology and how technological policies are made. TikTok just changed their policies to limit hate speech—antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, white supremacy. We are the generation to advocate for things to change and to find different ways within our specific demographics and specific platforms for how that change can manifest.

We were raised by people who told us, “Go to school, get your education, get a good job, bring that money home, get us out the ‘hood.” Education is often seen as the only way out, but career resources have to be community-oriented and community-based. Parents, teachers, and community leaders should be exposing students to different career paths, whether they require a degree or not. Skills and trades are still very much real and necessary. If we’ve learned anything in this pandemic, it’s that all of a sudden everybody was an essential worker, right? There shouldn’t be any putting down one career over another, because they’re all essential.

Grace Callwood

Grace Callwood

FOR 17-YEAR-OLD Grace Callwood, a terrible diagnosis sparked a lifelong desire to combat the sadness of kids confronting personal trauma.

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Grace Callwood knows what it feels like to be a child suffering from pain and sadness.

In 2011, when she was just seven years old, Grace was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I had no idea what cancer was, or what it meant, until I had it. I just knew that this new terrible thing had come upon me,” Grace recalls.

The diagnosis upended her life. Instead of discovering the joys of school in first grade, Grace spent weeks in hospital enduring chemotherapy and surgery – part of a long journey back to health.

The mission of We Cancerve is to bring swift solutions to children in need, because we believe happiness shouldn’t have to wait.”

There are some things in life, like cancer, that you can’t choose. But there are some things you can. In that moment, Grace chose generosity over self-pity. When she learned about two young girls who lost their home in a fire, Grace donated her new, unused school clothes to help them in their recovery.

That act of kindness fueled a spirit of giving that Grace channeled into We Cancerve Movement Inc., a nonprofit with a mission to provide happy experiences to children who are homeless, ill or in foster care. To date, the organization has served more than 25,000 youth.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your journey with cancer.

I am 17 years old and a junior in the Global Studies International Baccalaureate Program at Edgewood High School, in Edgewood, Maryland. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was in the hospital for about two weeks. During that time, I started a five-week chemotherapy regimen. That’s the time it took to get the cancer out of me. My family noticed lumps in my neck and in my thigh. It took another three years of treatment to make sure it didn’t come back. I have had three major surgeries. I lost my hair five times due to chemotherapy. At some point I was taking more than 20 pills a day. I’ve had 81 spinal taps. I was declared cured in 2019, which means I had gone five years off chemotherapy without a relapse.

Why did you start We Cancerve?

When I got sick, I was showered with so many blessings and acts of kindness from my church, from the hospital, from the community. So many people who brought me moments of happiness that I wanted to share with other youth in sad situations. So when I heard about these two girls who lost their home, all I could think about was how I related to them; how our lives had totally changed in an instant. I decided to donate my brand-new back-to-school clothes because I knew that those girls needed the clothes. I certainly didn’t. My mom made the delivery because I was too sick to go. And when my mom told me about their happy reaction, I knew I wanted to do more work like that. I learned that giving back is something I want to do and that I’m effective in doing.

What does the organization look like today?

We have an all-youth board of advisors ages 8 to 18. There are currently eight of us, including myself. Together we plan and brainstorm ways to bring some happiness into the lives of kids who have a lot of sadness. The mission of We Cancerve is to bring swift solutions to children in need, because we believe happiness shouldn’t have to wait. I remember in the beginning of my journey with cancer, I was just living my seven-year-old life. And I felt I had done something wrong. Was it because I didn’t drink my water or eat my vegetables? I was a kid. I didn’t understand. It’s important that we tell kids the troubles they face are not their fault.

Martin Luna


I GRADUATED WITH my bachelor’s in teaching from the Tech Teach program in August 2021. In the fall, I was able to start a job here in Roscoe. The program offered me a lot—CEN took care of the costs so I could study, and it let me stay local and work here in the district. During the pandemic, you could stay home and work on these courses and still get your degree.

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My students have their own lives. They’re different from me. I want to know what’s going on with them. I want to know what makes them who they are.”

As I go into my classroom, I definitely want to find a way to intrigue the students, hook them in, and get them excited about what they’re about to do. My students have their own lives. They’re different from me. I want to know what’s going on with them. I want to know what makes them who they are. I carry that with me as I work with these kids.

What gives me hope is the fact that I can wake up tomorrow and give whatever I’m doing another shot. If I didn’t do well yesterday, I have today to try again. I have today to make it right. Because when you give up, you’ve lost for sure. Every day is a new chance. Every morning I wake up, I can try.

Dr. Simone Jenkins


EARLY IN MY career, I became a college and career counselor at a high school. Ninety percent of the students were African American, ages 16 to 21. Many of them were still reading between a first- and a third-grade level, so it was quite a challenge to put them on a pathway to obtaining gainful employment.

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Now we’re starting to see students of various backgrounds—regardless of their ethnicity or what they may be going through in their personal lives—have access to rigorous learning.”

Take a look at the workforce shortages that are growing in the health sciences, nursing, medicine, and so forth. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that over half a million computer science jobs will come up by 2024, and we won’t have people with the skills to fill those positions.

We need to find innovative ways to educate our students, especially Gen Z. They’re not going to sit at desks and be lectured all day. They need something kinesthetic. They need to be able to use a QR code and work in groups. They acquire knowledge differently than my generation or the generations before me. We have to adapt our instruction to meet their needs because they’re digital natives. They were born into technology. They don’t know a world without social media. We have to make adjustments because this is who we’re preparing for the next generation of work.

