Meet the 30 Under 30 Changemakers
As part of National Charter Schools Week 2021: 30 Years Strong, we honor 30 exceptional young leaders who are connected in some way to charter schools and are using their ideas, talents, and platforms to affect change. The 30 Under 30 Changemaker awards shine a spotlight on individuals from across the country who are making a meaningful impact in their community and nationwide via Arts, Writing, and Sports; Education and Politics; Leadership; Science; and Social Justice.
Ayden Jent, 28
Alumni, Herron High School
Arts, Writing, and Sports
Ayden Jent embodies persistence and perseverance. At a young age, doctors diagnosed him with cerebral palsy and predicted he would never walk without assistance or play sports—but he did. Ayden joined the track and cross country teams at Herron High School and even went on to join the U.S. Paralympic Team in 2016. Today he’s a three-time national team member of USA Track and Field and won a Silver Medal in the Toronto Para Pan Am games in the 100-meter in 2015. He has also competed in Berlin, Doha, London and Rio.
In addition to his success in track, Ayden interned for the Indiana House of Representatives, was appointed to Indianapolis Mayor's Advisory Council for Disabilities, the Indiana Governor's Council for People with Disabilities, and volunteered at the 2012 DNC convention. Next up? Ayden has his sights set on running for mayor of Indianapolis.
Katrina Brown-Aliffi, 29
Teacher, Democracy Prep
New York City, N.Y.
Arts, Writing, and Sports
Katrina Brown-Aliffi has devoted the last eight years of her career to teaching dance in New York City, piloting and founding two dance programs for middle and high schoolers. The program centers around student voice, prioritizes family communication, and provides a space for students to feel empowered to express their art. As a current doctoral student in Dance Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, her study, "Dance Education in New York City Charter Schools," was published in the Journal of Dance Education, and she has presented at the National Dance Education Organization annual conference and the International Conference of School Choice and Reform on her research on dance education in the charter sector. She was recently accepted into the 92Y Dance Education Laboratory FIT Intensive programming, where she will be working to engage NYC charter sector dance educators.
Kyle Denman, 26
2018 Young Fashion Designer of the Year
Enrichment Programs Coordinator, New Village Girls Academy
Los Angeles, Calif.
Arts, Writing, and Sports
Kyle Denman is a “political scientist with a passion for fashion" whose mission is to use his own platform and privilege to create social change, share cultural narratives, and humanize the experiences of underserved communities. This political science major-turned fashion designer and 2018 Young Fashion Designer of the Year has made his mark at New Village Girls Academy in Los Angeles, a high school for young women who are survivors of various injustices such as human trafficking, homelessness, drug and substance abuse, and domestic violence. As the school’s Enrichment Programs Coordinator, he leads art enrichment and fashion design programs, plans ‘Leaving to Learn’ experiences, and helps students access the support and resources they need—ranging from diapers to college and career prep, to mental health resources.
To round out his portfolio, he’s also the Homeless and Foster Youth Liaison, Cheer and Dance Team Co-Coach, and leads the schools’ LGBTQ+ initiatives. By combining fashion, art, and compassion, Kyle is truly transforming his student’s lives.
London Carter Williams, 12
Author, "Our 1st Protest"
Student, Brass City Charter School
Arts, Writing, and Sports
At age 11, London attended her first protest to march for equal rights. Following the protest, she decided to write her very own book titled, “Our 1st Protest,” sharing the details about her life-changing experience. The book, an introduction to community consciousness-raising for young people, combines London’s own experiences with her burgeoning interest in civil rights history.
Since publishing her book in October 2020, London has participated in press interviews across the United States. Former Teacher of the Year and current Congresswoman Jahana Hayes personally purchased copies of London’s book to be distributed to the Waterbury Elementary public school library. London’s work will undoubtedly inspire a new generation of budding advocates.
Najah Aqeel, 14
Student, Valor Collegiate Prep High School
Arts, Writing, and Sports
Najah Aqeel made history this year when her advocacy led to a nationwide rule change ensuring high school volleyball athletes can wear religious headwear without seeking permission. Najah, a Muslim student and volleyball athlete, was forbidden from participating in a freshman volleyball game in 2020 due to a National Federation of High School (NFHS) rule requiring written approval for religious head coverings. Najah rallied support to change the rule at both the state and national level.
As a result of her advocacy, athletes can wear hijabs or other religious head coverings freely without prior written permission in the sport of volleyball. The NFHS announced it will pursue changes that will impact sports beyond just volleyball in the future. We are all grateful for the positive impact Najah’s advocacy has on all high school athletes like her.
