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Building 21
2021-22 Annual Report




Dear Friends,

Reflecting back on our year, we are particularly proud of our colleagues, families, partners, and broader communities who consistently took the next step towards realizing more just, equitable, and rewarding futures for the young people we are privileged to serve. Together with our students, we are redefining and co-creating what our new reality looks like in a world that is slowly emerging from the pandemic:

Our Lab Schools welcomed students and educators back after over a year of virtual learning while continuing to develop and iterate on an engaging curriculum that serves as both a window and a mirror for our young people.

Our Learning Innovation Network took the next step by significantly broadening our impact and scale and by intentionally building the human and technical capacity to better support our 30 partner schools and districts on their journeys to a more personalized, human-centered model for education.

And finally, our most recent initiative, Launchpad, has taken the major step of moving from an aspirational vision to an emerging reality as we hired staff and readied our programming for the arrival of our first cohort in January 2023.

Throughout this report, you will meet students and educators who are part of our community—from Building 21’s Lab Schools in Philadelphia and Allentown to members of our Learning Innovation Network across the country—and hear about the next steps in their educational journeys. We are showcasing these stories and the report as a whole with a backdrop of murals created by Building 21 students in partnership with professional artists and teachers. These works of art—which adorn the walls of our Lab Schools, and are seen every day by students, faculty, and visitors—reflect the ideals and themes embraced by each school community. For Allentown, it’s the rising phoenix and in Philadelphia it’s the key principles of power, passion, and agency. 

We are deeply appreciative of our broader community of partners, families, students, colleagues, friends, and supporters who have been instrumental in helping us take these next steps. We are so thankful for the confidence that you have shown in Building 21 to make a positive impact in a world that can feel so divisive, unsafe, and uncertain. We promise to do everything in our power to continue to earn your trust and to deliver on the hopes and expectations that you have set for us.

Laura Shubilla & Chip Linehan
Co-CEOs and Co-Founders

Data from our Lab Schools:

As we begin to emerge from the most challenging periods of the pandemic and reflect back on the last two years, we are proud of the progress our students made in this challenging time—thanks in no small part to our incredibly dedicated team of teachers, administrators, and staff.

COVID significantly challenged not only our ability to implement our instructional model but also our ability to sustain and nurture the positive relationships that are the foundation of our schools. This emphasis on deep relationships and student growth is evidenced by the numbers below for our past two classes, the ones most impacted by COVID:


4-Year Graduation Rate


Dropout Rate*

*Actually, it’s less than that, at 0.5%, but the counter doesn’t do tenths of a percent.


Retention Rate

These figures, which are averages of both lab schools, compare favorably to prior—i.e. pre-pandemic—cohorts of students, which we believe is a testament to the amazing work of our school staff as well as the resilience of our students and families.

The best things are the opportunities—like the internships. They also help us with college. They set our minds to think about the future a lot.

Fabian Alberto RiveraSenior, Building 21 Allentown

A dedicated student, Fabian, like many others, struggled with remaining engaged through virtual learning during COVID. In our personalized model that recognizes student mastery and growth regardless of time, students who fall behind have ample opportunities to catch up. Learning, not time, is the critical variable. Instead of worrying about whether he would have to repeat 11th grade, Fabian reviewed his personal learning plan, took learning into his own hands, and kept himself on track. Fabian is currently in his third career exposure experience: an animation class which includes mentoring from senior PIXAR animators and storytellers. Fabian has worked with his father in construction since 7th grade and loves it. He wants a profession in something related but didn’t know what until a 9th grade project had him researching possible careers. Now a senior, he is busy applying to college so he can become an architect, with plans to go to Penn State Lehigh Valley and major in the subject.

Real-World Learning Partners

Internships, dual enrollment, and career exposure experiences—like those that have helped Fabian and the other students you will meet in this report—are made possible by businesses, organizations, universities, and individuals who help us connect the classroom to the real world. We are deeply grateful to all of the partners who brought learning to life for our students in the past year:

