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Building 21 Annual Report : 2020-21
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.
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.
More than 3,400 schools, districts, and practitioners have utilized our open resources in the last 24 months.
Since our founding in 2013, over 6,000 students across five states have attended a school employing the Building 21 model.
…and one more
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
Attorney Gavin Holihan
CarreerLink Lehigh Valley
City Center Allentown
City of Allentown
Communities in Schools
Community College of Philadelphia
DaEssence of Perfection Hair Salon
DaVinci Science Center
Education Plus Health
Einstein Medical Center
First Builders Inc.
First Commonwealth Credit Union
Good Shephard Rehabilitation Hospital
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
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
Spanish Immersion Learning Center
St. Luke’s University Health Network
The Uncommon Individual Foundation (OnTrack Program)
University of Pennsylvania BioEYES
US Congressman Dwight Evans, District 3 of PA
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.
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.
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.
Meet just a few of the many Building 21 students and staff who stepped up in 2020-21:
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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:
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.”
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.”
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.