Natalie Wojcik, 21
Gymnast, University of Michigan
Alumna, 21st Century Cyber Charter School
Arts, Writing, and Sports
Formerly a student at 21st Century Cyber Charter School and now a junior at the University of Michigan and leader on the school’s gymnastics team, Natalie has several titles under her belt including NCAA champion on balance beam in 2019, 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and now the 2021 NCAA team national championship title. Her accomplishments include perfect 10.0 performances on both the vault and balance beam. More than medals motivate this MVP—she has been a generous volunteer with the Special Olympics for 13 straight years.
Nia Sioux, 19
Dancer, Actress, Author, Activist, and Podcast Host
Alumna, Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School
Los Angeles, Calif.
Arts, Writing, and Sports
Nia Sioux is a dancer, actress, author, and podcast host, initially known for her role as an original cast member of Lifetime’s hit show Dance Moms. In 2020, Nia published her first children’s book, Today I Dance detailing her journey into the arts as a Black dancer and inspiring millions of children of diverse backgrounds to pursue their love of dance. Most recently, she launched a Spotify original podcast with her friend, Adulting with Teala and Nia, where they talk about self-discovery and transitioning into adulthood. Nia was also a series regular on the CBS Daytime soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful, from 2018 to 2019.
Nia is currently a freshman at UCLA and continues to use her immense platform to encourage other young people to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams. Nia is passionate about advocacy and is proud of her work as a youth ambassador for When We All Vote as reflected by her efforts in engaging first-time voters to register and vote in the 2020 election.
Jalen Ramsey, 26
Professional Football Player, Los Angeles Rams
Donor, Purpose Preparatory Academy
Education and Politics
NFL star Jalen Ramsey is an all-star Nashville hometown hero who puts kids first. He has dedicated his time and energy in the off-season to improving and creating access to quality education in Nashville’s community.Notably, Jalen donated 1 million dollars during the pandemic to Purpose Preparatory Academy, a local charter school that touts being in the top 5% in the state for academics. As a partner and donor, Jalen is inspired by the school’s focus on breaking structural barriers to bring about equity for students of color and making learning more meaningful. Jalen’s advocacy in education will continue to inspire future students.
Lauryn Renford, 19
Co-founder, Pathways 2 Power
Alumna, Thurgood Marshall Academy
Lauryn Renford co-founded Pathways 2 Power, a student-led activist group formed after two of her fellow students were killed by gun violence. Lauryn turned her grief into power and has dedicated much of her time advocating for a safer D.C. During her junior year, she fundraised for a mural, The Limestone of Lost Legacies, honoring five teens who were killed by gun violence. She uses her voice to speak out against city violence that “almost always leaves mothers & communities to mourn children.” Lauryn has given a TED talk about her experience and has visited different schools in D.C. to rally young people to become advocates against gun violence.
Lauryn is currently a sophomore at The George Washington University studying public health. As gun violence continues to be a hot-button issue in Washington and across the nation, plan to see Lauryn leading the conversation.
Phillip Nguyen, 29
Founder, EdChiefs Leadership Diversity Investor
Advocate, New Jersey Charter School Launch Program
Toms River, N.J.
Education and Politics
Phillip Nguyen has dedicated his entire career to inspiring students and cultivating strong, diverse leaders. Philip is the founder and executive director of EdChiefs an equity-driven consulting firm dedicated to diversifying the education space with executive leaders of color. He is also a senior director at BrainPOP and the founding New Jersey Impact Lead for ImmSchools. His most current project is The New Jersey Charter School Launch Program – Executive Director Fellowship that aims to support BIPOC leaders in launching the schools of tomorrow. In addition to these roles, Phil sits on the Board of Lotus Public Charter Schools and Teach for America New Jersey's Alumni Association. In his early career, Phil served at KIPP Texas, STRIVE Prep Public Schools, and Mastery Charter Schools.
Roquel Crutcher, 26
Policy Entrepreneur, Next100
Alumni, KIPP DIAMOND Academy
New York, N.Y. and Memphis, Tenn.
Education and Politics
As a policy entrepreneur at Next100, Roquel Crutcher focuses on both racial equity and increasing educational opportunities and postsecondary outcomes for young people in marginalized communities. She has recently released a project to elevate the voices of alumni of charter schools and continues to advocate for policy solutions to anti-Black racism. Roquel was founder and president of American University’s chapter of the NAACP and later served as the D.C. branch chair of the Young Adults Committee. Roquel was selected for New Profit’s Millennial Impact Fellowship, NAACP’s Next Generation Fellowship, a 2018 Aspen Ideas Fellowship, and an inaugural KIPP Accelerator Fellow as a KIPP Memphis alumna.