  • AECOM Engineering
  • Nanci Agati
  • Allentown Art Museum
  • Alphonso Clark Dentistry
  • Amazon
  • Americaven
  • Amjad Dental Associates
  • Arcadia University
  • ArtsQuest/21st Century
  • Bentley Systems
  • Bilal’s Bakery
  • Booksmiles
  • Bradbury Sullivan Center
  • Broad Street Animal Hospital
  • Brooke Johnson Salon
  • Camden Aquarium
  • Cedar Crest College
  • The Century Promise
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • City of Philadelphia Office of Managing Director
  • Community College of Philadelphia
  • Creative Scholars Program, Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Temple University
  • Cuttino Creations
  • DaEssence of Perfection Hair Salon
  • DaVinci Science Center
  • DeSales University
  • Diving with a purpose
  • Early Foundations Learning Academy
  • Eat Right Philly
  • Education Law Center
  • Education Plus Health
  • Einstein Medical Center
  • EXP Realty
  • Farmer Jawn
  • First Builders Construction
  • Fleishman School of Art
  • Fox Chase Farm
  • Future Academy
  • Genentech
  • Good Shepherd
  • GoSmartTrack
  • Halal To Go Catering
  • Harrisburg University
  • Honeybees Learning Center
  • Illusion Barber Shop
  • Inquirer – Acel Moore Journalism Program
  • Jefferson University
  • John F. McCloskey School
  • Keller Williams Realty
  • Khalil Smith Salon
  • Kutztown University
  • KW Realtors – Ardmore
  • Lady of Fatima Home Health Care
  • LaSalle University
  • League of Women Voters
  • Lehigh County
  • Lehigh County Board of Elections
  • Lehigh County Workforce Board/CareerLink
  • Lehigh University
  • Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN)
  • Lehigh Valley Youth House
  • Martin Luther King High School
  • Mindy Flexer Art Studio
  • Moravian College
  • Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ
  • Mural Arts Philadelphia
  • Nutrition Unlimited
  • On Track
  • PA State Representative Isabella Fitzgerald – District 203
  • PA State Representative Stephen Kinsey – District 201
  • PA State Senator Art Haywood – District 4
  • Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research (PSBR)
  • Philadanco
  • Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts
  • Philadelphia Children’s Foundation
  • Philadelphia Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker – District 9
  • Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity
  • Philadelphia Police Department
  • Philadelphia Robotics Coalition
  • Philadelphia STEM Ecosystem
  • Poppyn
  • Primerica Insurance Co
  • Princeton University Computer Architecture
  • Project Silk
  • Salon Styles by Aleta
  • School District of Philadelphia Work-Based Learning
  • Seanime Animation / Digital Art
  • Slalom
  • SmartTrack LLC
  • St. Luke’s
  • Stepping Stones Scholars
  • Story Xperiential/PIXAR
  • U Penn Netter Center for Community Partnerships
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Pennsylvania Nanotechnology Engineering
  • Victoria’s Kitchen
  • Villanova University
  • Wagner Middle School
  • What I Wish I Knew Foundation
  • WHYY Media Labs
  • YWCA Allentown

From the beginning, Building 21 has shared the tools and resources we develop in-house with schools and educators across the country and the world. Last year, we formalized this support as the Learning Innovation Network. In just the first six months, more than 500 educators around the world joined the Network, signing up to view, download, and use our open resources:

In addition to sharing Building 21’s resources at no cost to members around the world, the Learning Innovation Network offers more intensive fee-based support to schools and educators who want to implement our competency-based approach at four levels:


Targeted coaching for "Problem of Practice" (PoP) participants to get started or address a specific issue implementing Competency-Based Education (CBE).


Personalized coaching for a pilot year of CBE initiatives.


Multi-year partnership committed to a full transformation to CBE and personalized learning.


The Building 21 model, started from scratch in partnership with local school districts.

Building 21 began in 2014 with one lab school. Since then, our network has grown significantly:

Meet three of our Learning Innovation Network members who have taken significant next steps towards competency-based education with Building 21’s support:

Middle School Principal, The Academy of Alameda (CA)

Miranda Thorman

The Academy of Alameda (AoA), across the bay from San Francisco, is a K-8 public charter school and one of the most diverse schools in California in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language, and religion. As a school with a mission that focuses on social justice and empowering all learners, moving toward more equitable grading practices was inevitable according to Miranda Thorman, the Middle School Principal at AoA. 

In the 2020-2021 school year, Miranda began looking for resources to help implement a shift towards a competency-based learning model.  A Google search led her to Building 21’s Open Resources. “I reached out to Building 21 and started working with Thomas and Sandra on designing performance tasks and summative and formative assessments. When they formalized the Learning Innovation Network, we decided to join as a learning partner.” AoA is now a Site level member of the Network.

“It’s really so helpful to have this sort of ongoing conversation, problem-solving, and troubleshooting….I would say Building 21 provides the most personalized experience I’ve ever had. It’s very tailored to our context and what we need.”

