The Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Social Innovation Award recognizes bold, new innovations that expand opportunities for students in low-income communities and address the root causes of educational inequity.
About the Social Innovation Award
This annual competition brings together alumni and corps member, early-stage entrepreneurs to compete for up to $100,000 in funding to accelerate social ventures focused on eliminating barriers to educational equity and excellence.
Winners also have the opportunity to build their network by working alongside a supportive community of social innovation leaders and receive national and local recognition through Teach For America.
Honoring Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock
This award was renamed in honor of Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock, fierce advocates of educational equity and excellence and two of Teach For America’s greatest champions. As a pioneer in the innovation sector who is credited for giving rise to Silicon Valley, Arthur has spurred an entrepreneurial culture at TFA and has been a key driver of our social entrepreneurship and innovation work. Toni has left an indelible mark on the legal profession as the first woman to be named partner at a major law firm in California and continues to be a leading advocate of equity through her philanthropic work.
The Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Social Innovation Award will usher a new era of leaders working to improve the lives of students across the country.
Our Team's Mission
Teach For America’s Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation team inspires, accelerates, and invests in alumni and corps members who are growing and strengthening the movement for educational equity and excellence through careers in innovation and entrepreneurship.
Past Award Winners
As a corps member, Miriam Altman (New York ’08) worked to develop strategies to improve student attendance rates and leverage family involvement in school while teaching high school history. This experience led her, along with co-founder Alexandra Meis, to create Kinvolved in 2013.
Kinvolved is a social enterprise helping schools and youth programs leverage family engagement to drive impact on lifelong student achievement. Kinvolved aims to improve the attendance and achievement of every student by creating a space for meaningful communication and academic accountability.
Kelly Amis (Los Angeles ’90) taught in South Central Los Angeles as a charter corps member in 1990. She went on to earn an M.A. in Education Policy Analysis from Stanford University and research the Australian education system as a Fulbright Scholar. Kelly has worked for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and several education reform organizations, including the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the Sallie Mae Fund, and Fight For Children.
Kelly and her production company, Loudspeak Films, created a short documentary film series, TEACHED. The films document the causes and consequences of education inequality in America, particularly as experienced by urban students of color. TEACHED provides conversation starters for thoughtful, candid discussion and community action planning.
As a corps member, Wisdom Amouzou (Colorado ’13) led his young students to construct a classroom vision and engage in deep discussion. He is a 2015 recipient of the Sue Lehmann Teaching and Learning Fellowship. After the corps, Wisdom worked as a Diversity and Equity Fellow with RISE-Colorado, where he was responsible for designing and piloting anti-oppression workshops for students, families, and educators.
Nathan Pai Schmitt (Colorado ’12) has a love of translating abstract philosophical systems into concrete ideas, like classes, programs, and organization. Before becoming a teacher, he worked for a social change agency to help nonprofits, socially responsible businesses, and government agencies create change in various sectors. He also led a team of teachers in the Brazilian Amazon and oversaw teaching, learning, and the curriculum for a school of 80 students.
Wisdom and Nathan co-founded The Hada-Nou Collective. They create centers in neighborhood schools for students to solve real-world problems. Wisdom and Nathan hope to open independent Hada-Nou Collective schools and scale their approach to authentic education.
Louise has been passionate about literacy education for most of her life. She has been a literacy coach to underserved youth in Brooklyn, a writing teacher in the Bay Area, and a program manager at the education-focused Poses Family Foundation. Louise was a corps member in Greater Boston and worked at KIPP Academy in Lynn, Massachusetts. There she led the English Language Learner (ELL) program and taught reading and writing to middle school students.
Louise earned her B.A. in English and psychology from Cornell University and M.A. in education from Boston University. In September 2015, Louise was named to the International Literacy Association’s inaugural roster of “30 Under 30 in Literacy.”
Louise Baigelman is the co-founder and executive director of Story Shares. Louise started Story Shares in 2014 to address the literacy needs of struggling readers in middle school, high school, and beyond.
Milagros Barsallo (Colorado ’09) taught 3rd and 4th grade as a corps member in Colorado. Committed to further engaging students’ families, she moved on to serve as a community organizer working with low-income Latino families to help them navigate the school system. She then served as a consultant on education research and community organizing projects for the Colorado Education Initiative, Leadership for Educational Equity, and Denver Public Schools’ Office of Family and Community Engagement.
