NINE FINALISTS REPRESENT INSPIRATIONAL CHARTER SCHOOLS THAT IMPACT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, EDUCATIONAL INNOVATION, AND STUDENT EMPOWERMENT
WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#charterschools—Building Hope, the non-profit leader in charter school facilities, financing, and services, today announced the names of nine charter school finalists in the first annual Building Hope IMPACT Summit and Awards. The finalists were selected for having an impact on community engagement, educational innovation, or student empowerment. Three grants will ultimately be awarded in each of the three categories: one $20,000 grant and two $10,000 grants.
“I would like to congratulate every charter school that took the time to submit an application, and, of course, our nine outstanding finalists for their commitment to foster excellence, innovation, empowerment, and community for their students,” said President of Building Hope Joseph Bruno. “These school finalists will surely inspire and influence the charter school community today and will continue to for years to come.”
Selected from nearly 400 charter school applicants stretching across 38 states, the nine 2022 IMPACT Awards finalists are:
Palm Beach School for Autism, Lake Worth, FL
The Palm Beach School for Autism was selected as a finalist in the Student Empowerment category because of the collaborative community programming offered for neurodiverse students, ages 14-22. The school is dedicated to empowering students for success beyond school and believes in fostering independence, wherever that may be for each student who comes through the doors, by providing transition job training. The IMPACT Awards grant will enable the school to fulfill an immediate need for devices used for communication in the community, transportation, and virtual interview software. The grant will also be used to expand job training and transition programming.
Executive Director Ann Eisenberg shared, “Our school was developed to address the specific learning needs of students with autism, and our approach is informed by data that shows if you use a specific methodology or treatment when working with students with autism, the results are phenomenal. Our whole job is about communication and helping students by providing the technology and therapy they need to effectively communicate their wants and needs. One example of student empowerment we are very proud of is our transition job training program – where the focus is on training our students for the hospitality and restaurant industry as well as learning living skills, soft skills, and social skills in the community so that they can be successfully developed individuals with autism. These aspects are critical for student empowerment, for growth, and for success after they leave our school.”
Prospect Hill Academy Charter School, Cambridge, MA
At Prospect Hill Academy Charter School, student empowerment is at the core of everything. The school has challenged the norms by celebrating students and the important contributions they make to the school culture, local community, and ultimately the nation. This education model and the priority Prospect Hill Academy places on college readiness programming have been successful in achieving a college enrollment rate of 95%. With the IMPACT Awards grant, the school will hire an Alumni Support Specialist to extend support to school alumni in college and increase the alumni graduation rate of 70%, which is higher than the 59% national average, and significantly higher than the graduation rates for students of color. This unique support is designed to help alumni persist in college, graduate, and achieve their degrees and will include face-to-face meetings, emails, texts, and social media to address social, academic, and financial hardships that might derail a student’s life plan.
“Students are at the center of everything we do,” said Director of Advancement at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School Anja Rauh Bresler. “Our mission is to prepare each student for success in college, inspire a lifelong love of learning, and foster responsible citizenship. We believe that student empowerment and engagement come from a love of learning. We also want our students to have a good understanding of what is expected of them in college. Our college prep program starts in 9th grade with college visits, and by 11th grade, students take a class in which they learn about the college application process, finding the right fit academically and culturally, and making responsible choices about financing college.”
Richard Wright Schools, Washington, DC
At Richard Wright Schools, students are empowered by education and a culture of respect, leadership, and hard work. The schools’ mission is to create the next generation of media contributors through strong reading, writing, research, and communication skills. The Building Hope grant will help bridge the gap as they break ground on a new campus that will open in fall 2023. With the grant, the Richard Wright Schools plan to enhance their journalism, creative, and performing arts programs. The schools’ needs include the build out of teaching kitchens and community gardens as well as updated Mac desktops and MacBooks; a full Adobe Creative Suite; resources for performing arts programs; artist materials for larger scale murals, sculpture, and mixed media; and updated studios for student-produced films and news.
“At Richard Wright Schools, leadership, service, and community are cornerstones empowering students to navigate transformative journeys with positive ripples,” said Founder and CEO Dr. Marco Clark. “We believe you can’t run a school without student voice, and even one student, one voice, can make a difference. We transform the sense of what is possible by breaking the barriers of what others see as limitations or impossible tasks. Our alumni are the next generation of change agents and global competitors who will make positive contributions across the world.”
