Drew Bent


I USED TO WORK in software engineering at Khan Academy. Khan Academy has this big mission of a free world class education for anyone, anywhere. It does that through an asynchronous format of videos and exercises at your own pace. We had always wondered whether we could provide that same free, high-quality, world-class education through a live synchronous format, something even higher touch; humans interacting with each other, such as mentoring and/or tutoring. We know tutoring is highly effective, but it’s often very costly and hard to scale.

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A lot of people hear ‘personalized learning,’ and they think of learning in front of a computer with no humans there, but personalized done right should be personal.”

It wasn’t until a month or so into the pandemic that the need for this really became clear. Unfortunately, students were already grade levels behind pre-pandemic, but the pandemic put them even further behind because of all the lost learning. The pandemic really exposed the issues of the education system. It’s kind of like a tide went out and left all the issues that had previously been there on the shore.

But there was also this norm change in how students thought about things. Five years ago, it would’ve been weird for a group of high schoolers from around the world to get onto a Skype call and learn from one another. The pandemic changed that. Now we have people getting on Zoom calls together, learning from one another. So, we saw the potential for a free, peer-to-peer tutoring platform that could connect people from around the world.

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.

Tricia Noyola


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?

Jonte Lee

Jonte Lee

WHEN COVID HIT, no one thought we would be out of school for 18 months. Our school went virtual, and one day, my principal called me and said, “I want you to do an Instagram lesson.” So I decorated my kitchen with posters, and from there I did my first one. I made a lava monster out of baking soda, sugar, and solid fuel. The kids loved it! I did another one the next week, and the kids invited their friends who invited their friends. Before I knew it, I had students, parents, and teachers logging in from San Francisco all the way to Boston.

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We all—all of us—are a hero to someone.”

I had to teach myself how to use Instagram Live, how to use Twitter, how to use Facebook. I mean, I had the accounts, but I wasn’t very active. Growing up, I would watch Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Captain Kangaroo, so I modeled my Instagram lessons after them. The difference was, I couldn’t talk to Big Bird, and Big Bird couldn’t talk to me. But doing my lessons on social media, I was able to interact live with students, teachers, and parents.

These students are sitting at their laptops for eight hours straight, so how do I make it so they’re not just listening to a lecture or watching a PowerPoint? How do I make them feel part of the learning experience virtually? I had to ramp the energy up. I had to be animated. I had to be dramatic. But when I did this from my kitchen, the students loved it. The first thing every student said was, “Mr. Lee has a kitchen! Oh my God.” Because we don’t humanize our teachers. We see them at 9:00 AM, and they just disappear at 3:30. So for them, knowing I have a kitchen, that right there was the talk of the town!

Hosea Born

MANY PEOPLE DON’T realize that internet access is a problem, but the digital divide is very real in poor, rural areas. Over 75 percent of my students live below the poverty line. Last year, we had a limited number of hotspots, and we were able to connect some of the students who couldn’t get online. Efforts were made to expand our Wi-Fi to school parking lots or to get local businesses to open up their Wi-Fi access. But this year we have one family where the hotspot doesn’t even work where they live. They’re completely off the grid as far as internet connection goes.

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We need to recognize broadband as a public utility and necessity, not a fringe benefit. Rural America is an essential element of our nation, and it needs to be connected.”

Sometimes a grown-up has to take the student to a location with free Wi-Fi so they can get some work done online. But if no one in the household is home or can help with schoolwork during the day, there are absolutely no resources. Students who can hop on a Zoom call or email their teachers have immediate access to help, but those who aren’t connected have to rely on paper materials, so getting feedback is delayed. When these students have the option to attend school in-person, they choose to be in-person— even if there are health issues.

District hotspots prevent students who are already underserved living in rural Arkansas from falling further behind their peers across the nation. Having internet access, having the ability to connect, creates opportunities that every child should have.

Torlecia Bates


WHEN COVID-19 HAPPENED, the schools shut things down pretty quickly. But then summer came, and all of the social unrest happened. The George Floyd event was a turning point for me. It hit me in a way that said, “You need to wake up.” I asked my husband, “Are we going to let someone else address these issues, or is this where we step in and take control?”

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We weren’t limited to a classroom. I was able to teach my way. And, from a cultural standpoint, everything we did resonated with African-American history. It was a part of every discussion, which in my opinion, contributes to self-worth and self-love and self appreciation.”

I said, I’ll give homeschooling a try. As chaotic and crazy as it was, it was one of the most liberating things. We weren’t limited to a classroom. I was able to teach my way. And, from a cultural standpoint, everything we did resonated with African-American history. It was a part of every discussion, which in my opinion, contributes to self-worth, self-love, and self-appreciation. To me, that is the foundation of building some incredible human beings that can go on to impact the world in such a greater way.

I had to go through what’s considered ‘unschooling.’ If I pull my children from public school, then I’m not going to duplicate public school. You have to find your own rhythm in what works for your kids. My kids like to cook, so we learned in the kitchen. It’s still math. Some days they get up and they don’t want to be in the house. Learning may be going to the park. Then that will translate into, “Let’s talk about the ecosystem and how we can clean up our environment.” Learning is in everything that you do, and if you adopt that mentality, then it becomes liberating because now nothing is off limits.

