Start Empathy

Powered by ASHOKA

Changemaker Schools

Ashoka strives to make empathy, teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving (what we call changemaker skills) as valued in education as traditional academic skills, so that all students find their voices and can make a positive impact on the world. 

In order to achieve this goal, we created the Changemaker Schools Network, a national community of leading elementary schools that serve as models for cultivating these skills in students. Schools in the network share best practices with each other and benefit from opportunities to collaborate with other schools, connect with Ashoka's partners, present at conferences, and more.

Complete this quick and easy form to nominate a Changemaker School today!

Academy for Global Citizenship

Public Charter
Charter, Chicago, IL

At Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), each student has a voice and is given the space to contribute and lead. For example, one 3rd grader put together a successful campaign to provide a healthier drink alternative in the cafeteria, which involved collecting signatures, designing flow charts, and building a team team to research drink alternatives. In one 4th grade class, after their exchange class in India asked how the AGC building was heated, students did a three day-long research adventure to discover it. According to the AGC staff, the key is saying  “yes” to students’ suggestions, encouraging their questions, and urging them to discover the full answer on their own.

More about Academy for Global Citizenship:

Anansi Charter School

Charter, Taos, NM

Anansi Charter School’s mission is to provide a nurturing and supportive environment where children of all races, creeds, religions, and special needs develop a love of learning and acquire a strong foundation on which to build a lifetime of knowledge. Anansi is a community based upon trust, communication, empathy, and a non-punitive educative approach to school discipline. Emotional intelligence is an important pillar of the school: they use RULER, Six Seconds, and the Love and Logic model to support social emotional competency. Academic units at Anansi culminate in a service project that the students design themselves, allowing them to cultivate critical thinking and leadership skills.


Public, Chicago, IL

Belmont-Cragin offers students and parents a small-school environment that fosters strong community and collaborative relationships for success in elementary school and beyond. The main building consists of just one class per grade from Kindergarten through 8th. Upper-level students have the opportunity to take algebra-level math in after-school enrichment classes. Belmont-Cragin offers students internet access through classroom connections.

The school partners with neighborhood agencies for counseling and parent workshops. Parent involvement includes a Bilingual Advisory Committee, Parent Advisory Council, and Parent Teacher Association.

Blue School

Private, New York, NY

Blue School strives to be a launch pad for tomorrow’s thinkers, scientists, activists, writers, and thought leaders, and encourages innovative thinking among its students. It also nurtures a spirit of inquiry, and helps students transform their ideas from abstract concepts to finished, tangible projects. The school has built an open environment for students, teachers, parents, administrators, and community members to share and learn from each other, and expand its dynamic community of learners. For example, parents are offered a variety of adult learning opportunities throughout the school year to engage with current topics in education as well as questions that come up in their day-to-day lives with their children.

For more information, please visit:

Bridport Central School

Public, Bridport, VT

At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, Bridport Central School partnered with Middlebury College to find a way for everyone in the town to be a changemaker within the context of their school. Bridport Central and Middlebury students designed a 
survey that went out to all taxpayers in Bridport to survey everyone about their time, talents, opportunities, and ways they can support the school, emphasizing that people did not have to be in the building from 8 AM to 3 PM to help. Bridport Central’s principal, Kathleen Kilbourne, emphasized that the person who can help change the oil in the bus is just as helpful as the person who can tutor, showing how intentional they were about bringing the community into the school based on interests and strengths. The Middlebury students collected these surveys and worked with Bridport Central to create a volunteer resource manual - a book of people for teachers to call and ask for help. Now they are not cold-calling people or fishing for interests, the information is readily available. For example, two volunteers called in sick for the school’s Iron Chef competition. The school called some volunteers who noted that they were interested in cooking, and the first person they contacted said she would be there in half an hour.