Dr. Debbie Jones

Debbie headshot home

The secret to engaging kids is finding their passion and getting them excited to come to school every day. We have a community of businesses that is willing to take our kids in, let them apprentice, and give them real projects.

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We know we prepared them—and it began with them having a place in our schools where they felt welcome, where they felt important, and where they felt loved.”

With Ignite, Bentonville Schools’ professional studies program, it’s the difference between reading about something and doing it firsthand. Our medical students have observed open-heart surgeries. How many kids have the chance to do that? It’s the coolest thing. That’s the inspiration that gets them into a medical career. Our IT kids go on to work with all kinds of different companies. They’re prepared to go on to a great career or go to college.

As we send our students out to apprentice with different businesses, I expect good feedback. They dress like professionals. They follow the same rules that the companies follow. If they’re running late for their apprenticeship, I want to know that because that’s not our standard. It prepares students for the day when they will walk into a real job.

Ronald Perkins

Ronald Perkins

I PREACH TO young folks, “If you could wake up every single day and love what you do—what would it be? That’s your passion.” You have to find out what you’re excited about, not what society is saying you should be.

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A lot of younger folks now have a stronger sense of what they want to do. Innovation and technology have opened the doors up for a lot of them at an earlier age. We need to have mechanisms in place to keep them interested. If we don’t hold their interest, something else will.”

Everybody’s journey to employment isn’t the same. We need to address that head on, and let young folks know that it’s not just about saying, “I want to do something.” It’s having the right opportunity to take advantage of your skill set, and knowing what needs to be in place to connect you.

We’re engraved with college, college, college. Our parents said, “You don’t want to do the grunt work. Why would you want to hurt yourself or break your back going into a trade?”

But a lot of folks are afraid of post-secondary education, and that’s a conversation we don’t have. College is a big thing, especially if no one in your family has gone, and no one is pushing it. Instead, they’re saying, “Go get a job. When you gonna get bills?” Man, the professors and the scenery—that’s scary to someone who has never been exposed to college life. Even being away from home and going across town can be a challenge. Our institutions don’t get that.

Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani

WHEN COVID-19 HAPPENED, all of our programs were shut down. We looked at our community and our students and said, “what are we going to do?” We developed our first virtual summer program. We designed it for a girl who might be getting Wi-Fi in a Burger King parking lot, or has one device that she’s sharing between her three siblings, or maybe she’s an essential worker or her mom’s an essential worker. We needed to design a program that met her needs—where she could have an asynchronous and synchronous program, where she could go on and offline if she needed to. But still, at the end of the program, feel like: I learned how to code. I built something. I’ve upskilled myself.

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It is possible to teach a girl who lives in a homeless shelter how to code. I’ve seen them go work at Facebook, Google, Microsoft. We can do this, and we can do it one student at a time.”

That was very critical to us, designing for her. And by doing so, we were able to open our program up to so many other young women who were in that situation, who didn’t have to choose between their education and their family. That was really powerful. We ended up teaching thousands more girls to code–thousands more girls under the poverty line, thousands more Black and Latino girls than we had before.

We had a lot of young women who were succumbing to the two-generational cycle of poverty. We had a student who helped her mom stay in the workforce by dropping out of her own schooling to take care of her siblings. So many young people and their mothers are seeing their hopes and ambitions and dreams just die on the vine.

Everyone’s talking about, “We don’t have enough talent. We need to hire people. Innovation, automation, everything’s happening so quickly.” But I see really hungry kids who want a shot at that American dream. So, let’s give it to them. Let’s build curricula. Let’s build micro-credentials. Let’s build programs and tools where they can actually learn the skill sets of today and tomorrow.

Shalinee Sharma

Zearn is an online math platform that’s widely used in schools. You must have had a unique line of sight into how the pandemic affected students!

“We serve one in four elementary school students in the country. Big picture, the data shows in real time: What is the effect of the pandemic? Who’s learning? There was one simple finding: low-income students were disproportionately hit by the pandemic. A month after school closures, participation actually increased among students from higher-income families, but was still down for lower income and middle income families 52% and 30% respectively. Their schools were less likely to be in person, and then it all came down to device access. Low-income students couldn’t get devices, so the shock hit them harder when schools closed, and they never recovered.”

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Lost learning implies that it can’t be recovered. But we can recover it and move forward.”

Educators will likely face significant learning losses when students return to school in the fall. How do we get kids back on track?

“I prefer the term ‘missed learning.’ Lost learning implies that it can’t be recovered. But we can recover it and move forward. As for how we do that, we recently published a report with The New Teacher Project with some groundbreaking findings. We looked at 2 million students across a hundred thousand classrooms and observed two different approaches for catching kids up. One group was teachers who chose remediation, ensuring students had mastered the basics before teaching grade-level content. So, for example, with students who had missed the back half of third grade, teachers went back and taught a lot of concepts from third grade before starting them on fourth grade content. The second group was teachers who chose “acceleration,” moving forward with grade-level content and just filling in knowledge gaps as needed along the way. There were two key findings. The first is that acceleration works better for students. They learn more content. And the second is that acceleration is less confusing for students. They struggle less. In fact, students who received “accelerated” instruction completed 27% more grade-level lessons than students who received remediation–and it was particularly effective for students of color and those from low-income families. So, how do you set up kids to feel hopeful this fall? You start them on grade-level and use these acceleration strategies.”