Delashay Lawrence


I GREW UP in North Tulsa, Oklahoma in a single father household with six siblings. Where I’m from, a lot of people don’t make it anywhere in life. There is a lot of poverty and generational curses. There are many large families who struggle and can’t make ends meet. Growing up, it was hard to know that you could be someone.

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I’m showing all of my family the difference. I’m showing my community the difference. I will do whatever it takes to make a change and be that change for others.”

I always told myself, I want to do something different. I want to be somebody. My first exposure to success was as a sophomore in high school when I got into Harvard University’s Summer School Program. It was life-changing. They gave me a partial scholarship, but I still didn’t have the money to go, so my community did a GoFundMe.

That opportunity made me want to experience more. After that, I worked hard in high school to keep my grades up. I was accepted to University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on a full ride academic scholarship. My major is international business.

Jacob Idra


MY VIEW ON education is a little different because I was born in South Sudan where there is no public education. Coming here to America was a blessing for our family. My parents quickly realized that you need the best education in order to advance in this country. If you don’t have that, it’s very easy to fall off.

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We want to learn through our passions and what we believe is our purpose.”

Here in Nebraska, we don’t have any school choice options, but some of us were able to get scholarships through foundations like the Children’s Scholarship Fund. It allowed me to go to a Catholic middle school, and from there I was blessed enough to get a scholarship to a competitive high school. Without that, I would’ve never had the opportunity to show what I could do in the classroom or in athletics.

But going to college shouldn’t only be an opportunity for me and a few of my friends. We shouldn’t be the exception to the rule. What we’re trying to do here in Nebraska is bring a School Choice Program so that more families have that opportunity.

Jadyn Fleming


BEING AT THE beginning of the digital age means a lot of things. There’s a lot of accessibility, a lot of information, and the ability to connect with so many different people, countries, and cultures. My generation is more holistic, inclusive and empathetic.

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Representation matters. It took until ninth grade for me to have a teacher, Ms. Rigsby, who looked like me.”

During the pandemic, school participation definitely decreased and being in a virtual format was hard. The most important aspect of education is the one-on-one contact with teachers, the people you’re trusting your kids with every day.

If I was running my own high school, I would definitely pay attention to the staff I hire. I believe I’m here today because of the teachers who chose to give me time and attention and donate all of their efforts and emotion to me. Representation matters, too. It took until ninth grade for me to have a teacher, Ms. Rigsby, who looked like me. During the pandemic or whenever I experienced a really close loss, the relationships I had with my teachers definitely contributed to my success today.

Dr. Simone Jenkins


Simone

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.

Anna María Chávez


Anna

I GREW UP in a small farm town called Eloy, Arizona, which I thought was the center of the universe. It was 4,000 people—beautiful, very rural. My mom was one of the first Latinas in Arizona to be elected to the school board. People were always sitting around our kitchen table as my mom tried to help solve issues in our community. What she taught me was that people come to you to be heard, not to be told. Part of being a leader is doing more listening than talking.

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If you can speak three languages, you can learn from so many different people. It opens your eyes to different experiences in life.”

When I became a civil rights attorney, I wanted to help kids like me who had grown up in a rural community, from what people said was “a disadvantaged background.” But I never felt disadvantaged. I wanted to take the stigma away. I wanted to ensure children could live the life they wanted to live, without all the labels.

The face of our country is changing. In the 2020 U.S. Census, one of the largest demographic swings reported was individuals checking more than one race box. My focus now is trying to reach the diverse population of kids entering schools in a format they can understand and relate to.

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.

Isaac Lozano


Isaac_headshot

AFTER A DIZZYING year and a half that did not so much rob as bastardize our schoolchildren’s education, I’ve felt a little cynical about the state of education in the wake of the pandemic.

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We are born into systems that determine whether we receive a high-quality education or not, be rich or poor, prosper with abundant resources or suffer without them.”

When schools and universities went online in March of 2020, low-income Black and brown students bore a disproportionate brunt of remote learning, as I wrote in The New York Times. Our most vulnerable students lacked internet access and stable homes, while President Donald Trump railed at schools to open their gates for in-person instruction, despite the risks to low-income communities, and our Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos funneled federal aid dedicated for K-12 funding needs to independent and religious schools. None of this should have been a surprise, and yet I couldn’t help but feel aghast at the clarity of our times: our leaders have learned so little from crisis after crisis, if not outright refused to learn.

However much our leaders learned — or did not — I mustered what I could during my last year and a half of high school on Zoom. Despite coming from a low-income family, I had the privilege of attending a supportive school with teachers who believed in me more than I did. I had family, friends, and mentors who helped me find the right of way in a socioeconomic maze that condemns too many people like me to a life of despair.

Kaya Henderson


Kaya-Henderson

WHEN I STARTED Reconstruction, I set out to create a space for African American young people to learn their own history, their own culture. I was concerned that schools were teaching inaccurate versions of African American history or of American history and African Americans’ place in that history. I drew from great examples like Hebrew school or Chinese school to create a place where, as African Americans, we teach our young people our own history and culture, where we are responsible and intentional about the development of their identity. What I fundamentally believe is if we can do that for African American kids, we build kids who see themselves differently in school and in life.

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We talk about high expectations for kids all the time, and we talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. Ultimately, all that boils down to is, do you love kids? Think about how you deal with your own children. You’ve got incredibly high expectations for them. It doesn’t matter if they struggle. Then you get them the supports. But you never say, ‘You can’t do it,’ to your own kids. I feel like the American education system has said to Black kids, ‘You can’t do it. You’re lazy.’

We talk about students being the leaders of tomorrow. These young people are ready to lead today.”