Veronica Palmer (Los Angeles ’06) is a 7th generation Colorado native. Veronica became the first Latina Student Body President at the University of Colorado and went on to graduate from Loyola Marymount University with a Master’s in Education. Veronica taught 3rd grade in Los Angeles, became a founding Kindergarten teacher at KIPP Raíces Academy in East LA and later joined TFA’s staff. She has also participated in Senator Mike Johnston’s Urban Leaders Fellowship and was appointed to the national TFA Latino Advisory Council.
Milagros and Veronica co-founded RISE in 2012 with the belief that empowered families will be the ones to truly create systemic change in public schools. RISE’s mission is to educate, engage, and empower low-income families and families of color to RISE as change agents for educational equity in our public school system.
After teaching 3rd and 4th grade as a corps member, Claire Blumenson (New York ’06) went to law school to pursue education law and juvenile justice. After graduating, Claire worked at the DC Public Defender Service as a special education attorney inside a secure juvenile facility, representing students with disabilities, who had been committed to the custody of DC's juvenile justice agency.
Claire’s experience inspired her and co-founder Sarah Comeau to create the Social Justice Project (SJP), whose mission is to protect and enforce the special education rights of older students during incarceration and throughout reentry. Claire and Sarah were awarded the Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellowship in 2013.
Disrupting the status quo around developmental disability is a deeply personal issue for Bryan Boyce (South Dakota ’09), whose younger brother has disabilities. Bryan founded Cow Tipping Press, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that partners with local disability service organizations to offer creative writing classes to adults with developmental disabilities.
After each class, participants publish their best work in a book and read their stories and poems in coffee shops, bookstores, and breweries. Bryan recruits diverse, equity-minded college students to teach the classes, many of whom go on to dedicate their career to supporting individuals with disabilities.
Teachers can also download a curriculum that incorporates Cow Tipping students’ stories, which can help elevate a diverse set of authors in the classroom. The program has served over 400 students with disabilities to date, including some who now co-lead the classes.
As a corps member, Michelle Brown (Greater New Orleans–Louisiana Delta ’09) taught 7th grade English Language Arts at Leflore County High School in Itta Bena, Mississippi. In her first couple of years teaching, Michelle never felt like she met her full potential because she spent so much of her time struggling to find high-quality free texts online. This struggle ultimately led her to launch CommonLit in 2013.
CommonLit is a nonprofit where teachers can access a diverse, open collection of news articles, short stories, historical documents, scientific articles, and poems. Every text is print-ready and formatted with rigorous text-based questions to challenge students at every reading level. CommonLit’s framework is based on the idea that every student deserves to be challenged with the highest-quality reading materials.
After graduating from Princeton, Bianca Cabrera (New York ’14) taught kindergarten in Massachusetts as a Project 55 Fellow. Through this fellowship, Bianca recognized the inequities in our education system, particularly with special needs students. She then joined Teach For America, teaching English and special education. She currently teaches middle school writing in Brooklyn.
In her teaching experience, Bianca observed several special needs students receiving inadequate accommodations. Through interviews and market research, she realized this was a systemic problem exacerbated by a lack of effective technology for addressing the gaps in special education. Bianca created Goals Genius to provide teachers and school leaders a way to document and collaborate on instruction for students with disabilities. She hopes it enables data-driven accommodations for marginalized students.
Xiaohoa Michelle Ching is the founder and CEO of Literator. Literator was born out of struggles Michelle encountered in her 2nd grade classroom at Reach Academy. She realized that meeting the individual needs of students was critical but extremely complicated. Literator provides a tool that allows teachers to easily collect data on student reading performance while providing analysis and guidance.
Literator frees schools from relying on infrequent testing data by providing actionable insights through one-on-one observations. It provides a tool that allows teachers to easily collect data on student reading performance while providing analysis and guidance. Students and parents can see learning progress in real-time, making them feel more empowered in the process.
As a teacher, Cece Claridge (Miami-Dade ‘13) saw her students overcome inconceivable obstacles and maintain their motivation to pursue higher education, only to have something go wrong with financial aid that derails their college plans. The complexity of applying for financial aid has a disproportionately negative impact on first-generation college students, students from immigrant families, and students living in poverty. These groups often face logistical challenges in completing the application and may not have adults in their support network who have the experience to guide them through it.