Central Park East 1 Elementary School

Public, Manhattan, NY

The mission of Central Park East 1 is to educate children to become thoughtful citizens of a democratic society by providing an education that is investigative and reflective, encourages choice, and expects responsibility and discipline in all areas of learning and social behavior. At CPE 1, the classroom is structured for trust and relationship-building by giving students ownership of their learning experience. CPE 1 views itself as a progressive school, and as such, staff and students are connected on a more personal level than the traditional teacher-student relationship. Students and teachers alike are encouraged to explore their own interests and ideas in the supportive CPE school community.

Changemaker High School

Charter, Tucson, AZ

A free, college prep, public charter high school, the Western Institute is devoted to academic excellence and leadership development, preparing all students for post-secondary education, careers, and lifelong action to create a better world.  Students at the Western Institute focus on developing 21st century skills through authentic leadership in real-world projects with community impact far beyond the school, working in close collaboration with partners in government, business, and the non-profit sector.

Christa McAuliffe School

Public, Saratoga, CA

Christa McAuliffe School is a parent participation school that inspires passion for lifelong learning, fosters social and emotional growth, and develops children’s creative minds. Through this model, teachers train parents in how to guide students through the process of discovering and pursuing their own interests. McAuliffe teachers integrate project-based learning, collaboration, and conflict resolution to help students develop critical thinking and higher order cognitive skills – evaluation, analysis, and synthesis.  McAuliffe employs an integrated, spiraling curriculum, which gives equal importance to each discipline (math, science, art, etc.). They also use the Responsive Classroom model to support students’ emotional learning.

City Neighbors High School

Charter, Baltimore, MD

City Neighbors High School nurtures and develops young men and women who not only have excellent skills and content knowledge, but who also have the ability to powerfully pursue their interests, ask questions and find answers, take ultimate responsibility for themselves and their community, and who know why and how to impact the larger world around them. Through a focus on social constructivism and project-based learning as well as an emphasis on community, creativity, and challenge - all in a small-school educational setting developed and run through partnership between parents, students, and educators - students will develop the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and confidence to allow them to thrive in our interconnected, innovative, and inspired world.

Coral Canyon Elementary

Public, Washington, UT

Coral Canyon Elementary understands the value in helping students develop leadership and relationship skills. Coral Canyon’s motto is, “Racing to success,” and their mascot, COLTS, is used as an acronym to illustrate beliefs for a healthy school environment: Communication, Optimism, Life-long learning, Try our best, Safe. Coral Canyon has a system of engagement for teachers, parents, administration, and community members, but they believe that their most important resource is their students. The school holds yearly “Olympics” to encourage students to set goals and follow a plan for academic improvement. Coral Canyon recently earned the National Title 1 Distinguished School for the State of Utah.

Cottonwood Creek Elementary

Public, Coppell, TX

Cottonwood Creek’s motto is, “Opening Minds, Holding Hands, and Touching Hearts.” In addition to nurturing a child’s academic needs, Cottonwood Creek nurtures the passions, loves, and dreams of children in a life-altering way. Cottonwood Creek is unique in its flexible, dynamic learning environment where all learners are provided opportunities to achieve their academic goals and pursue their passions. Students are empowered with academic skills, but also possess the necessary future-ready skills of creativity, communication, critical thinking, perseverance, self-awareness, and adaptability. Once a week, students work on ideas they are passionate about that will positively impact their community through Genius Hour.

Cunningham Elementary School

Public, Austin, TX

Cunningham Elementary School is built on three pillars: sustainability, social and emotional learning, dual Spanish/English language. These three pillars are brought together through Cunningham’s unique implementation of the Microsociety framework: an approach in which students create their own campus society, including businesses, government, and other public services. This has been a great avenue for students to develop agency and voice. For example, one student was struggling in math class, but when she became the entrepreneur behind the school snack store, she had to use math to make her venture successful. She organized other students to conduct market surveys of what treats her schoolmates would want to eat on Fridays, and she had to know how much to pay her employees so they would continue to work with her. Becoming the school store manager coincided with her math grades drastically improving.

