Pamela Cantor MD


ONE OF THE CRAZIEST THINGS to me is the idea that the education system we have today was designed 100 years ago. That system thought a child’s brain was an empty vessel. Put children in a classroom, pour knowledge into them, and get them to memorize that knowledge. Some would, some wouldn’t. Then test them on that knowledge and sort them into who would be worthy of going on to college and some of the best jobs and who would not.

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If we turn schools into relationally rich communities where kids can restore their belief in the future and their belief in themselves, we are going to see a dramatic reduction in mental health symptoms.”

What we now know is that the human brain is malleable to experience and that context – the relationships, experiences, and environments in a child’s life – are the things that fuel and grow the learning brain. Not just having kids sit in a classroom passively, but having them apply knowledge in relevant and meaningful ways by doing, creating, and building things with their peers and with the support of adults they know and trust.

On top of that, today we know that no one learns the same way, so we can’t have a one-size-fits-all design. The “bell curve” on which our education system was designed is a statistical model that has been proven wrong over and over again. (See Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man.) We’re never going to see the top of a child’s developmental range unless we have some capacity to personalize learning for each and every child and provide them with experiences that show them what they are capable of.

Dr. Zachary Hermes


WE CAN’T BE HELD BACK by the traditional separation of pediatrics and education spaces if we want to find the most effective and impactful approaches. Behavioral health and social emotional learning are truly two sides of the same coin, and formulate the core to driving academic achievement as well as a fulfilling life.

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It’s time for us to reimagine what this learning environment looks like. Not to tinker, not to modify, but to be willing to rethink the DNA of how we organize our schools.”

There’s a ton of data that tells us students with mental health or behavioral health issues perform much worse academically and are far more likely to face disciplinary action. But these challenges are not an inevitability. They are a response to the environment and contexts that students find themselves in. It’s time that we not only recognize the environment as a risk factor but think about it as a key component of nurturing.

Given that school is often the place that a student spends the most time, we have a profound opportunity to intervene and promote healthy skills and mindsets. The mind-body connection is more apparent, and evidence-based, than ever. We know that students are hurting, and our schools need to acknowledge and honor the trauma they’re trying to process, navigate, and overcome. Many communities, including those most vulnerable, have faced a generational trauma.

David Diao

IN THE PAST year with COVID-19, things have been harder than usual. The only thing you have control over is how you react. That’s how many students have moved through the school year. But I think it’s important for educators to consider how they can help students with what they’re going through. Specifically, how can faculty or administration help students meet challenges, adapt, and overcome these challenges.

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We need teaching that’s more interactive, more off-script, where students can think independently and present their ideas and lead discussions.”

Education has always been closely tied with the concept of democracy, going back to the founding of the nation. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said that a democracy is kept afloat by an educated electorate. In the modern day, education is more important than ever.

One key role education has to play in our generation is helping to build critical thinking skills so we can create a better democracy. We have all this information available—how are we going to filter through it? How are we going to use it most effectively to create change?

Each generation has new challenges and opportunities. Technology is probably one of the most all-encompassing changes that has happened in recent generations. It seeps into every part of what we do. It’s how we interact with other people. It’s how we get involved in social movements. It’s even how, in some instances, we interact with the economy.

Krasi Staykov

I WENT TO a school in a low-income community before I was pulled into the magnet program in my district, so I saw the stark inequalities in resources between what I got and what students in my other school were getting. I got involved with the Kentucky Student Voice Team in my freshman year of high school. It’s a student-led organization that works to try and advance an education system that’s more just.

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Gen Z is a lot more communitarian. To me, that’s really powerful—the idea that doing good looks like doing good for as many people in our community as possible.”

Going through the education system while simultaneously trying to create change within it—I realized how difficult it is to silo education from other avenues of life. Schools are so important for students, in terms of accessing basic needs like food or having a safe place to go, but also supports like mental health. In order to shape better schools, we have to change so much around our schools as well.

Gen Z is a lot more communitarian in the sense that there’s an orientation towards the group. There’s this belief in communal welfare at a deeper level. To me, that’s really powerful—the idea that doing good looks like doing good for as many people in our community as possible. A lot of people feel frustration with the political process, so there’s a drive to look beyond political systems for support. What does it look like when we are there for each other and care for each other and create the systems we need?

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.

Emily Hanford

Emily H

I’VE BEEN AN education reporter for a long time, and I’ve found there’s a pervasive set of beliefs about reading that aren’t true that have taken hold in schools. Basically, that reading is something that kids just pick up—they don’t need a lot of instruction. That as long as you read a lot to kids, they’ll be okay, it’ll come in time. For some kids, it seems like that’s the way it works. But the truth is when you get under the hood, that’s not really the way it works. And it isn’t working for a whole lot of kids.

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Parents are quite a powerful force in education. And when a lot of parents find a common story, that does lead to change.”

In schools all over this country, kids are not being taught how to read. Some kids don’t need a lot of instruction, but there’s a whole segment of kids who need a lot more instruction than they’re getting. And it’s having a huge impact on kids, families, teachers, and schools.

I think we’ve been too quick to blame all these other reasons for why kids aren’t reading. It does correlate with things like poverty and circumstances in kids’ homes, but for some reason we haven’t looked at instruction.

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.

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!