Common Ground High School, New Haven, CT
Many of Common Ground’s students are working jobs to support their families and are impacted by physical and mental health issues, creating high absenteeism at the school. Dedicated to creating an inclusive student community on a pathway to college success, meaningful careers, and healthy, sustainable lives, the school engages the entire New Haven community as its learning lab – where students and residents of New Haven connect with their urban environment, build community, and grow their potential. Though its Environmental Education Center, the school offers free-community programs, including Open Farm Days, guided hikes, and weekend events. The IMPACT Awards grant will support the Student Pathways Team, staff members charged with creating learning opportunities for students, beyond the classroom and school day. These opportunities would include expanding the farm education programs to provide 75 positions in the Green Jobs Corps, building access to healthy food and education for the community.
“As an environmental justice-themed charter high school, we are focused on building access and a sense of wonder in nature for students growing up in an urban community,” said Executive Director Monica Maccera Filppu. “Our audience is intentionally inclusive – through our programs, we aim to help people from across Greater New Haven connect to their urban environment. That connection creates a ripple impact by bringing nature, nature learning, and the farm experience to our community.”
Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School, Brooklyn, NY
The Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School recently received approval from the state of New York to build a new high school campus, Launch at Floyd Bennett Field, on national park land in Brooklyn that will serve more than 1,000 students as well as students at other public schools and the community as a whole. By establishing innovative partnerships, Launch will cultivate meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships and collaboration between education, industry, and community to address issues of sustainability and equity. The new campus will have a three-acre farm to promote sustainable agriculture and STEM opportunities for an additional enrollment of 800 students. The school expects to implement a competency-based assessment system that captures evidence of the knowledge, skills, and mindsets of students, 92% of whom currently come from underserved communities in Brooklyn. The grant from Building Hope will make it possible for the school to keep offering programs that meaningfully engage students in transformational experiences and prepare them to disrupt inequities to build a better world.
“Since we opened our school 10 years ago, we have become a deep and connected school with our community,” said Founder and Executive Director Geoffrey Groehm. “We think schools should be part and parcel of communities, and that teaching and learning should look like students doing real work to solve real problems within their own communities. One powerful example of our connection to community is our Learning Expedition on gun violence that our 7th graders complete – a curriculum that is focused on the gun violence epidemic and approaches the issue from a problem-solving perspective in partnership with the community organization Neighbors in Action.”
Nap Ford Community School, Inc. dba Legends Academy, Orlando, FL
Legends Academy launched as Nap Ford Community school to serve the students in one of the highest needs communities in central Florida. It has become an anchor for the community for twenty years and is now expanding enrollment by 60% to further serve the community. As a recipient of the Governor’s award for being in the state’s top 10% for academic growth, the school’s STEM focus creates scholars who continue to achieve, while supporting the needs of the surrounding community. Additionally, Legends Academy has joined with two of Florida’s largest Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Florida A&M University and Bethune Cookman University, to create a pilot to identify, train, and develop teachers for the urban environment. The school will use the IMPACT Awards grant to grow partnership engagement and impact the community.
“In order for us to be effective, we need to engage the entire community of Orlando because it simply takes more to do the work of meeting the needs of children who live in high-needs environments,” said Executive Director Jennifer Porter-Smith. “The city of Orlando has been a partner and supporter of the work we do to offer a different and unique approach to educating children – one that leans into what the families who live there want for their children. And our partnership with Florida A&M University and Bethune Cookman University has created successful internships that allow future teachers to become embedded in an urban environment and have a better understanding of what it means to teach in an urban setting.”
Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACTS), Philadelphia, PA
FACTS is a leader in Folk Arts Education (FAE) programs that help students understand Folk Art rituals and the value of seeing things from other people’s point of view. Located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia, the school serves the educational needs of the Chinatown community with an innovative method for honoring the diverse immigrant and refugee populations. FACTS innovates by weaving Folk Arts Education throughout the fabric of each day, and is continually piloting programs, refining practices, and sharing them with other educators.