More about Cunningham Elementary School:

Cypress Hills Community School

Public, Brooklyn, NY

Cypress Hills Community School is a small, community-based dual language school founded in 1997 by parents in collaboration with the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation.  Before Cypress Hills Community School even had a school leadership team, it had a school governance council consisting of 50% parents and 50% teachers. Furthermore, Cypress Hills Community School is the only New York City public school with a dual leadership structure that includes both a parent co-director and a principal co-director. Leading from this strong base of parent engagement and family involvement, Cypress Hill Community School students benefit from a number of social and emotional learning programs (such as RULER, the 4Rs and a partnership with the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility) as well as student-led service-learning effort in which students work in small teams to plan service-learning projects during their advisory periods.

E.L Haynes Public Charter School

Charter, Washington, DC

E. L. Haynes Public Charter School takes a social justice approach and uses a Responsive Classroom model to cultivate empathy in its students. In addition to having high academic expectations for all students, community involvement, restorative justice, and social and emotional learning are priorities for the school. The staff tries to get kids to speak their mind when things do not sit right with them, and they encourage students to be advocates for themselves, advocates for others, and problem-solvers in real time. The school’s shared vocabulary and shared meeting structure guide student interactions throughout the school day. At community meetings, E.L. Haynes uses a lot of student mediation.

Eastwood Elementary School

Public, West Fargo, ND

Students at Eastwood Elementary recite the following every morning: “I make a pledge to myself to say only nice words and do nice things for people each day. I pledge to help others succeed. I promise to smile. I promise to be helpful. I promise to soar with the Eastwood Eagles every day. No matter who you are you can always become a great deal smarter and kinder.” Eastwood uses the Responsive Classroom approach to create a trusting school community in which students feel safe to take risks, they have an equity team in place, and students take on leadership roles such as recess coaches.  Eastwood Elementary believes in the importance of meeting students’ academic, social, emotional, and physical needs.

Ephesus Elementary School

Public, Chapel Hill, NC

Ephesus Elementary School is committed to serving every child, every day, and in every way. In order to bridge the achievement gap, the school is dedicated to setting high standards for all students, providing them with the support they need to meet the high standards, and ensuring that instruction is culturally relevant, meaningful, and engaging for all students. The curriculum and instructional techniques at Ephesus are differentiated to meet the need of the students’ diverse strengths and learning styles. Moreover, children and their families are actively engaged and fully developed as partners in the school community and in the educational experience.

For more information, please visit:

Georgetown Day School

Private, Washington, DC

The first racially integrated school in Washington, DC, Georgetown Day School (GDS) identifies itself as “a private school with a public mission.” To that end, GDS has developed a robust service-learning program that spans prekindergarten through twelfth grade. The youngest students learn one-to-one correspondence by making sandwiches for a local nonprofit that serves the homeless. High school students complete at least 60 hours doing either one or two projects of their choice between the beginning of ninth and the end of twelfth grade. Beyond service-learning, opportunities to step into another’s shoes are built into the curriculum. For example, third grade teacher Todd Liu leads an immersive experience at a nearby farm in which students experience colonial life for three days.

More about Georgetown Day School:

Granville T. Woods Elementary

Public, Brooklyn, NY

P.S. 335 strives to give students a sense of agency and empowerment while enabling them to spark that capacity in their family members and neighbors. P.S. 335 achieves this through its work with Peace First, which allows all children in the school to learn peacemaking skills and launch their own peacemaking project. Information center specialist and librarian Cleo Jarvis helped students start another agency-instilling initiative at the school: The Philanthropy Roundtable. During the 2011-2012 school year, this student group raised $800 by collecting pennies. They then surveyed the student body about the issues students cared about the most and researched organizations that address those issues. The Roundtable then interviewed the organizations they identified and decided how much of the $800 to distribute to each. This effort led the Roundtable to be named the “New Yorkers of the Year” by New York One.