Amira Thomas, 29
Director, Randall Park High School
As the new Director of Randall Park High School—a dropout recovery school in Cleveland, Ohio— Amira Thomas lives every day by the motto, “We rise by lifting others.” She started volunteering at a young age and never stopped—allowing her to build relationships with families who need clothes, food, and shelter. When she stepped into her role as school director, she quickly established partnerships and engaged her scholars in community service. Through programs and partnerships with local organizations, Randall Park High School has provided scholars with hot meals, toiletries, clothing, and toys for the holiday season. While Amira’s efforts reach far and wide, she remains focused on her top priority: providing her scholars with a career pathway. Her latest plans include matching Randall Park scholars with employers who offer internship programs that will lead to employment.
Audrey Hagopian, 29
Regional Director of Primary Schools, BASIS.ed
Over just a few years, Audrey Hagopian has blossomed from a science teacher, to a charter school leader, and now to the Regional Director of Primary Schools for BASIS.ed. BASIS.ed manages a dynamic network of high-quality, tuition-free, open-enrollment public charter schools throughout the United States. As a Regional Director, Audrey has established a restorative approach to teacher development through regular coaching and classroom observations, and has trained instructional leaders in this approach at BASIS Charter Schools throughout the country. Although she no longer spends every day at the front of a classroom, Audrey hasn’t lost her passion for science education. In addition to supporting school leaders, she’s also making science cool, fun, and pandemic-friendly by bringing hands-on experiments to YouTube through a partnership with the popular San Antonio Charter Moms blog.
Darren Ramalho, 29
Founding Head of School, Breakthrough Charter School
DarrenRamalho founded the first-ever charter school in rural Perry County, Alabama. Breakthrough Charter School is a diverse-by-design, K-12 school that focuses on project-based learning and community leadership. The school is a partner effort of three prominent local organizations—Marion Military Institute, Judson College, and Main Street Marion. Before launching Breakthrough, Darren taught as a Teach For America corps member in Alabama and continued teaching both in his district school as well as an adjunct instructor at Marion Military Institute. During his final year of teaching, he completed his Master's degree from Teachers College, Columbia University and served on Alabama’s English Language Arts Course of Study Taskforce. He is also an alum of the prestigious School Founders Fellowship at New Schools for Alabama.
Davian Morgan, 29
School Leader, Ingenuity Prep Public Charter School
Davian Morgan began his career teaching first grade as a Teach for America Corps Member at Ingenuity Prep Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Today, Davian’s the school’s Vice Principal of Literacy and the founder of Hopeful HoriSONS a non-profit that provides academic and social emotional support as well as community service opportunities for students in the Washington D.C. metro area. Most recently, he launched Hopeful HoriSONS’s Black Boys Book Bunch—a virtual club for boys of color that builds literacy through conversations about books and current events while supporting the development skills needed to cope with tough feelings and trauma.
Gavin Schiffres, 27
Cofounder, Kairos Academies
St. Louis, Mo.
Gavin Schiffres is the co-founder and CEO of Kairos Academies, a K-12 public charter school in St. Louis that has innovated around student choice and self-direction. Kairos has been highlighted as one of the most promising models for 21st-century schooling by Forbes, The Today Show, Education Week, Teach For America, and more. Gavin and his team are reimagining school around personalized learning and self-direction so their students gradually earn ownership of where, when, how, and with whom they work to prepare them for what to expect in college. Gavin graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with honors for his theses on charter school policy and design and holds a Master's in Education from the University of Missouri—St. Louis.
Kalan Rogers, 27
Alumnus & Principal, Calhoun Falls Charter High School
Calhoun Falls, S.C.
Kalan Rogers graduated from Calhoun Falls Charter High School (CFCS) in South Carolina, a small 6-12 charter school. In his third year as principal of his alma mater, Kalan is actively involved in creating a positive and safe school environment. Under his leadership, CFCS has been recognized by the U.S. News and World Report as one of the best high schools in the nation and received a Silver Award for two years and received a Bronze Award in the last three years. Additionally, Kalan coaches cross-country and track and field, drives a morning school bus route, and advocates for his students, parents, and the community. A true changemaker, we look forward to following Kalan’s career as a school leader and advocate for charter schools.
Samantha Aponte, 28
Interim Principal, Tulsa Honor Academy
Samantha Aponte is the current interim principal at Tulsa Honor Academy. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that rocked the education profession, her colleagues described her as a rock who got them through a very challenging year. As a former teacher and assistant principal, Samantha helped build literacy systems and promote best practices to better support diverse learners. Samantha also engages with nonprofit boards and foundations in the Tulsa community with an eye for leveraging relationships and organizational structures to elevate BIPOC representation. She supported several local social service agencies in engaging and elevating the perspectives of Latinx families.
