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Stepping Up

Building 21 Annual Report : 2020-21

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Dear Friends,

Reflecting on the extraordinary difficulties of the past year, especially for schools, we are incredibly proud of how our entire community has stepped up to address these challenges.
And as hard as these times have been, in many ways the experiences have made us stronger by demonstrating the power of our existing approaches while also revealing new capacities to think and act creatively and collaboratively. Here are examples from three key areas of our work over the past year:
Our Lab Schools maintained deep connections with our students while pivoting to virtual programming with expanded internships and mentoring. Also last year, founding Building 21 Philadelphia principal Ayris Sanders stepped into a new role as our Director of Lab Schools to focus on coaching, curriculum, and instruction.
Understanding that the pandemic has exacerbated long standing inequities for the students we serve, we designed Launchpad to directly connect young people from high schools across Philadelphia to skills, credentials, and jobs that offer a living-wage AND upwardly mobility.
Responding to strong demand for student-centered approaches in the face of the pandemic and our nation’s racial reckoning, we launched the Learning Innovation Network to support schools and districts wanting to move towards a more personalized learning model.
In this report, you will learn more of how we are approaching these strategies and initiatives, and about the incredibly talented and creative individuals who are helping to make them happen.
And as all of us continue to look forward to better days, we remain committed to our original mission and are excited to continue to step up for the students, families, and communities that we serve.

Laura Shubilla


Chip Linehan


Graduation Rate

Nine out of 10 students graduate from a Building 21 lab school within five years.

A few more stats


Students in our lab schools are two times more likely to attend college in the Fall after their senior year than students from comparable schools in PA.


Open Resource Users
More than 3,400 schools, districts, and practitioners have utilized our open resources in the last 24 months.


Students impacted
Since our founding in 2013, over 6,000 students across five states have attended a school employing the Building 21 model.
Trend line showing increase in students served

…and one more


Real-World Learning Partners
Since 2013, more than 200 businesses and organizations have helped bring learning to life through internships, mentoring, and other real-world experiences for students from our lab schools in Allentown and Philadelphia.
A huge THANK YOU to Building 21’s real-world learning partners in 2020-21:

Air Products and Chemicals

Allentown Police Department

Allentown Public Library

Arcadia University

Attorney Gavin Holihan

Bancroft NeuroRehab

BDL Supply

Bentley Systems

CarreerLink Lehigh Valley

City Center Allentown

City of Allentown

Communities in Schools

Community College of Philadelphia

Crescent Foundation

DaEssence of Perfection Hair Salon

DaVinci Science Center

DeSales University

Education Plus Health

Einstein Medical Center

Faces International

First Builders Inc.

First Commonwealth Credit Union


Good Shephard Rehabilitation Hospital

Halal2Go Catering

Hill-Freedman World Academy

Johnson Youth Services

Jolie Chylack Studios

Keller Williams Realty

La Salle University

Lehigh Carbon Community College

Lehigh County Conservation District

Lehigh Valley Health Network

Martin Luther King High School

Mindy Flexer Art School

Ms. Carol’s Center for Dance

Mural Arts Philadelphia

Nancy Agati

Nate Bronstein

Nutrition Unlimited

Olympus Corporation of the Americas

PA State Representative Isabella Fitzgerald, District 203

PA State Representative Stephen Kinsey, District 201

PA State Senator Art Haywood, District 4

Penn State Lehigh Valley

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts


Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Nu Sigma Chapter

Philadelphia Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker, District 9

Philadelphia Robotics Coalition

Philadelphia STEM Ecosystem

PPL Electric Utilities

Princeton University Department of Computer Science

Salon Styles by Aleta

Sean Tate

Slalom Consulting

SmartTrack, LLC

Spanish Immersion Learning Center

St. Luke’s University Health Network

Steppingstone Scholars

Temple University

The Uncommon Individual Foundation (OnTrack Program)

University of Pennsylvania BioEYES

US Congressman Dwight Evans, District 3 of PA

Villanova University

Stepping up...

Lab Schools

Rethinking and improving our Lab School model—bolstered by new team members and focused on our Portrait of a Graduate and competency alignment

The past year made clear the determination of our lab school communities. Students, staff, and leaders stepped up to face challenges head on with creative, virtual, solutions. From internships and mentorships via Zoom to real-world career experiences while masked, our students continued to master their competencies, build their agency, and develop their passion.


learn more →

Learning Innovation Network

Expanding our reach to support more schools and districts on a path to a more student-centered vision of teaching and learning

We launched the Learning Innovation Network in the Spring of 2021 to support schools and districts that want to move towards a more personalized and competency-based learning model because we believe that these shifts can significantly improve outcomes for students even without whole-school transformation.


learn more →


Building pathways to connect young people to good jobs in growing industries, and ensuring they have the credentials, skills, mindsets, and experience to thrive in these roles

Whether they are struggling after high school to find a “good job” or pay for college tuition, we see too many of our young people fail to latch on to life trajectories that reflect their potential. So we designed Launchpad to support students during their final two years in high school and continue in the two years that follow. Launchpad lifts off in Summer 2022.


learn more →

Our Reach

This map shows the locations of the 13 schools we currently support and more than 3,400 practitioners across the country and around the world that have downloaded our resources in the past two years.
Lab Schools
Learning Innovation Network Schools

Open Resource Users
Meet just a few of the many Building 21 students and staff who stepped up in 2020-21:

Kristyn Senneca

Elevating instruction

Stepping into her new role as Supervisor of Instruction, Kristyn relies on more than seven years as a founding Special Education teacher and Partnership Coordinator to help bring real-world learning into every Building 21 Allentown classroom. This past year, Kristyn helped teachers and partners pivot to virtual career exposure experiences, allowing students to intern at Lehigh Valley Health Network and work with Olympus mentors in an engineering design studio.