The school plans to open an additional class in each grade from Kindergarten through 4th grade in 2025-26 and enroll new Kindergarten classes each year until it has expanded to three classes in all grades from Kindergarten through 8th grade, and to accommodate the expansion, the school will need to move into a new facility. The expansion also includes the creation of a program for immigrant and refugee middle school students who are at the beginning stages of learning English. They need to learn survival, social, and academic English while also receiving grade level instruction in academic content areas and preparing to enter high school. The Building Hope grant will develop and model advanced practices in FAE.
“At FACTS, we are training students to be world citizens, to have compassion and empathy, to have a sense of responsibility towards their community, and also have a sense of self to be those kinds of leaders,” said Executive Director Ellen Somekawa. “When we talk about folk arts education, we are really talking about the knowledge, wisdom, traditions, and ways of doing and seeing things that come out of our families and communities – and forming the basis for how we can relate to each other. This is the kind of education innovation that we think is absolutely critical for enabling students to emerge as successful in academic worlds while being comfortable in the world of their origins.”
Genesee Community Charter School at the Rochester Museum & Science Center (GCCS), Rochester, NY
GCCS is a national leader in curriculum, instruction, and arts integration and has set out to do exactly what charter schools were intended to do – innovate, then disseminate and mentor other schools. In addition to providing a high-quality academic program, the school offers social-emotional education that teaches its Kindergarten through 6th grade students to respect and understand differences in others. The school is committed to erasing social and academic boundaries for the sake of educational equity and social justice. GCCS students make a positive impact on the quality of life in their community with projects like field guides, magazines, websites, performances, and acts of advocacy. Their work benefits local neighborhoods, cultural institutions, parks, and nature centers. An IMPACT Award grant will fund consultants and staff fieldwork to provide professional development.
“The heart of GCCS is expressed most fully through its innovative curriculum,” said CEO and Executive Director Shannon Hillman. “Over the last two decades, GCCS has expanded the school’s impact to hundreds of schools locally and nationally, through mentoring relationships, conference presentations and publications, site seminars, and site visits,” said CEO and Executive Director Shannon Hillman. “As an EL Education mentor school, a National Blue Ribbon School, and a Partnership for 21st Century Learning Exemplar School, these efforts have allowed GCCS to improve learning outcomes for thousands of students beyond our walls.”
Jane Goodall Environmental Sciences Academy, Maple Lake, MN
Jane Goodall Environmental Sciences Academy fosters knowledge, love, and respect for the environment while promoting sustainability in the world. Its mission is “Out of the classroom, into the world,” and the staff and students evolve the expression of this mission daily. Students become true project managers of their own education with the guidance and support of the faculty advisors and experience a deep sense of independence and autonomy. Expeditionary learning on the 300-acre campus extends even further beyond with connections to outside organizations that help students receive a better view of what the world has in store for them. The Building Hope grant will be used to provide more off-campus learning experiences like “Off-Campus Fridays” where students engage in passion projects and any aspect of learning they cannot do in the classroom.
“’Out of the classroom, into the world’ is a student-driven approach that recognizes that each student experiences the world uniquely,” said Curriculum Director Les Harrison. “We understand that the ‘world’ and the ‘classroom’ are one in the same. Our approach emphasizes the interconnectedness of living and learning and prepares students for future endeavors focused on achieving happiness and self-defined personal success.”
IMPACT Award finalists will learn their grant award amounts during Building Hope’s first annual IMPACT Summit taking place from June 22-24, 2022, in Washington, DC. The IMPACT Summit will gather a cohort of top charter school leaders for a deep-dive masterclass, so they may share their successes, discuss challenges, and inspire each other to increase their impact. Additional information is available at www.buildinghope.org/impactawards.
About Building Hope
Building Hope is a non-profit foundation created to support education and public charter schools. Since 2003, Building Hope has created impact by investing in facilities, financial, and operational services for charter schools nationwide. With Building Hope’s support, schools can devote more resources to educating students in underserved communities. Building Hope has supported over 300 charter school projects and more than 150,000 students in 20 states and the District of Columbia, by providing more than $375 million in direct loans, credit enhancements, and equity investments to support more than $2 billion in school construction. For more information about how Building Hope helps charter schools nationwide with facilities, financing, and operational services, visit www.buildinghope.org.