How will nearly $500,000 in Moonshot Grants change the world of education?

By Melissa Rayworth

Something started this week. There’s no telling exactly where it will lead. But the team at Remake Learning and the seven ambitious organizations that they’ve pledged to fund are shooting for the moon.

Nearly $500,000 has been awarded to seven educational organizations and schools in the first phase of the 2021 Moonshot Grants. The recipients, awarded $70,000 each, include Bible Center Church’s Oasis Farm & Fishery, California Area School District, Cornell School District, Duquesne University, Hatch Art Studio, West Virginia University and Wilkinsburg Public Library.

As with last year’s Tomorrow Grants, which gave nearly $1.43 million for innovative learning projects, applicants were asked to dream big.

Since 2020 began, “educators have been surviving and trying to thrive, and people have done the best that they can with what they have,” says Dorie Taylor, Moonshot Grants project manager and co-producer of Remake Learning Days Across America.

“Thinking boldly at this time may be asking a lot. It might be scary. It might be exhilarating,” Taylor says. But it’s also deeply necessary if we’re going to make the most of this moment.

Applicants were asked to imagine bold, experimental moves they could make now that would change learning 10 or 20 years from now. To help them do this, potential applicants were invited to workshops where they could brainstorm together about the future of learning.

Remake Learning and KnowledgeWorks met with hundreds of people at these meetings, and they received 90 applications for the first round of funding. Sorting through all these creative ideas, the review committee looked for projects that involve solid collaboration and prioritize equity and justice.

Bible Center Church’s Learning Village Model captured that spirit: It involves community elders, local chefs and other adults from the community to mentor and collaborate with Black students. The students will learn about environmental sustainability, farming and healthy eating as they grow food and learn the business principles involved in running a restaurant.

By mapping the resources in and around Homewood, the team at Bible Center’s Oasis Project will connect students to those resources and also share a sense of pride in their history, says Bible Center executive pastor Dr. Cynthia Wallace, executive director of the Oasis Project.

Some students will find passions that lead them to careers. And all of them will gain math and science skills in a real-world setting while connecting to the outdoors.

“They’re understanding that connection between the environment and urban agriculture and, ‘Wow, I can grow things,” Wallace says. “And when I eat things that are good for me, I feel better. I function at a higher level.”

Homewood is a food desert, with no supermarkets offering fresh food. Another possible impact of this project: Some students may start advocating for a grocery store in their area as they learn about the right of all people to have access to healthy food.

Whatever a student’s goals, Wallace says, “this is about cultivating a hunger and a thirst for being a lifelong learner.”

The other grantees, including West Virginia University’s Mobile Science Adventure School (SAS) project, also align powerfully with the goals of the Moonshot Grants.

“We’ve built a program that successfully integrates physical sciences, environmental sciences, adventure sports and experiential education,” SAS director Ali Jeney says. “But now we want to make sure that that never becomes generic. And regardless of the areas of the state where we extend into, it needs to be specialized for every student.”

If students are comfortable outdoors, “they’re going to want to go outside and play to explore, to learn,” she says. That “positive relationship starts with some really foundational understanding of their environment.”

A mobile version of SAS can achieve public health goals and science learning goals with customized experiences for students throughout West Virginia—rock climbing near the New River Gorge, for example, and watersports experiences for those in Wheeling. Ideally, this mobile curriculum can grow throughout the nation, Jeney says.

The seven organizations will work together to continue developing their ideas throughout this summer and fall.

“We feel just so lucky and privileged to be a part of this lineup,” Jeney says. “We are so grateful for the opportunity and we can’t wait to show everyone what we’re going to do.”

Does your organization have a great idea? The application period for the second round of funding opens on June 7, with workshops for prospective applicants happening on June 29, July 22 and Aug. 5. (Learn more here.)

Second-round proposals will be due Aug. 22, with recipients announced Sept. 20. The Moonshot Grant funding was underwritten by the Grable Foundation, the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, the R.K. Mellon Foundation and the Benedum Foundation.

“For those who are in the space to really be visionary and challenge the status quo, and inevitably make a better learning environment for youth, for caregivers and for community—this was for them,” Taylor says. “We’re going to think outside of the box with them.”

Learn more about the seven projects that will receive funding during round one here.

This article is part of a series for “Tomorrow” powered by Remake Learning. “Tomorrow” will explore – through virtual events, grantmaking, and storytelling – what we can do today to make tomorrow a more promising place for all learners. Follow along or share your hopes for today’s young people using the hashtag #RemakeTomorrow and tagging @RemakeLearning. Learn more about Remake Learning here. And read more “Tomorrow” articles published on Kidsburgh.