2020 Above and Beyond Awards

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As the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the 2019-20 school year, schools across the United States have made tremendous efforts to go above and beyond to serve their students and their communities. We are excited to recognize 10 unsung heroes of these times that have truly taken gone the extra mile to serve their communities.

Baxter Academy for Technology and Science

When the staff at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland, Maine saw the critical shortage of medical ventilators facing hospitals, one engineering teacher set out to fulfill the school’s promise: to use STEM to solve community problems. Working closely with students and alumni, a ventilator was built in less than three weeks at a cost of $1,500—which was covered by an outpouring of support from the community. They took the ventilator to the University of New England for testing on a lung simulator where they learned their product performed just as well as the medical grade equipment normally used. Just last week, the team advanced as was one of seven finalists, out of more than 200 entries, in the Co-VENT-19 Challenge, which seeks innovation of a rapidly deployable mechanical ventilator to overcome resource gaps for responding to the global pandemic.

Common Ground High School

Common Ground—a charter high school, urban farm, and environmental center in New Haven, Conn—delivers free, fresh produce directly to the doors of those in need. After having learned about the impending school closure mandate, Common Ground's farmers, development team, and volunteers got to work immediately to create their emergency farm share, making their first deliveries to 30 families on March 18. Since then, the program has grown to include fresh veggies and eggs from their on-site farm and other local farms, donated goods from partners, a bilingual message of support, and information about other food access sites. In partnership with local organizations, Common Ground is able to deliver over 50 boxes of produce to students' families on a weekly basis—and also acts as a distribution site for food deliveries to other members of the local community. Through this work, the school is fulfilling their commitment to ensure all of their students have the tools they need to grow into their full potential and contribute to a just and sustainable world.

Discovery Charter School

Discovery Charter School in Rochester, N.Y. has an ongoing mission to better the surrounding community—and nothing can stop the staff and students from fulfilling that mission. To keep their students occupied and civically engaged the school held a community project day as a part of their virtual school spirit week. Staff, students, and families wore protective gear to work together—from a safe distance!—to clean up the streets, parks, and green spaces in their respective neighborhoods.

DSST Public Schools

DSST Public Schools in Denver hosts weekly Project: Create STEAM challenges in partnership with leading Denver institutions, such as the Denver Museum of Art, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the University of Colorado Teach Engineering, and more! K-12 students across Colorado can participate in these creative and fun learning opportunities to supplement their new online learning environments and for a chance to win prizes and be featured on TV. Each week has a different theme, and students submit a project with either a STEM or arts focus. A group of school network judges then determines a winner each Wednesday and the local news station helps award the prizes for the week.

Harmony Public Schools

Staff at Harmony Public Schools in Texas are producing face shields and medical supplies for local health-care workers and first responders on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. The school gave the team carte blanche to manufacture protective medical gear and equipment. Within a couple of days, 100 Harmony staff members volunteered and were trained about how to make face shields using 3-D printers and they've since donated more than 3,000 face shields in coordination with county and health officials across the state of Texas. Each face shield takes roughly five hours to manufacture and costs around $1 to make.

Impact Public Schools

In just its second year of operation, Impact Public Schools in Tukwila, Wash. has gone from opening its doors to full enrollment and strong community relationships. As soon as it became clear that school buildings would be closed for an extended period of time, the school fundraised and built partnerships to provide their students with WiFi hotspots, laptops, and free meals—which are available to any child free of charge, regardless of enrollment. The school also quickly launched six week at-home learning packets for Kindergarten through 2nd grade and launched a read-aloud video series—all of which were made these available to anyone online. Impact recently hosted a webinar for more than 215 educators showcasing their Impact at Home – Phase 2 distance learning model, which includes social emotional learning, individualized, synchronous small group instruction and hands-on project based learning. Additionally, the team built a website and operate a radio station to guide their young students through their virtual day.

KIPP Columbus

KIPP Columbus has distributed more than 100,000 free meals (including fresh, organic, local vegetables) to children throughout Columbus. The school also opened a pandemic child care center on campus, in partnership with the YMCA, for the children of essential workers. Staff took on these projects while launching remote across all grades and subjects, distributing almost 2,000 computers, and securing WIFI access for students.           

Palms West Charter School

Knowing that social distancing practices are particularly affecting the elderly and those in nursing homes, the Service Learning Class at Palms West Charter School in Loxahatchee, Fla. reached out to the local nursing home to offer some words of encouragement. Students sent heartfelt letters to residents, sharing how they spend their days and ideas on how they could pass time, such as coloring or reading their favorite books.

Raul Yzaguirre School for Success

Leadership at Houston’s Raul Yzaguirre Schools of Success are making sure that all children in their community have the opportunity to eat every day. When Houston Independent School District suspended meal pick-ups for a few days due to a coronavirus-related safety issue, the charter school immediately saw an uptick in the number of students coming for meals. Their 'never turn anyone away' attitude continues to feed as many as possible.

Springs Charter Schools

Shortly after coronavirus school closures were announced, Springs Charter Schools built upon their online learning program, Venture Online, to open an online school free to anyone who signed up. Typically, Springs offers a range of schooling options, from five-days-a-week, in-person school attendance, to blended learning, to five-days-a-week home schooling—giving them the experience to quickly adapt to a fully online program. So far, more than 5,000 students in 10 countries have signed up for the free school, which includes weekly video lessons by teachers, assignments and answer keys for grades K-12.