Powering a Movement
By Ayana Verdi
The summer is easily the busiest time of year at EcoSchool. The fullness of our gardens is readily apparent as each plant is allowed to go to seed - bursting with the potential of life beginning anew. Student exhibition work fills every available space - walls, tabletops and outdoor spaces become a living museum - holding the excitement of each student eagerly awaiting a chance to share their work, their accomplishments with their families. Restorative circles and intimate discussion set the stage for our collective reflection - the uncomfortable and vital work that each leader must embrace if they are to cultivate a community which grows and evolves - ever responsive to the needs of it's families. The work that goes into beginning a new school year doesn't start on the first day of school, it begins well before. The work of reflection informs every single opportunity for improvement and when we listen to the voices of students, families and educators, we sometimes find hidden gems that guide us in uncharted directions. This summer, in the midst of the farewells and welcomes and the planning for the upcoming year - I sat down to complete an application for an award that has been considered the "Pulitzer of Education Innovation", according to Forbes Chief Content Editor, Randall Lane. In between team meetings and summer development work , I wrote about Verdi EcoSchool - who we are and who we hope to become - and why our work aligns with the four core STOP principles: Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding, and Permissionless education as outlined by The Yass Prize.
Summer "work" from top left: family connection circle, executive function workshop, kayaking, PBL development at the Brightworks School in San Francisco, CA, PBL progress board, cooling down in the heat!
What is the Yass Prize?
The $1 Million Yass Prize celebrates the country’s education provider which best demonstrates the STOP principles. In conjunction with The Yass Prize, the STOP Awards initiative provides over $20 million in support annually to honor educators who achieve excellence.
The Yass Foundation for Education advances the four core STOP principles: Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding, and Permissionless education. Each year, the Foundation will reward dozens of organizations, building a growing network of innovative providers that demonstrate these qualities in their commitment to new ideas, technologies, and approaches to learning that bring education into the 21st century. The Foundation is powered by the Center for Education Reform (CER) in partnership with Forbes.
The Journey Begins
The application questions inspired me to think deeply about our shared identity as a School Family and challenged me to share a story and a vision of a community that I hoped would convey some of the passion and purpose that I feel each day as a school founder and leader. Questions like "Who are you trying to help?" and "Why do you do what you do?" empowered me to be unapologetic about challenging the status quo in education. I completed the application feeling as though I had done my very best in sharing what makes Verdi EcoSchool Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless and in September, six weeks into the new school year - we received amazing news! EcoSchool had been chosen as a Yass Prize quarterfinalist out of nearly 2,000 applications, representing 27 million students from every sector in education and every grade in the PreK-12 continuum across all 50 states! We were going to Cleveland, Ohio to learn if we would continue on in the competition as one of 32 semifinalists!
Slideshow from left: watching The Spinners celebrate their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, admiring one of Rock & Roll's early influences Les Paul, listening to thought leaders and school founders during a panel discussion, celebrating with school founders and education leaders!
"Delivering a telegram education to a TikTok generation." - Honorable Alisha Thomas Searcy
The Yass Summit brought together an incredible group of best in class education providers, movement makers and thought leaders who are willing to challenge our conventional ideas about education. Provocative discussion panels challenged each individual to think deeply about their personal why and exhorted each of us to stay the course. The power of a movement for choice relies on the strength and purpose of every school leader, founder, education innovator and education challenger. The collective celebration of our shared work was a humbling and joyful experience and I will forever be grateful for it. The highlight of our time in Cleveland was the announcement that Verdi EcoSchool had been honored again! Verdi EcoSchool is officially a Yass Prize semifinalist!
More Than a School, It's a Movement
The Verdi EcoSchool, with its innovative and holistic approach, is redefining the narrative for young minds, equipping them to lead with empathy, wisdom, and knowledge, transcending the traditional boundaries of education.
This is more than a school; it's a movement.
Learn more about how Verdi EcoSchool aligns with the STOP principles:
Verdi EcoSchool hosts a collective of initiatives and student-powered businesses created to support our community while offering a pathway to sustainability for our organization:
Hey, Blue!, an initiative of Verdi EcoSchool, facilitates positive connections between police officers and the community members they serve. Born out of a social entrepreneurship class of middle and high school students at Verdi EcoSchool, the initiative has received national recognition as an awardee of the Solve- MIT accelerator in partnership with Stand Together Labs.
The Community Art & Nature Exchange at Verdi EcoSchool is supported by the Florida Division of Arts and Culture and offers children and families the opportunity to explore the natural world around us and how it inspires art!
Entrepreneurial pathways for students offer learners profound experience in starting a business and building important connections and networks. Students are currently working to open a seed-to-table culinary venture and expand the reach of their pop-up plant shop and nursery.
The transformational nature of Verdi EcoSchool lies in each student's ability to drive and co-design their own learning journey. Students can propose entire courses of learning, explore topics of interest and complete passion projects as long as they can explicitly outline how the experience will deepen their mastery of necessary skills connected to Big Ideas.
Access to dual enrollment courses for students who have demonstrated academic mastery means that students can begin their higher learning journey at no cost to themselves or their families, graduating EcoSchool with an associates degree and the ability to transfer into a college or university without needing to incur crippling debt.
EcoSchool’s community as campus focus ensures that students engage in at least one immersive off-campus internship each year, pursuing passions while learning more about a variety of career fields.
Verdi EcoSchool facilitates an outstanding experience for students and families through innovative, individualized project-based programming and a profound focus on attention to and practice of individual personal success skills: students have an opportunity to work 1 on 1 with an educator-guide to co-design a learning plan which includes students interests, personal challenges as well as short and long term goals.
Educators also commit to an intensive personal and professional development program that offers them an opportunity to craft a personal growth plan aligned with their individual strengths and challenges. Educator professional development takes into account high need training programs that are a necessity for neuro-divergent children and beneficial for all students (Ex. multisensory math and reading instructional approaches).
All school families have an opportunity to engage in a monthly positive parenting course which explores the social-emotional framework utilized by educators in the classroom. Individual parents can also choose to join a training as a restorative circle keeper - empowering parents and families to help navigate conflict within our school community, and our community-at-large, by responding with intention and listening with purpose.
With a mission to empower young people to build healthy communities, Verdi EcoSchool inspires students and families to unapologetically chart their own course. Experiential learning often forces us to confront uncomfortable growth - that is, growth that comes as a result of taking on a new perspective and experiencing something new for the first time. A student can work with a local engineering from to self-design a course of learning that satisfies math and history studies requirements and the only permission they require is that of an educator who helps them to ensure they have successfully completed a proposal outline.
We do not wait for the permission of a regulatory body, a curriculum designer or a school board to give us a green light.
Our green light lies in the needs, passions and interests of the children we serve.
You can help support EcoSchool's journey!
This year, each Yass Prize semifinalist will be in the running for this additional award - separate from the prestigious Yass Prize - that will be chosen by a nationwide vote starting October 10th through November 25th called the Parents Choice Award. Whether you are a parent, know a parent, or love like a parent, you can vote every single day for up to two different semifinalists.
Visit Yassprize.org/vote to make your vote for Verdi EcoSchool count today - and EVERY day until November 25th!