Cece founded Unicoin as a way to make the process for applying for financial aid more approachable and offer the guidance that many students were lacking. The web application assists students in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) through a combination of technologies that simplify the experience. After building a beta version of Unicoin last year, Cecile has interviewed hundreds of students, families, educators, and other stakeholders about how best to support students through the process of applying for financial aid. She’s pitched the project to a variety of audiences within the Miami ed-tech community and has received unanimous feedback that Unicoin could be a game-changer for students seeking financial aid for college.
While first-generation college students often face many additional barriers to getting to college, Cecile refuses to let the financial application process be one of them. Each year, billions of dollars in Pell Grants—federal funds to help students from low-income families pay for college—go unclaimed simply because eligible students do not have the support to apply for financial aid. Unicoin has the power to change that. In the long term, she hopes that Unicoin’s success will open up opportunities to partner with the Department of Education to make structural changes to the FAFSA that make it more accessible for all students and families.
Zeke Cohen (Baltimore ’08) is a social justice warrior for life who fights to bring young people to the decision-making table. He began his fight for social justice as a student at Goucher College and then continued as a middle school social studies teacher in Baltimore. Zeke has been named one of Maryland’s “Top 20 Leaders In Their Twenties” and awarded the “We Are The Dream Award” by the Baltimore City Council.
In 2011, Zeke founded The Intersection, an organization committed to developing students’ leadership and teaching them the skills to get to and through college, engage in civic action, and articulate and solve challenges facing them and their communities.
Elizabeth Davidson (Greater Philadelphia ’06) has dedicated her career to serving our nation’s public school students and improving our public schools. She began her career is as a corps member in Philadelphia and now oversees the strategy, policy, communications, and labor negotiations related to Advance, NYC’s teacher evaluation and development system.
Liz co-founded ScriptED with Maurya Couvares. ScriptEd is a nonprofit that provides computer programming classes and professional experiences to students in low-income schools. The classes are taught by professional programmers who provide both mentorship and the most up-to-date information to students. Many ScriptEd students say that if they had never enrolled in the program, they would never have had the opportunity to learn how to code.
Since joining the corps, T. Morgan Dixon (Metro Atlanta ’09) has been on the front lines of education reform. She has served as senior leadership in several of the largest charter school networks in the country and directed the development and start-up of six public schools in NYC. Morgan has also been named among the top 1% of global social innovators by Echoing Green and Ashoka.
Morgan is the co-founder and director of GirlTrek, a national movement to activate one million Black women to be change-makers in their lives and communities—by walking in their neighborhoods. Since its launch, tens of thousands of women have signed GirlTrek’s pledge to walk in their neighborhoods every Saturday and work to establish walking as a tradition in their communities.
As a teacher, George Dong (Chicago–Northwest Indiana ’09) experienced firsthand how poor vision hindered academic learning while teaching in Chicago and completing research in rural China. In both experiences, George’s eyes were opened to the fact that uncorrected vision problems drastically affect students’ learning outcomes.
Outraged and inspired by this global problem, George founded Education In Sight with the mission to improve the academic performance of low-income students with poor vision by providing low-cost glasses and eye-care education in the classroom. Education In Sight believes that direct access to eye care is the right of every student in the world.
Kriste Dragon (Los Angeles ’09) began her work in education as a middle school math teacher in South Los Angeles. She later served as Executive Director of Teach For America in Los Angeles and Vice President of regional operations for six of Teach For America’s western regions. She has also served as professional development coordinator at UCLA’s Center X, developing mathematics curricula and training more than 4,000 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Dragon co-created Citizens of the World Charter Schools, a network of schools that offers a rigorous learning experience for students from all backgrounds. The network’s mission is to impact and expand the conversation about what an excellent education contains, requires, and accomplishes. The network has schools in Los Angeles, Kansas City, and New York.
In 2005, Aaron Frumin (Colorado ’11) was drawn to work with the Red Cross in New Orleans after witnessing the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina. He later joined AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps and then served as a house leader with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. Aaron earned his degree at Tulane University before serving as a corps member in Denver.
Aaron’s experiences taught him the value of teamwork, selflessness, and collective impact. He brought these experiences together to create unCommon Construction, a New Orleans-based nonprofit. unCommon Construction uses the build process to empower youth to lead the workforce after high school or college.