We wanted Reconstruction to be a place that was affirming, that was motivational, that was ‘yes, you can’ in an Obama-esque kind of way, because all of the research shows that when you encourage young people, when you make them believe in themselves, when they have a sense of possibility, they can climb the highest mountains.

Nekima Levy Armstrong


Nekima-Levy-Armstrong

IF IT WEREN’T for the actions of a 17-year-old Black girl, Darnella Frazier, a high school student at the time, the world still might not know what happened to George Floyd. Think about the fact that a child, on her way to the store, would turn back around after seeing the police accosting George Floyd and make the decision to document what she was witnessing for the world. For her to hold that camera steady all that time, as she’s watching the life be choked out of a man, is incredible to think about. As I watched the video, tears just started to stream down my face because I knew that I had witnessed a lynching.

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Some people have been awakened and have expressed a desire for change. But I haven’t seen that desire be transformed into a willingness to get uncomfortable. Most people want some form of justice without having to do anything. Without having it impact their own lives. So of course you’re going to get a superficial version of justice if people aren’t willing to put some skin in the game.

When we have young folks who are relentless in the pursuit of justice and know and demand their rights and challenge adults to get uncomfortable—that is how we will move to a better world.”

Our movement in the Twin Cities is intergenerational. You have teens out there on the front lines, but you also have people who are middle aged and elderly on any given day. Which is how the village should be. It’s how school should be too, in terms of the village coming around our young people and making sure that they’re supported, cared for, and have a strong sense of purpose and direction.

Ze Min Xiao


Ze Min Xiao

HOW DO WE make sure that families have a seat at the table, and that their participation is not just a one-time thing? We call them ‘participatory architects.’ If we are building a house, we want to make sure that the people who live in the house have a say in how the house is designed.

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A sense of belonging means feeling like you’re accepted, but also that you can contribute.”

Why don’t families participate in PTAs? Why are they not involved? A lot of it is fear. The fear of not being able to speak the language. The fear of being undocumented. Schools are the first trusted space of immigrant families. They’re a starting point to build relationships with others in the community and a space where individuals can be seen. Our education structure needs to find ways to serve the entire family, not just the students. First and foremost, schools need to make sure they build relationships with parents and create an environment where everyone feels like they belong.

Mikala Streeter


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.

Zahir Mbengue


Zahir-Mbengue
Zahir, you and your classmates at Village Leadership Academy succeeded in renaming a public park in your North Lawndale neighborhood. Why and how did you do it?

“At first it was named for Stephen Douglas, the slave holder and senator who ran against Abraham Lincoln. North Lawndale is a predominantly black neighborhood, and it really felt like an insult that the park was named for a white slaveholder. [The park is now named for famed abolitionists Frederick and Anna Douglass.] It took about four years of public meetings with the Chicago Park District. We also got close to 5,000 signatures through canvassing in North Lawndale on Saturdays.”

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You need to have an ideology that you’re going to change things. You have to work hard and expect to have pushback from people.”

How can schools help kids who want to make change in their communities?

“In our school we have a GRC, or Grassroots Campaign, where every class from kindergarten through eighth grade chooses a problem in their community to change. Now we’re doing housing discrimination. My brother’s third grade class is working on littering. Another class is doing anti-smoking. Essentially, the whole point of the curriculum is to build up kids’ belief that they have the power to change the world around them. The other day one of my friend’s friends littered, and my little brother was like, “Pick it up!” At eight years old, I just thought about gummy bears and stuff. So that really shows the curriculum is working.

Viridiana Carrizales


Virdiana-Carrizales

PRIOR TO THE pandemic, decades of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have led to immigrant families not seeing schools as places they can trust. Any space they could create between the schools and themselves was a way of keeping their families safe.

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COVID-19 hit our families, many of whom identify as Latinx, extremely hard. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the existing challenges experienced by immigrant students and families—access to health care, mental health resources, food, rental assistance, and so many other basic necessities that were intensified as a result of job losses. We see this firsthand at ImmSchools. When you add immigration status, many of our families avoided going to the doctor, even if they had COVID-19 symptoms, because they were afraid of being deported.

I envision a place where our students are coming in, knowing they can thrive and that they can do anything they dream of without having to think about their immigration status.”

I was formerly an undocumented student myself. I understand what it feels like when you go somewhere and they ask you for documentation that you don’t have. I know how it feels when you go home as a kid and you’re afraid that you might not find your parents there.

What I have learned working with K-12 schools is that the voices of our immigrant students and families have been systematically erased and silenced. But our immigrant families are not silent. They have a voice. We don’t have to guess or assume what they need. We can ask them. Right now, there are no opportunities for families to engage with the school district in a language they speak. Teachers are depending on Google Translate or asking one of their third graders to translate—that’s not the responsibility of our students. It is the responsibility of the school system to find professional translators, so that families know what’s happening and have the opportunity to help schools craft a path forward.

Drew Furedi


Drew-Furedi

OUR MIDDLE SCHOOL is the receiving school for the only family homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles. How do you prioritize eighth grade math standards, when that eighth grader is worried about where they’re sleeping at night? That’s difficult on so many levels for everybody in that equation—for the teacher, the social worker, the principal, for the mom, and for the kid, right? What I appreciate about going back in now is that there is broader education community language around social, emotional wellness, and mental health that makes it possible for that eighth grader to learn their math standards while feeling safe and cared for, and making sure the other pieces of their world are going to be put back together the right way.

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We have to knock down this idea that you have to prefer either academic outcomes or social, emotional wellness—that one needs to come before the other. In every one of our centers or schools, with our six-week-old children or our 24-year-olds, we have full-time case managers looking at the comprehensive needs of the child and the family.

We have to knock down this idea that you have to prefer either academic outcomes or social, emotional wellness—that one needs to come before the other.”

Maria Hinojosa


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.”