More about Granville T. Woods Elementary/P.S. 335:

Highlands Elementary School

Public, Edina, MN

Highlands Elementary’s mission is to educate children in a safe, cooperative, and innovative environment while building long-term, collaborative relationships with families. They believe in giving all children the opportunity to develop the social and collaboration skills that will allow them to work with others, as well as the skills that will allow them to solve conflicts. Students at learn in a cooperative learning model; Restitution Self-Discipline is used to help students develop the important skills of internal control and intrinsic motivation. Highlands Elementary nurtures students’ and adults’ strengths or “sparks” by maintaining a child-centered learning community that stresses relationships and collaboration.

Hyde-Addison Elementary School

Public, Washington, DC

At Hyde-Addison Elementary School, students feel that they have the freedom to try new things, and teachers are empowered to design and implement new ideas in teaching social and emotional skills. The school has developed a strong commitment to social justice and progressive education, and has created its own curriculum in alignment with the Common Core Standards. Their work is grounded in the Responsive Classroom approach that aims to develop the students’ capacity and skill in CARES; Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Control. Hyde-Addison Elementary School believes in educating the whole child.

For more information, please visit:

Inspired Teaching Demonstration

Public Charter
Charter, Washington, DC

In the 2012-2013 school year, Inspired Teaching School changed their service-learning days to “Changemaker Days,” in which students designed their own social change projects. First grade teacher Athena Kopsidas paid close attention to where students showed great curiosity in their academic curriculum so that she could help students identify particular community problems they could address on Changemaker Day. As it turned out, Athena’s class was very interested in sustainability and recycling. The first grade science curriculum covered environmental stewardship, and the students quickly noticed a problem in the school: there were no recycling bins. Their parents recycled at home, why was their school not doing the same? Once the students defined the problem of no recycling program in the school, Athena guided her class in examining the reasons for the problem. The school had just moved into a new building, and the administration was so busy with other priorities that the recycling program had not been set up yet. The first graders wrote a letter to the school principal asking for permission to establish a recycling program, and Athena secured blue recycling bins for the students to distribute throughout the school. After every classroom in the school was equipped with a recycling bin, Athena’s class checked back in with the other classes to collect data on the use of those recycling bins. This allowed students to reflect on the impact of their work, as well as integrate the first grade math curriculum into their Changemaker Day project.

More on Inspired Teaching School:

John Stanford International

Public, Seattle, WA

The JSIS vision is to create a culturally diverse community of life-long learners who demonstrate advanced skills in communication, international language and technology and whose performance exemplifies the highest academic standards. JSIS uses three strategies to build support for its student, teacher, and parent community: teacher-leaders, professional learning communities, and collaborating with other schools across the district and beyond. JSIS has been featured in Edutopia for its work in global competence:

Khalsa Montessori School

Charter, Tucson, AZ

Khalsa Montessori School is a dynamic community of faculty and families working together to provide a nurturing home away from home where children can learn, discover their own talents and abilities, appreciate the unique gifts of others, explore the amazing world we share, and realize their potential to contribute. Along with academic and enrichment classes, the school guides its students to be emotionally intelligent and empathetic by integrating the Montessori ideals of respect and community throughout their program. For example, students often speak of the attributes classmates can apply to issues that arise during class meetings, and wellness initiatives include vegetarian and sugar-free dietary guidelines, sun safety, yoga, and water harvesting. Classrooms have virtue charts on the wall and virtues cards in a prominent place in the room so students can refer to the qualities that help us work successfully together as a community.

Kyrene de los Cerritos

Public, Phoenix, AZ

Kyrene de los Cerritos Leadership Academy has a vision to prepare all students to meet educational and life challenges in order to make positive contributions to society. The school seeks to inspire and engage its diverse community of students, staff, families and citizens to ensure continuous academic achievement and personal growth for every student through its Leader In Me program, Cerritos strives to teach the whole child—socially, emotionally, academically, and ethically—and create a climate of principle-centered personal leadership. They embrace a culture of continuous performance excellence, real-world problem solving, innovative support, and acceptance of diversity. Parents and community members are active partners in fulfilling their mission and vision. The staff at Cerritos is dedicated to open communication and collaboration to meet the needs of every child.