“Instruction is everything. Creating relevant and engaging instruction for kids that allows choice and the development of their passions is central to our model. This new role allows me the opportunity to push into classrooms and work alongside teachers to ensure that kids are getting those experiences, and that they’re built meaningfully into the curriculum. This is where my heart has always been.”


Learn more →


Blending art & business

Jawon pursued his interest in animation with his mentor, Sean Tate, a professional animator who also teaches a class at Building 21 Allentown. This dynamic duo spent hours together online perfecting animations and business strategy. Last year, in addition to helping complete an animation project, Jawon explored character, logo, and business card design. He learned ways in which he could use his art skills to engage in the business world and helped Sean with his animation design projects.


 “Working as a virtual mentor was a gratifying experience for me. It was a pleasure working with Jawon, an enthusiastic, talented, and willing student.”

— Sean


 “My virtual internship was an enjoyable and productive experience because I was able to explore my future in animation and business. I learned so much from Mr. Tate and am grateful for the opportunity to help with his projects and learn more about his business.”

— Jawon


Stepping out of her comfort zone

While learning virtually from home for most of the year, Gabriella challenged herself with both a virtual internship in psychology and an AP Literature course. Adding these rigorous experiences to the demands of virtual learning tested Gabby’s discipline and pushed her to grow as a learner. Her accomplishments earned her a spot in the Community College of Philadelphia’s Senior Year Only Program where, while completing her senior year requirements, she will earn dual enrollment credits for college.


“The most challenging part of last year’s internship was being the first and creating the prototype. There was no template and there was the added uncertainty of being virtual. Nevertheless, I had to step out of my comfort zone, taking a shot in the dark. That step helped me discover my passion for social work.”
…and three more who stepped up:

Nabeehah Parker

Building partnerships

When asked what stands out from last year’s virtual internship pilot, Nabeehah shares “it worked!” With a team of committed volunteer mentors willing to give a virtual model a try, Nabeehah facilitated Philadelphia’s pilot internship program. She stepped up to connect 14 juniors with mentors from across a dozen industries. Together, the students and mentors overcame the challenges of connecting virtually. The students developed professional competencies and skills and learned what’s possible for them in the real world.


“While we couldn’t fill the total void that learning from home created, the virtual internship program gave our students some purpose and a unique learning opportunity at a time when everything was so challenging.”


Learn more →

Sandra Moumoutjis

Leading innovation

Sandra has played a role in every Building 21 innovation and learning model iteration. This year, she stepped up to lead our newly launched Learning Innovation Network and will focus on growing our network of schools and stakeholders committed to advancing personalized and competency-based learning. As the co-author of the Building 21 Competencies and Continua, Sandra is also stepping up her writing with a blog series for the Aurora Institute, which takes readers through the process of CBE transformation.


“We have learned so much over the last eight years and we believe we are in a unique position to help others who are trying to do this work. There is still so much to learn so instead of doing this work in silos, we are building a network of schools and districts committed to personalized and competency-based learning so we can grow this movement together.”


Learn more →


Pursuing higher ed

Focused on earning an Associate’s Degree along with a high school diploma, Kevaney began taking courses through Lehigh Carbon Community College’s Early College program, a partnership with the Allentown School District. Now a senior, Kevaney is pursuing a pathway in engineering. He is also passionate about real estate and clothing brand design. Looking back at last year, Kevaney sees his personal growth as a learner as the best part of stepping up to the challenge of dual enrollment.


“One of the ways I stepped up over the last year is in managing my own time. Time management is an important skill that you need to excel in college, because you feel like you have a lot of time but in reality, you don’t. You will be swallowed up by the amount of work if you aren’t focused on the tasks at hand. My advisor at Building 21 always encouraged me to do my best and taught me a lot about this competency .”

2020-21 Donors

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Drant Charitable Fund
Kittu Kolluri
Charles and Molly Linehan Family Foundation
Linehan Family Foundation
Spring Point Partners
$50,000 to $99,000
Spencer and Mieke Neumann
$10,000 to $49,999
Air Products Foundation
The Barra Foundation
City Center
David Clapp
Tim and Devon Hathaway
Haynes Charitable Fund
Mohamad and Katie Makhzoumi
PPL Corporation
The Rider-Pool Foundation
Adam and Maja Smith
$1,000 to $9,999
American Bank
Doug and Peggy Brown
Lissette Santana
John Stanley
Weis Markets, Inc.
Statement of
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Thank you for reading our 2020-21 Annual Report.
We invite you to visit our brand-new website
and join our network.