Adriana Mancini, 22
Founder & President, Students4H2O
Alumna, Clark Advanced Learning Center
Palm City, Fla.
Adriana’s passion for sustainability and community outreach began in elementary school when she founded Team Green Martin, a recycling program that pairs students with disabilities with peer mentors. Today, the program exists in several Martin County schools, and Adriana has gone on to found another organization— Students4H2O, which encourages students to be a part of the solution to end the global water crisis. Her efforts have helped to raise over $100,000 to provide clean water and sanitation to developing countries—including building a well in South Sudan to provide a sustainable water source and allow girls to spend less time finding water and more time in school.
She has been recognized by Keep Florida Beautiful and was awarded first place in Seton Hall University's United Nations Sustainable Development Challenge. Most recently, she was recognized with the 2021 Global Citizen Award by Water for South Sudan. Adriana is currently studying for her Master of Arts in Mass Communications degree, specializing in Public Interest Communication, with the University of Florida.
Anna Grace Tiede Hottinger, 18
Student, EdVisions Off Campus
When Anna Grace saw tobacco products like e-cigarettes growing in popularity among her peers, she sprang into action. She helped organize students to speak at their local council meeting advocating to raise the age to legally buy tobacco from 18 to 21. Her advocacy caught the attention of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, who recognized her as a national youth ambassador. As an ambassador, she works with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to advocate for effective policies to reduce youth tobacco use at the federal, state, and local levels—including policies to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes that are addicting a new generation of kids. Still in her senior year, Anna Grace is also involved locally with the Association for Non-Smokers, and has been engaged in tobacco control work for more than two years.
Artemisio Romero y Carver, 18
Student, New Mexico School for the Arts
Sante Fe, N.M.
Artemisio Romero y Carver is a high school senior at New Mexico School for the Arts—and a climate activist. She is the co-founder and policy director of Youth United For Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA), a local nonprofit that trains young activists in social and environmental justice organizing and supports intergenerational campaigns to advance climate justice, transformative education, sustainability, democracy, and civil rights. To make it easy for young people to engage in action, YUCCA endorses candidates, lobbies for legislation, and organizes protests, giving their youth advocates a powerful introduction to active citizenship. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and in Spring 2020, Arte was named Santa Fe’s youth Poet Laureate and earned First Place in Specialty Articles during the New Mexico Press Women’s 2020 Communications Contest.
Gitanjali Rao, 15
Scientist and App Developer
Student, STEM School Highlands Ranch
Lone Tree, Colo
Gitanjali Rao is a real, live Super Hero. The young scientist was featured in an episode of Marvel’s Hero Project, Genius Gitanjali. The episode focused on her work inventing an app that detects lead in drinking water, inspired by a trip with her family to India and the Flint Water Crisis. She went on to combat another significant problem for her generation—cyberbullying. Her app, Kindly, uses artificial intelligence to detect and combat cyberbullying in its early stages. From her incredible efforts in science and technology, at age 15 Gitanjali was selected from a field of more than 5,000 nominees as TIME’s first-ever Kid of the Year. If that wasn’t enough, Gitanjali also dedicates her time to running innovation workshops to mentor fellow students. To date, she has mentored more than 45,000 students across 4 continents and continues to pay it forward.
Mari Copeny, 13
Student, Woodland Park Academy
Known as “Little Miss Flint,” Mari made her name advocating for the people of Flint throughout the water crisis. It was her letter to President Obama that prompted him to visit the city and approve $100 million dollars in relief for the city of Flint. Mari has spoken twice at the March for Science about how the Flint water crisis has affected her community and fundraised $250k to give away more than 1 million bottles of water. She also sits on the Flint Youth Justice League and the Michigan Department of Education’s Anti-Racism Student Advisory Council. Despite her young age, Mari has made a significant impact on the dialogue around environmental racism and confronted the entire country with the reality faced by victims of state negligence.
Nathan Ream, 16
Lymphoma Survivor and Advocate
Student, Duval Charter High School
After being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at nine years old, Nathan Ream has made incredible contributions to the awareness and research of blood cancers. As a student at Duval Charter High School at Baymeadows, he has touched the lives of many individuals as a featured speaker at his school’s annual “Growing Hearts” day of giving. Nathan is a volunteer for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society, helping them raise awareness and money to support others going through the same blood cancers. Nathan’s experience inspires other survivors like him to push forward and encourages others to do their part to help.