Jamie's work for justice began in 2003 through activism for voters’ rights, prisoners’ rights, and economic justice. In 2007, she moved her efforts to the classroom. After graduating with her M.A. in teaching, with a specialization in National Board Certification, Jamie's deep desire for ensuring students and families from marginalized communities were centered in the truest sense led her to coaching corps members in the Mississippi Delta. Jamie's work then expanded to include designing, facilitating, and training facilitators on diversity and inclusiveness curriculums. She spearheaded the vision and pilots for Pre-Corps Development in Teach For America, including the Education for Justice Pre-Corps Pilot Program. Jamie also leads decolonization work for people of color, particularly women, and is active in Dallas justice circles.
BOOM seeks to reconnect children of Black-African descent to their ancestral history and heritage of ingenuity and enterprise, which was systematically buried through slavery, apartheid and anti-Black racism. The program will enlist, educate and empower young Black visionaries to be solutions-leaders who cultivate consciousness and collective-progress for Black people and ultimately counteract systematic racism and oppression.
Jonathan Johnson (Greater New Orleans–Louisiana Delta ’10) began his career teaching 8th grade social studies at KIPP Central City Academy in New Orleans. While a teacher, 83 percent of Jonathan’s students achieved a passing score on the 8th grade test when the average passage rate was 57 percent in his district.
Through a partnership between New Schools for New Orleans, 4.0 Schools, and Khan Academy to incubate innovative public schools in New Orleans, Jonathan founded Rooted School in 2014. Rooted School will be a network of high schools in New Orleans and beyond that prepare students for college and careers across several high-growth, high-wage industries. Rooted School’s flagship campus focuses on the digital media sector, creating a model of schools that provide lucrative career pathways for students.
Kalani began his career as a corps member, teaching high school history in the Bronx. He was fortunate to work primarily with the Class of 2011, his school’s tight-knit inaugural cohort. The strong, resilient, productive bonds between students were an early inspiration for COOP’s peer-led, cohort-based theory of change. After his time in the classroom, Kalani moved to Zurich and joined McKinsey & Company, where he focused on school modernization and early childhood education projects in the Middle East. He was also a founding member of McKinsey’s “Education to Employment” initiative. Kalani continued this work at Google in California, leading the development of “Google Partners,” a training and certification portal for digital careers.
COOP ("koh-op") connects underrepresented college grads to each other—and to meaningful careers in tech, media, and design; in turn, we help companies find and hire excellent candidates from diverse local communities. “Overcoming underemployment” is COOP's mission, and the community aims to launch 10,000 careers by 2025—starting in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area.
As a former DACAmented teacher and undocumented student, Vanessa Luna (Los Angeles ’14) understands the barriers that prevent many immigrant students from reaching their full potential, especially those who are undocumented. While undocumented students are legally protected by the U.S. education system, less than 1 percent of school districts are equipped with policies and practices to support them and their families.
Wanting to do more for her students and community, Vanessa co-founded ImmSchools, an immigrant-led non-profit that envisions a world where all students, no matter their immigration status, have access to resources and safe, welcoming, and inclusive schools.
ImmSchools partners with K-12 schools and districts to provide ongoing professional learning for educators and workshops for undocumented and immigrant students and families. The organization also strategically advises and advocates for the passage of immigrant-friendly policies in school districts.
Vanessa was named on the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 and Times 100 Great Leaders list in recognition of her work at ImmSchools and her leadership in supporting undocumented students and families. She views her own lived experience as a critical asset for addressing the issues ImmSchools is seeking to solve. Her advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs is to ensure your solution is not only informed but also led by those directly impacted.
Toni Maraviglia's (New York ’05) rich teaching career and experience living in rural Kenya led her to create a social enterprise to improve African students’ access to quality education. Toni taught at Harlem Village Academies and has 10+ years teaching/managing teachers. She co-founded Eneza Education with the mission to make 50 million kids across rural Africa smarter.
Eneza's content is aligned to the local context, and it uses the most common form of technology in Kenya, the mobile device. It also gives schools and parents access to meaningful data and tips for helping students. Eneza believes that even schools that don’t have access to the internet or the latest technological gadgets deserve quality educational materials too.
As educators serving in the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, Claire (New Mexico ‘10) and Leah (New Mexico ‘11) saw firsthand how the mental health of their students was impacted by poverty and a long history of cultural oppression within the education system. The suicide rate among Navajo youth is more than double the national average. And many underfunded schools have had to make the impossible choice of prioritizing test scores over the mental well-being of students in order to receive funding.