Miranda’s goal is to make sure “every kid is prepared to be successful in high school.”  With support from Building 21, AoA started with implementing a new way of assessing students. The impact of implementing this model can be seen in how the students reflect on their performance. Instead of thinking negatively about their grade, they are celebrating their progress. “We are empowering students as learners. It is a growth process for them instead of ‘I am good at it or not’.” 

Instructional Coach, Meridian Academy (ID)

Julia Miller

Meridian Academy, one of three alternative high schools in Idaho’s West Ada School District, wanted a way to bend to the needs of the learner and increase transparency with students. Julia Miller, the Instructional Coach at Meridian, says, “we struggled with developing a system that allowed us to be in both the accrediting world and the competency world where you can see learning happening.” 

Working with our team, Meridian Academy implemented the Building 21 framework, which provided the structure to break the traditional learning model but the flexibility to work with the district, school, and state requirements. They are now using Building 21’s Competency Framework, competency tracking system, data dashboards, and analytics.

“We moved from a teacher-driven curriculum to being centered on increasing learner engagement with the portfolio model.” 

As a result, students now have the ability to plan their own pathway of learning based on their interests. Students have created Tik Tok awareness campaigns and car maintenance studios through the opportunity of DIY Time.

All three West Ada Academies, Central, Eagle, and Meridian, have been partners with Building 21 since 2017. They are all Learning Innovation Hubs and welcome visitors to see how they each have taken their own personalized approach to implementing the Building 21 competency framework and studio model to meet the needs of their individual learners.

Principal, Canyon Springs Alternative HS (ID)

Christine McMillen

When discussing why she supports competency-based learning, Christine McMillen, Principal of Canyon Springs High School in Caldwell, Idaho, says, “in the traditional model, students are passive learners. The competency-based model shifts ownership back to students.” 

Competency-based learning is not new to Christine. She experienced transitioning to CBL at a previous school and wanted to do the same at Canyon Springs, but this time, with external support. “We didn’t have any agency to support our transition before. We were building it from the ground up. It was really tough.” 

“The level of support has ensured our success.”

Christine wanted to move to a competency-based model quickly and was comfortable doing so because of Sandra Moumoutjis’s and Thomas Gaffey’s support. “I knew they had the knowledge and the experience to help this transition, and I would not have been comfortable diving in with the school model as quickly if we had not had the support of Building 21.” Canyon Springs is a current Learning Innovation Site and is in their first year of implementing the Building 21 competency framework, competency tracking platform with data dashboards and analytics to be able to transparently track and communicate the progress and growth of each student.

Our Network

The pins on this interactive map show the locations of schools and districts that have contracted with us to provide support through the Learning Innovation Network.

Lab Schools

Hubs, Sites, & Problem of Practice Participants


Zoom in or out by scrolling or clicking the +/- buttons on the map. You can also use the drop-down menu in the top left to zoom in on each school. (note: it zooms WAY in, just short of street view.)

When I had the internship, I really was in there—like hands on. I was thinking this is something that I want to do.

Nadirah HollowaySenior, Building 21 Philadelphia

Asked to name her favorite thing about Building 21, Nadirah offers a list ranging from the “little annual things” like the Halloween party and Thanksgiving feast to the Community Council (a restorative justice practice) and “lack of drama” which make the culture different from other schools. Heading into senior year, Nadirah was undecided about what she’d do after high school. “I didn’t have a passion for anything I had already tried. But I still had chances to figure it out because of the internships.” Her latest internship was with Keller Williams, a real estate agency, and she knew instantly that’s what she wanted to do. “Ms. Nabeehah (Building 21 Philadelphia’s partnership coordinator) supported me. It changed my view. My next step after high school is to take classes and get my real estate license.”

2021-22 Donors


Catalyze Challenge
Charles and Molly Linehan Family Foundation
Linehan Family Foundation
Spring Point Partners
William Penn Foundation

$10,000 to $99,999

Barra Foundation
City Center
Teach For America

$1,000 to $9,999

Air Products Foundation
American Bank
Barra Foundation Director’s Grant Program
Doug and Peggy Brown
Carita Foundation
DICK’S Sporting Goods
Embassy Bank
Graham Partners
Debra Karlan
Lissette Santana
John Stanley
Gene Trainor
Vanguard Charitable

If you say ‘I can't do this’ that's actually just you limiting yourself. That's something that they teach us basically every day.”