Alessandro Iaia Hernandez, 18
Latino Community Advocate
Student, Charter School of Wilmington
Alessandro Iaia Hernandez, a Mexican-Italian American and a senior at the Charter School of Wilmington, helped create programs to help push for equal treatment and opportunities for marginalized people, particularly those in the Latino community. His interest in helping the community sparked from seeing the discrimination his mom faced as a Hispanic immigrant, as opposed to his Italian immigrant father. Alessandro was recently selected as a recipient of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation's Regional Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards, where he will receive $1,000 towards his undergraduate education. He plans to study government and Latin American studies. Alessandro believes anyone—whether they are born in this country or have made this country their home—can get far with hard work.
Brianna Noble, 26
Equestrian and Black Lives Matter Advocate
Alumna, Oakland School of the Arts
Brianna Noble is an equestrian and Black Lives Matter advocate who received international recognition when she rode her horse, Dapper Dan, to a Black Lives Matter protest in Oakland, California, following the death of George Floyd. As the founder of her equestrian business, Mulatto Meadows, she is passionate about teaching horsemanship, riding, and bringing equestrian opportunities to BIPOC youth and serves as a role model and leader voicing the concerns of marginalized communities.Since the age of 15, Brianna has dedicated her life as a trainer to rehabilitating abused horses and helping them to find loving homes. Her work and advocacy continues to inspire millions.
Darnella Frazier, 18
Activist and Documentarian
Student, Augsburg Fairview Academy
Darnella Fraizer bravely witnessed and documented the unjust death of George Floyd while in police custody last summer. It was her video footage, taken with her camera phone, that sparked the reaction to the horrific event. As a result of her quick action, Darnella brought attention to a grave injustice and inspired millions of people to rally together for social change and helped to secure a conviction for Mr. Floyd’s killer. She recently testified in his murder trial, saying, “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles." Darnella continues to use her platform to advocate for racial and economic justice.
Jess Stone, 24
Teacher, River Heights Academy
Flat Rock, Mich.
Jess Stone, a math teacher at River Heights Academy in Michigan, advocates for LGBTQ+ students and staff. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Jess founded the “Equity Club” for 6th-8th graders as a space for LGBTQ+ students and allies to support one another and learn evidence-based information about age-appropriate topics and public health concerns facing them and their peers, as well as developing a sense of community within the school.
They also created a student identity survey for middle school students to share their preferred pronouns and names, aligned with the State of Michigan’s best practices for LGBTQ+ students. As a member of the Distinctive Schools Network Culture and Retention Expanded Design Team, Jess advocates for LGBTQ+ staff members within the organization.
Jess also serves on the Distinctive Schools Michigan Regional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Curriculum Committee, exploring, iterating, and designing student-facing materials that are representative of traditionally marginalized groups. Jess’ work makes the difference in the experiences of many students in Michigan.
Kwastlmut (Sadie Olsen), 19
Co-founder of Whiteswan Environmental and Advocate for Indigenous Rights
Co-Founding Board Member, Whatcom Intergenerational High School
Kwastlmut is an advocate for indigenous rights and an active participant in community healing. She’s been instrumental in the start up of Whatcom Intergenerational High School (WIHS), an innovative new charter school that will open its doors in fall 2021. As an Indigenous student, Kwastlmut advocates for Indigenous cultural ways to be included in curriculum, policies, and practices. She is a member of the Northwest Portland Area Youth Indian Health Board, and she also co-facilitates diverse groups of students and adults for Western Washington University's Community Engagement Fellows. Kwastlmut brings the Community Fellows process for understanding and solving community problems into organizational settings both locally and globally. Kwastlmut has traveled to conferences as a youth advocate and voice for Indigenous peoples. She currently attends Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, WA. Her voice—and all indigenous voices—is one that should be listened to closely.
Noelani Gabriel, 26
Inclusion and Restorative Justice Advocate
Director of Family and Community Engagement, Community Charter School of Cambridge
Noelani Gabriel’s commitment to social justice, civil rights, and active anti-racism has a significant positive impact on her school’s community and students. As the director of family and community engagement at Community Charter School of Cambridge, she develops programs to foster collaboration between educators and families, cultivates relationships with community organizations, and leads equity and restorative justice work. Noelani plays an active role on the Cambridge LGBTQ+ Commission and the Kendall Square Association Board of Directors to build antiracist organizations and businesses in her neighborhood. She also serves on the coalition for The Teachers' Lounge MA, an organization dedicated to recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching workforce in the greater Boston area and was recently recognized with an Educator Award from the Abolitionist Teaching Network. As a Black queer school leader, she seeks to ignite joy and elevate the voices of students and families in decision-making.
Thank you and congratulations to all the 30 Under 30 Changemakers and their outstanding charter schools!