Their organization, Summer Youth Corporation (renamed Dlǫ́ǫ́ʼ Yázhí Day Camp) aims to take a proactive approach to mental health well-being by providing enrichment activities for youth before they become at-risk for harmful behavior. The program runs a free summer day camp for 60 Navajo children ages 4-14 in Thoreau, NM, where kids can participate in sports, arts, music, nature exploration, and activities that celebrate the Diné culture.
Claire and Leah intentionally designed the program around protective factors identified by the Suicide Resource Prevention Center that lower the risk of suicide among youth, including self esteem, connectedness, and resilience. The camp offers students a safe place to practice resilience amidst the challenges of life in a low-stakes environment. In the three years since Summer Youth Corporation was founded, the camp has served over 100 children from the Thoreau area—impacting nearly seven percent of school-aged children in the community.
Youth growing up in low-income urban environments are at a higher risk for experiencing complex trauma from outside stressors beyond their control such as poverty, racism, and domestic violence. While school becomes the primary place that many students turn to for help, only 20 percent of students in low-income schools actually receive services due to a lack of resources. With limited access to mental health services schools, students struggle with being present in class and are not emotionally equipped to engage with their learning.
Samantha’s experience as a 2015 Miami-Dade corps member working with students experiencing complex trauma led her to found KlickEngage, an app that students can use on their phones to report what they are feeling each day using a survey format. In addition to providing students with individualized coping mechanisms they can use to understand and regulate their emotions, teachers also get real-time reports on student wellbeing that they can use to provide early preventative services.
Samantha hopes that this program will also provide evidence for the need to fund mental health services proportionate to student need and raise awareness for complex trauma in low-income communities.
Samantha was named on 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 for her work with KlickEngage.
After teaching students who had been expelled from traditional settings in post-Katrina New Orleans, Elliot Sanchez (Greater New Orleans–Louisiana Delta ’08) began working with districts as a founding member of the School Turnaround Office within the Louisiana Department of Education. He later served as a statewide STEM consultant as well as Executive Director in the Portfolio Office of the Recovery School District.
mSchool is an online learning software that provides students with differentiated, personalized math games covering exactly the lessons they're ready to learn next. The software aims to improve students’ math scores by creating individual pathways to success and save teachers countless hours with automatic reports on student progress.
As an undergraduate student at MIT, Yamilee Toussaint (New York ’08) watched an alarming number of fellow black female students leave her engineering program under the grip of self-doubt. This experience, followed by two years teaching high school math, helped her realize that confidence is one of the main barriers that keep underrepresented minority girls from entering—and staying in—STEM.
Yamilee founded STEM from Dance to unlock the power in underrepresented minority high school girls to become future STEM leaders by using dance to intimately expose them to the wonders of STEM, enriching their STEM education, and equipping them with the confidence and cognitive-thinking skills needed to pursue a STEM education.
Taylor Toynes (Dallas-Fort Worth ’14) has deep roots in Dallas’s South Oak Cliff neighborhood. The area is known as a “superblock,” encompassing a large geographic area in South Central Dallas, bound by busy freeways. It’s the place where he grew up and taught as a corps member. It’s also a community impacted by generations of systemic oppression.
Together with a fellow alumnus, Xavier Henderson (DFW ‘15), Taylor co-founded For Oak Cliff in 2017. The organization serves as a hub for the 40,000 residents living in the neighborhood and provides education and wraparound services that promote social mobility.
The founders believe in a holistic, “dual-generation” approach, to their services. Parents can take GED classes and participate in workforce training while their children engage in early learning enrichment opportunities. As for Oak Cliff continues to grow, the organization remains laser-focused on expanding services and transforming lives in the 75216 zip code.
An award winning educator, Rachel Willis has over a decade of experience teaching and leading in K-12 and graduate level settings. Named the 2009 Atlanta Public Schools Elementary Teacher of the Year and 2010 Milken Educator Award recipient, Rachel served on Governor Nathan Deal’s (R-GA) Education Advisory Board and was appointed as a trustee to the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.
In 2012, Rachel was recruited to redesign a professional development program centered around culturally responsive teaching and race and equity for corps members and alumni in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. During this time, Rachel also designed and served as a co-instructor of a pilot program at Columbia University’s Teachers College focused on preparing current and aspiring principals to lead racially equitable schools.
As the founder of Elevating Equity, Rachel spends her time supporting educators and community members through their journey of leading anti-racist, culturally responsive schools and organizations.