Illianys De Leon RiveraSophomore, Building 21 Allentown

When asked what’s one thing she’s learned at Building 21, sophomore Illianys didn’t hesitate: “Don’t be self-limiting.” A good example is when she had an idea for a project that would enable her to act on her passionate interest in helping the homeless. Her initial plan was to raise money and make a small contribution. But that all changed after speaking with Shannon Salter, Building 21 Allentown’s Partnership Coordinator. Salter helped Illianys find ways to connect with local elected officials, non-profit organizations, and a major area employer’s community outreach coordinator to build a network of people working on the issue who were interested in adding student voice to their efforts. Her next step is to decide which organization she will work directly with to translate her passion into impact.

Statement of
Financial Position

Statement of

About the Murals

The murals featured in this report were produced by students, teachers, and visiting artists at our lab schools in Allentown and Philadelphia. Read more about each one below:

red phoenix

Building 21 Allentown

Description provided by Shannon Salter, Building 21 Allentown’s Partnership Coordinator:

The Red Phoenix was completed in August of 2022 as part of our summer enrichment programs. It was offered as part of a summer camp that included approximately 12 students. The design was the work of teacher Melissa Routson, and was facilitated by me, the 21st Century program, and an artist who came to us through ArtsQuest. It took about a week to execute. Guests to the building stand in front of the body of the phoenix to transform themselves into the legendary bird (our mascot!). Becoming a phoenix by taking on the wings in the mural has become a community spirit activity.  It has been especially popular with alumni who visit our building.


Building 21 Philadelphia

The Impact mural was completed along with Passion in a class of 18 students guided by Guest Teacher and artist Brad Carney. He provides some background on the piece:

Whose idea was it? 

The students in the spring class created the Power and Impact mural designs. Based on the previous class’s ideas, the spring class decided to illustrate the word Impact to show what it means to have passion and agency, and with that great power, to make an impact on our community.

How long did it take to complete? 

Design collaboration took about six to eight classes. Painting the mural took about ten classes.

Any stories you want to share? 

Brainstorming one day, a student created a ladder as one of the letters to IMPACT. That spark led to everyone designing letters that would become the design. It wasn’t until we finished the mural when we realized there was a metaphor to the letters in order. School is like planting seeds of growth (I), using the tools (M), to learn math and sciences (P), listening to the music in our hearts (A), playing physically and mentally (C), so we can graduate and find home (T).

the rise

Building 21 Allentown

Description provided by Shannon Salter, Building 21 Allentown’s Partnership Coordinator:

The blue phoenix mural is titled The Rise. It was a collaboration of the students in our Art Club in the fall of 2017, under the direction of teacher Andrew Ward. The final design was created by student Lexy Belvis.  The mural was executed by eight student artists and took approximately ten days. This image also appeared as the cover of our first ever Yearbook: The Phoenix, Volume 1, 2019.


Building 21 Philadelphia

The Passion mural was completed in November of 2021 along with the Agency mural by a class of 18 students guided by Guest Teacher Brad Carney, a professional artist and Mural Arts Philadelphia staff member. They are the first two in a series of murals exploring the school’s motto and core principles.

These murals are installed on the walls of the grand marble stairway near large windows above the school’s main entrance. The building, originally the John L. Kinsey School, a K-8 public school, was designed and built in 1915-16 in the Academic Gothic style. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Check out the Agency mural description for more information about the project.


Building 21 Philadelphia

The Power mural is the third completed in a series exploring the school’s motto: Power. Passion. Agency. The spring semester class completed the mural in June 2022. It was installed near the other two murals in this series in the naturally-lit marble stairway above the school’s main entrance.

The mural was completed along with the Impact mural in a class of 18 students guided by Guest Teacher and artist Brad Carney of Mural Arts Philadelphia.

More information about the project can be found in the description of the Impact mural.


Building 21 Philadelphia

Guest Teacher Brad Carney, a professional artist and Mural Arts Philadelphia staff member, provided some background on the creation of the Agency and Passion murals:

Whose idea was it? 

The students in the fall class created the Passion and Agency mural designs. Design ideas started as a conversation to define the words as seen through the journey of students at Building 21. We found that students’ using their own silhouettes would help others in the future to see themselves in the designs.

How long did it take to complete? 

Design collaboration took about six to eight classes. Painting the mural took about ten classes.

Any stories you want to share? 

The first class had no idea that they would be the ones designing the mural itself. They thought we would just paint something I created. It was finding the intention of why we are all here at Building 21 that led to the overall mural design concepts. It defined the way forward for the next mural class.

More information about the building can be found in the Passion mural description.

…and stay tuned

for Building 21’s next big step:

Thank you for reading our 2021-22 Annual Report.

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