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Meet the Game-Changers: 2015 Social Innovation Award Winners Announced
Teach For America’s Social Innovation Award is an annual competition that brings budding alumni entrepreneurs together to compete for up to $100,000 in seed funding and to engage in professional coaching built for early stage entrepreneurs.
This year’s competition received an unprecedented 161 applications, with each applicant participating in up to three rounds of reviews with sixty-three education and entrepreneurship experts from leading industry organizations serving as judges. Applicants competed in one of two tracks: the Overall Track, intended for applicants who have already tested their idea or venture for impact; or the Pre-Pilot Track, intended for applicants who have yet to test their idea or venture.
We are excited to present two Overall Track winners and one Pre-Pilot Track winner:
Overall Track Winners
• CommonLit – Michelle Brown (Mississippi ’09)
CommonLit is a nonprofit organization that delivers high-quality, free instructional materials to literacy teachers. At CommonLit.org, 5th-12th grade teachers can access a diverse, open collection of the best news articles, short stories, historical documents, scientific articles, and poems—all organized by the themes students love to discuss.
“Our framework is based on the idea that a low-skilled reader is not a low-skilled thinker, and that every student, no matter where she goes to school, deserves to be challenged with the highest quality reading materials,” Brown says.
• Kinvolved – Miriam Altman (New York City '08) & Alex Meis
Kinvolved is improving early childhood through college achievement by facilitating real-time communication among members of students' support networks. The company provides apps to K-12 and higher education to streamline communication, as well as leverages stakeholder collaboration to preliminarily increase student attendance. Knowing absenteeism is the first indicator of underlying problems, Kinvolved links students and families to the support and interventions they need to get into school every day.
“We want to see an education system that values parents as equal partners and which leverages the shared accountability of community partners to help students achieve their full potential,” the pair says.
Pre-Pilot Track Winner
• Rooted School – Jonathan Johnson (Greater New Orleans ’10)
Rooted School is a network of charter high schools that prepares New Orleans students for high-growth, high-wage industries before college. The flagship campus focuses on the digital sector, creating a model of schools that provide lucrative career pathways for the Greater New Orleans region.
“I hope to see more students who come from lower-middle-income to lower-income backgrounds like mine obtain jobs that will place them on a path toward financial independence and stability,” Jonathan says.
The Social Innovation Award is intended to spark bold, new innovations that expand opportunities for students in underserved communities and address the root causes of educational inequity. We recognize alumni whose work exemplifies innovation and our core values of Transformational Change, Diversity, Leadership, Team, and Respect & Humility.
“We are very proud of these award winners and all those who imagine new paths to educational equity and social justice,” said Naya Bloom, Teach For America’s Vice President of Social Innovation. “All three organizations address some of the biggest, most entrenched problems facing teachers, children, and families in low-income communities by creating game-changing solutions. The founders join the 84 percent of Teach For America’s 42,000 alumni working in education or with low-income communities.”
New to this year’s process, finalists participated in a finalist experience that included one-on-one mentoring and professional development opportunities like Entrepreneurs United, Teach For America’s annual conference for alumni entrepreneurs. The experience culminated with an in-person Final Round Interview Day in the Bay Area, fielding challenging and thought-provoking questions from an experienced 16-member Final Round Interview Day judging panel.
The Finalist pool was quite strong and represented diversity across ethnicity, gender, region and experience. Congratulations to all of our Finalists doing incredible work across the country:
• Benjamin Levy (Bay Area ‘10) & Sue Germer (Bay Area ‘10) - eduCanon empowers teachers to transform video into an active learning experience through time-embedded formative assessments and annotations.
• Jason Martin (New Jersey ‘94) - STE(A)M TRUCK inspires youth to learn Science, Technology, engineering, arts and math by bringing the coolest tools, equipment and mentors directly to students.
• Erik Fogel (New York City ‘02) - The New York City Urban Debate League empowers underserved students through debate league while immersing them in public speaking, research techniques, civics, law and ethnic studies.
• Emily Tsay (Los Angeles ‘08) & Katherine Priore - Headstand+ is a mobile app that teaches teachers how to use mindfulness techniques for themselves and for their classrooms.
• Katie Boody (Kansas City '08) & Carrie Markel (Kansas City ’12) - The Lean Lab is an innovation laboratory where educators can develop new school models, services or products that better K-12 learning for Kansas City students.
• DeRay Mckesson (New York ‘07) - We The Protesters is designed to be a toolkit, resource bank, and aggregator in ways that empower activism.
• Alberta Wright (GNO ‘10) - Young Creative Agency provides youth with the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in the creative economy.
Through the Social Innovation Award and beyond, former winners, finalists, and semifinalists have impacted thousands of students, families, and communities in our nation. They have won numerous prestigious awards, fellowships, and business plan competitions, including the Echoing Green Fellowship, Ashoka Fellowship, Forbes 30 Under 30, Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition, Yale School of Management Education Business Plan Competition, and the Harvard GSE Education Entrepreneurship Summer Fellowship. Many of our previous winners are gaining significant traction and national recognition. Notable among them are Springboard Collaborative, GirlTrek, Citizens of the World Charter Schools, The Intersection, TEACHED, School Justice Project, and RISE Colorado.
Teach For America is deeply grateful to The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, and Joyce and Larry Stupski for sponsoring the Award and helping to seed innovation among our growing network of corps members and alumni.