Claudy Chapman

Claudy Chapman

THE BEAUTIFUL PART about tutoring is that it’s a close relationship. Students don’t have to compete against a room of 25 or 30 other people to get attention. A high-quality tutorial is based on informed practice. It’s not just working with somebody on their algebra lesson and then leaving and wondering whether or not the student understands it. It’s about relationship building.

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In Saga’s Math Lab, students learn to say, ‘Can you help me with this?’ That kind of freedom to be vulnerable, to get what you need, is life changing.”

Those relationships encourage students to move forward and not be afraid to make a mistake because that’s how they grow. They become more eager to take a chance, to take a risk on a problem, and not feel defeated because it didn’t turn out the way they thought it would.

Being willing to make a mistake. Being willing to ask for help. Those things are so huge—taking that whole idea of failure and turning it into an opportunity for growth. In Saga’s Math Lab, students learn to say, “Can you help me with this?” That kind of freedom to be vulnerable, to get what you need, is life changing.

Moving forward, I’m hoping we find a way that parents can choose, without penalty, to be more engaged in their children’s education—whether we’re talking about being in the classroom or at-home virtually. I want to be real clear: parents in poor communities struggle to be involved in their children’s education.

Sharon McMahon

You’re a former high school history teacher with an Instagram account @SharonSaysSo that has 639,000 followers. Who knew non-partisan civics lessons could be so viral?

“I won’t bore you with my life story, but the short version is that right before the 2020 election, I started seeing so much misinformation circulating on social media. The big catalyst—where I was like, something must be done—was on a friend’s Facebook page. Somebody said something that was just patently false, and I was like, that is not what the Constitution says at all. That was why I started making videos and using my Instagram platform to explain how the government works.”

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How can educators help kids get better at spotting misinformation?

“As Gen Z likes to call it, you need to bring receipts. And what I mean by that is proof. I’m always looking for primary sources—the actual source of the data, who originated this, where did this come from? Like, what do I see on Snapchat? Where’s that person coming from, and how does that lens impact what they’re talking about or reporting? Critically analyzing your source materials is going to be even more important moving forward.”

We have to care about the students, absolutely, but we also must care about the teachers.”

Has this year changed the way you see the teaching profession?

“What a challenging year, and major hats off to all of the teachers who literally invented a new form of education with no runway. Talk about building the plane while you’re flying it, also, while everyone’s screaming at you that you’re doing it wrong. Sounds fun, right? We have to care about the students, absolutely, but we also must care about the teachers. We have to treat teachers like they’re important and not expendable, act like their job satisfaction matters to us, act like they are valued partners in this educational experience.”

Mikala Streeter


I WENT TO very traditional public schools all through K-12. I felt like a cog in the machine, and they were just moving us along. When I went to college at MIT and studied computer science, I was completely blown away by how much more self-directed students were, how comfortable they were diving into complex, abstract projects. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I could follow the rules and fill in worksheets, but I didn’t feel prepared for this bigger, broader problem-solving.

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We didn’t want to design a school to control and manage students. We wanted to create an experience where students learn to manage themselves, build more intrinsic motivation, self-control, and self-care.”

I thought, what else could school look like, so that students could experience more of this at a younger age? As we see the world shifting to gig economies and more dynamic problem solving with climate change and globalization, how do we prepare our students to step into these challenges and be excited and have some sense of agency?

So, I started The LIFE School in downtown Atlanta, where we’re trying to completely redesign and transform the high school experience. Then, early in the pandemic, we launched a primary program, Zucchinis, which was really driven by the community. Families have been so passionate about it that we’re going to bring it into the fold of The LIFE School and go from pre-K through 12th grade. Zucchinis has 15 kids now, and we’re looking to expand to up to 45 next year. The high school will grow from 65 up to 100 kids. We want to design a program that’s more culturally relevant, more identity-safe, and more focused toward families of color.

Jessica Hamilton


THIS YEAR I left my classroom job and became a learning pod instructor, and all of my teaching completely changed. What I have seen this year with my little homeschool pod is that kids are naturally curious. Humans are natural learners. We want to know things, but what we want to know is individual to each person.

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Kids are so curious, and each kid is so different. Our interests and our unique gifts are all part of what makes great adults who are doing important things and helping others and building a stronger community.”

It was really fun to have kids show me what they want to learn more about. Even when it was cold, we would go outside for long periods each day. We were collecting twigs and talking about, “How do we want to build this fire? Is it better to build it in a triangle?” They used pocket knives, and we learned how to cook over a fire. I was amazed by how much outdoor play touched so many different subjects.

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.”

Maria Hinojosa


THIS NOTION OF how we use this moment to transform education is something I’ve been thinking about for over a year. In the middle of teaching at Barnard College, my alma mater, not only did I get sick with COVID-19, but I had to adjust to teaching my students on a computer when my teaching is about creating a safe space in the physical classroom.

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This is a difficult thing to achieve in the United States when there is so much division fomented on racial hate. One of the things this country has yet to do in its teaching is to acknowledge our complicated history.

Students have experienced trauma, separation, fear, and hunger as a result of this pandemic. I had students in an Ivy League setting whose families were hungry. These are first generation Mexican undocumented students or children of undocumented food workers from the Bronx and Queens who lost their jobs and suddenly there was no food in the home.

Our children are looking to us, and we need to show them that we are survivors, and we are vulnerable too.”