The five-year-old was sick in bed, a child who rarely spoke. He was shy and often repeated words softly to himself, leading the family maid to nickname him “the dopey one.” But on this day, the child’s father brought his son a toy that would change his life forever — a magnetic compass.
Later on the child, Albert Einstein, would mark that moment as a turning point — the beginning of a bubbling up of something latent inside him, a curiosity that had to know what forces drove this needle back and forth. His curiosity would change the world.
At Stand Together Trust we often ask ourselves how these moments happen, how children discover their unique gifts, develop them, and then deploy those talents for the sake of others. What would it look like to offer every child opportunities for an education tailored to that child’s specific potential? And how would society benefit as a result?
As we emerge from three years of pandemic education, we’re thankful for our partners — forward-thinking social entrepreneurs dreaming big dreams and proposing practical, viable solutions to our nation’s pressing issues. We saw our partners respond with creativity and determination to serve families calling for a better way to educate their children in the midst of disruption.
For example, we partnered with the Walton Family Foundation to form the VELA Education Fund, aimed at empowering families and supporting their creative efforts to provide engaging, individualized education for their children. Since its launch, VELA has distributed more than 1,350 grants, totaling $13 million. VELA grantees have served over 5.5 million educators and learners in all 50 states, as well as in Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
But being a part of VELA is more than just receiving funding. VELA is creating a dynamic community focused on building connections and increasing awareness about innovative approaches to learning—like microschools, learning pods, homeschool co-ops, and other new models.
Additionally, VELA has garnered over 2 million views on the 29 videos they released in 2021 and grantees have been featured in over 100 media stories, generating over 30 million media impressions.
What have we learned from VELA? Chiefly, that students really can learn everywhere — and that there’s a growing appetite for new educational models. Families can be trusted to find the best educational options for their children: to assess local conditions, to identify a child’s needs, and to craft an education tailor-made.
There’s also a growing number of social entrepreneurs entering the educational space with innovative projects. Some of these entrepreneurs are well-established educators expanding their offerings to meet our current needs.
In the wake of the pandemic, we partnered with leader Sal Khan to develop Schoolhouse.world, Schoolhouse.world, established by Sal Khan of Khan Academy, is a first-of-its-kind online platform that allows anyone to receive free, live, world-class tutoring in a variety of subjects — no matter where they live or where they learn — and receive credentials for mastering subject areas.
Amir Nathoo at Outschool has similarly pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible online. A one-stop-shop for courses and classes, Nathoo started Outschool in 2017. Prior to the pandemic, 80,000 kids had taken an Outschool class. Today, Outschool offers more than 140,000 live online classes to more than 1,000,000 learners in 183 countries worldwide. One mother in Texas describes her family’s Outschool experience as “a game-changer for us…I feel like their educational goals have hit new levels. They are learning new things that would not have been an option before.”
For teachers, Outschool offers opportunity in spades. Open to those with and without formal teaching credentials, over 10,000 educators have joined Outschool because of the platform’s flexibility. The effort also compensates educators according to their skill — in some cases teachers are paid over 6 figures for their contribution with teachers earning more than $140 million to date on the platform.
New ventures haven’t been limited to resources for families. Schools are benefitting, as well. In 2020 Minerva Project developed a high-school curriculum and technology platform that can be adopted by any school to help students complete the courses needed for graduation and college enrollment. “The Minerva Baccalaureate accelerates student learning, while helping high schools become more efficient, resilient, and sustainable,” the project explains.
These partners are not alone. Cadence Learning, Home Builder’s Institute, Silicon Schools Fund, Prenda, One Stone School, Summit Learning, Acton Academy, and so many other organizations (and countless families) are demonstrating a new path forward for education — one that builds on the very best of our current systems and empowers families with options that bring out the gifts of each child.
We will continue to look for new partners who share this vision so that every student, no matter where they sit, can have access to an education that meets their needs.
Every single child in this country has unlimited potential and deserves to have access to an education that nurtures their individual brilliance. We will support educators and entrepreneurs committed to an education system that makes this a reality.
Stand Together Trust inspires and invests in social entrepreneurs developing bottom-up solutions to America’s most pressing problems. Learn more about our support for foundational education.