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Game-Changers: Our 2016 Social Innovation Award Winners
The results are in, and five deserving alumni will take home Teach For America’s 2016 Social Innovation Award.
Our judges had the unenviable task of paring an illustrious list of 15 finalists down to a quintet of ground-breaking social entrepreneurs whose work exemplifies innovation and our core values. Each of their ventures aims to help end educational inequity from a specific field, including early childhood education, teacher development, and social justice.
In the Overall Track, COOP’s Kalani Leifer (New York ’08) and Story Shares’ Louise Baigelman (Massachusetts ’09) split $105,000 of prize money. Literator’s Michelle Ching (Bay Area ’13) emerged from the Pilot Track with $25,000. Jamie Jenkins (Metro Atlanta ’07) of Building Opportunities & Opening Minds (BOOM) and Rachel Willis (Metro Atlanta ’04) of Elevating Equity shared $14,000 as winners in the Pre-Pilot Track.
Congratulations to our 2016 recipients!
Louise Baigelman (Massachusetts ’09)
“When I think of what we’re doing with Story Shares, I still think of individual students. And then I think of the potential to reach millions more of them.”
Louise is the co-founder and executive director of Story Shares, a literacy hub that addresses the needs of struggling readers in middle school, high school, and beyond. Story Shares provides a digital platform for writers, educators, and students to create and publish “Relevant Reads,” books that cover a range of age, interest, and reading levels, and are enhanced with features to make reading more accessible and fun.
During her time as a corps member, Louise led the English language learner program and taught reading and writing to middle school students at KIPP Academy in Lynn, Massachusetts. She has also been a literacy coach to underserved youth in Brooklyn, New York; a writing teacher in the Bay Area; and a program manager at the education-focused Poses Family Foundation.
Louise earned undergraduate degrees in English and psychology from Cornell University, and an M.A. in education from Boston University. In September 2015, she was named to the International Literacy Association’s inaugural “30 Under 30 in Literacy” list.
Kalani Leifer (New York ‘08)
“Teaching is the most entrepreneurial job I’ve ever had. Now I’m trying to bring that same hustle and creativity to the next big challenge facing my former students and their peers: overcoming underemployment.”
Kalani is the founder and executive director of COOP, a nonprofit that connects urban public college grads to meaningful careers in tech, media, and design. “Overcoming underemployment” is its mission, and it aims to launch 10,000 careers by 2025. COOP was established in New York City and will add a San Francisco Bay Area branch this fall.
As a high school history teacher in the Bronx, Kalani was fortunate to work primarily with his school’s tight-knit inaugural class. These students’ strong, resilient, productive bonds 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 the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he focused on school modernization and early-childhood-education projects in the Middle East. He continued this work at Google, where he led the development of “Google Partners,” a training and certification portal for digital careers.
Kalani graduated from Stanford University and earned a master’s degree in education from Lehman College of the City University of New York.
Michelle Ching (Bay Area ’13)
“I believe it’s important that educators play a major role in innovating to solve the problems that persist in education. Teachers know most intimately which issues are important and how best to tackle them.”
Michelle is the founder and CEO of Literator, an app that allows teachers to easily collect data on student reading performance and provides analysis and guidance based on the data. Administrators use the insights gleaned from teacher inputs to make data-driven decisions, provide professional development, and plan strategic interventions. Students and parents can see learning progress in real time, making them more empowered in the process.
The daughter of refugees from Laos, Michelle found her calling in education, as did all her sisters. Her contributions extend beyond the classroom; she served on the board of Induz Arts, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing arts to students in need; was a policy and advocacy fellow at GO Public Schools; and is a member of the inaugural cohort of Leadership for Educational Equity’s New American Leadership Program.
Michelle received her B.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, an M.A. in education from Loyola Marymount University, and a certificate of social sector leadership from the Haas School of Business at the University of California–Berkeley.
Jamie Jenkins (Metro Atlanta ’07)
Building Opportunities & Opening Minds (BOOM)
“Until we quest for freedom in ourselves, our quest for freedom in the world will be fruitless. My ancestors taught me this. Life called me to do this. With BOOM, our children will lead this.”
Jamie is the founder of Building Opportunities & Opening Minds (BOOM), which seeks to reconnect children of black African descent to their ancestral history and heritage of ingenuity and enterprise that was systematically buried through slavery, apartheid, and racism. BOOM will enlist, educate, and empower young black visionaries to be leaders who cultivate consciousness and collective progress for black people and ultimately counteract systemic racism and oppression.
A daughter of Dallas, Jamie has also lived in a number of other places: Atlanta; Brooklyn, New York; and Mississippi. She also led a number of lives: as an activist for voters’ rights, prisoners’ rights, and economic justice; teaching history through a critical race lens to high school students; coaching early-career teachers on social justice education praxis; designing, facilitating, and implementing training for trainers on diversity and inclusiveness curriculums; and leading decolonization work for people of color, particularly women.
Jamie earned a B.A. in history from Clark Atlanta University, and a master of arts in teaching with National Board Certification Specialization from National University.
Rachel Willis (Metro Atlanta ’04)
“Ignoring the elephant in the room does not make it go away. Neither does ignoring the impact racial bias has on a student’s educational outcomes.”
Rachel is the founder and CEO of Elevating Equity, an organization that creates spaces for educators and community members to examine race and ensure that every student receives an equitable education. Its formula is simple: Start conversations about race and don’t stop until every individual who impacts a student’s educational outcome is anti-racist and culturally responsive.
Rachel, whose own education was influenced by racial disparities, has over a decade of experience teaching and leading in k–12 and graduate-level settings. The 2009 Atlanta Public Schools Elementary Teacher of the Year and a 2010 Milken Educator Award recipient, Rachel served on Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Advisory Board and was appointed as a trustee to the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.
Four years ago, Rachel was recruited to redesign a professional-development program centered on culturally responsive teaching and race and equity for TFA corps members and alumni in Maryland and Washington, D.C. 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.
Rachel received a B.A. in government from Smith College and a master’s degree in education leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University. She resides in Atlanta.
For more information about the Social Innovation Award, visit our page.