Tony Weaver

Tony headshot home

PUBLIC EDUCATION FAILED me in a lot of ways. I was involved in gifted programs that put emphasis on pressure, and I dealt with things like depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts. After emerging and going to college, I wanted to support kids in the way that I needed support. I realized that my problem wasn’t just a Tony problem. A lot of young people think that they’re alone. They feel everybody else has it figured out and is doing okay. But the students I was mentoring in college were dealing with the same issues of lack of self-image and confidence. And, for me, the thing that brought me out of it was stories.

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We created a world where everyone can find themselves. Everyone can see someone that’s like them. Everybody can feel like their story and their perspective matters.”

It took me until I was in my early twenties to say, you’re not doing what everybody else is doing. Your brain doesn’t work the way everybody else’s works, but that’s okay because it only needs to work for you. And if you embrace it and focus on the things that bring you joy, rather than trying to shove yourself in a box, a significant amount of happiness will come from that.

Young people are learning all the time—whether they’re in school or on Instagram or on TikTok—and it’s our job as educators to understand how to engage with them. At Weird Enough, we focus on telling stories that young people actually want to read. I write a series called The Uncommons—they’re a very diverse group. We created a world where everyone can find themselves. Everyone can see someone that’s like them. Everybody can feel like their story and their perspective matters. The experiences the Uncommons have reflect those that young people are having right now.

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.

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.


Why do you work on education issues?

“Learning has been one of the most significant things in my life. It began with my mother—an educator—who was adamant about academic excellence. She taught me that learning is an ongoing process and forever evolving. For me, it’s been so empowering and has given me so much value.”

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Mental health support for our kids is essential. This starts by listening – taking in what they’ve experienced and what’s challenged them – and making decisions from there.”

The impact of COVID-19 and the racial justice awakening after the murder of George Floyd forever changed our world. How do schools need to adapt to this new reality?

“Mental health support for our kids is essential. This starts by listening— taking in what they’ve experienced and what’s challenged them—and making decisions from there. We want our kids to not only be great in academics, but they also have to be emotionally healthy.”

What gives you hope for the future?

“I’m very hopeful because this generation of children is brilliant and has lots to say. I come across young people with such capacity and ability to think outside the box. Through our work, we are going to feed and water those seeds and allow young people to have the best opportunities. That gives me a lot of hope.”

Tim Shriver


WE BUILT SCHOOLS with an institutional structure that’s supposed to help children grow and develop, but that almost never uses the word love. It almost never has dedicated attention to the practice of compassion. It almost never speaks the language of healing, of teaching meaning, of removing the blinders of bias.

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Kids show up with these big eyes saying, does anyone see me? Do I matter? What’s my part? How do I make a difference? That’s in the eyes of a seven-year-old, a nine-year-old and, I dare say, a 17-year-old, too. They’re all showing up every day. And when those eyes never meet a relationship infused with love, never feel trust, never find their purpose, they start to fall. And before you know it, half of our kids in high school have their heads on their desks. It’s a reaction to a world in which they don’t see themselves and aren’t learning what matters most.

Social emotional learning is, if I can put it simply, to balance the teaching of head with the teaching of heart.”

Shauna Causey

Shauna Casey

IN 2019, MY son was getting ready to go into preschool. I toured every preschool I could and was on 10 waitlists. My son is dual language, and he had a speech delay. This was going to be his first schooling experience. I was really worried thinking, is there a chance for personalized learning for my child?

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There’s never a time in your life where you’re this imaginative and this inventive. What would a world look like where they could have more personalized learning in those earliest years?”

I was working in tech, but that led me to becoming a volunteer preschool teacher. I got to see firsthand what was happening with early childhood education, the environment, the struggles of teachers oftentimes making minimum wage with no benefits, no support. The churn in the industry is 50 percent for preschool teachers. I was at a venture [capital] firm, and I realized of all of the industries that I’ve looked at, early childhood education needs the most help. Why hasn’t the model changed? Why isn’t more being done to help families, parents, and especially the children?

Each child has their own special set of interests at this age. There’s never a time in your life where you’re this imaginative and this inventive. What would a world look like where they could have more personalized learning in those earliest years? That’s when I left venture and launched WEEKDAYS, which provides effortless technology and start-up support to parents and teachers interested in creating neighborhood micro-schools.

In early childhood education, the technology should help the educators. We have a curriculum framework that really supports personalized learning, but actually seeing it come to life has been so meaningful. One of the themes is “Maker Week.” One [class] here in Seattle chose to make bread. Another class wanted to make ice cream. They got a chance to measure it out and learn math hands-on, through figuring out how to make something. These are real life skills.

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.

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.

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.

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


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.

Eddie Koen


THERE ARE NO silver bullets in education. You’ve got to get the hammer on a lot of things at one time to really see long-term, transformational change.

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There’s an interesting political will now that did not exist three or four years ago. We have a real opportunity to integrate mental health and wraparound social services in schools, really integrating curriculum and student time with social services and parents. We just can’t ignore that anymore. It’s impossible to expect students to perform when lights are cut out at home, or violence is happening. Really, it’s like we need a new idea: What are the social determinants of education? And how do we radically integrate them?

I think we should re-imagine education by asking how and who should educate us. It’s not so much about what we teach—it’s every mechanism and who is getting to educate our students that we should rethink.”

Within those programs and initiatives, there’s incredible power. I’ve learned this in my own life. It’s the personal touch. You never know when the opportunity for transformation can open up with a student or a teacher. The more you have that continuous, intrusive contact, it can happen. I’m optimistic that it will happen if we’re really intentional about building relationships.

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.”

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.”