Lake Forest Park Elementary

Public, Lake Forest Park, WA

Lake Forest Park Elementary is a leader in social and emotional learning in the Shoreline School District and in the state of Washington. After learning about Roots of Empathy, a program through which a mother and her baby partner with a classroom to teach students about empathy and emotions, Lake Forest Park Principal Aimee Miner championed bringing the program to her school. She and kindergarten teacher Laurie Pearson piloted Roots of Empathy, then shared the results with other principals and district leaders. Now all elementary schools in Shoreline School District use the Roots of Empathy program, and during the 2012-2013 school year, Lake Forest Park received the Title I Nationally Distinguished Schools designation. Aimee attributes this to Roots of Empathy and other efforts the school has put in place to support the whole child.

More on Lake Forest Park:

Lighthouse Community Charter

Public Charter
Public, Oakland, CA

Lighthouse Community Charter School’s mission is to prepare students for a college and career of their choice. With a 95 percent college acceptance rate and an 89 percent college persistence rate, Lighthouse is succeeding in ensuring low-income students’ fates are not predetermined by their zip codes. One key component of Lighthouse’s success is their commitment to serving the whole child. This is accomplished through a number of best practices: every child at Lighthouse is coached by at least one caring adult, the curriculum emphasizes the “upstanders” of history who fought oppression and “-isms,” and the school implements morning meeting, crews, and other group time to teach about conflict resolution, community building, and empathy.

More about Lighthouse Community Charter School:

Lusher Charter School

Public Charter
Charter, New Orleans, LA

Lusher Charter School is one of the most sought-after public schools in the city of New Orleans. In addition to its academic success, Lusher is best known for its positive school culture, built on the school’s number one rule: be kind. In addition to doing Responsive Classroom’s morning meeting on a daily basis, Lusher encourages its staff, students, and parents to implement ideas that build a culture of kindness. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, teachers collaborated with Tulane University’s Department of Psychology to design an arts-based healing curriculum that included activities such as painting ceramic eggs to symbolize rebirth and interviewing students about their visions for New Orleans. Fifth graders also took the opportunity to redesign the school’s bathrooms and the school cafeteria, installing a salad bar and round tables in the latter.

More About Lusher:

Malcolm X Elementary School

Public, Berkeley, CA

Malcolm X. Elementary School is a diverse school that builds community among its students through the arts. Each grade level performs for their peers every year, covering topics like anti-bullying, family diversity, struggles for civil rights, and self-esteem. According to Principal Alex Hunt, “Integration of empathy-building content into the arts is a means of including students as teachers for their peers, and performances often serve as a common jumping off point for student conversation about these issues. Because students have been integrally involved in the performances, they feel involved and connected to the themes, and are able to explain them to their peers.”

Mary Buren Elementary School

Public, Guadalupe, CA

As a largely rural, English learner, migrant farmworker, Latino community, Mary Buren Elementary brings a unique perspective to the Changemaker Schools Network. The school provides each student the academic and social skills that will enable them to graduate from high school, become independent thinkers, lifelong learners, and responsible, productive members of society. Their primary vision is to enable students to practice empathy everyday and simultaneously improve their academic accomplishments while making a positive impact on the world around them. The strength of the school lies in building strong relationships with its students and providing them greater access to the larger world around them.

You can find more information on Mary Buren Elementary School here.

Maury Elementary School

Public, Washington, DC

Maury Elementary has a number of programs that cultivate empathy, teamwork, leadership, and initiative in students. Maury Elementary is a Responsive Classroom school and has a Girls on the Run chapter, as well as an equivalent running club that the boys took the initiative to create. There is also a “Think Tank” teacher who uses inquiry-based learning with all students at the school to launch initiatives to improve the school community. For example, during the 2011-2012 school year, students were getting injured, growing bored, and generally not having fun at the blacktop during recess. So the Think Tank teacher designed a questionnaire and gave students the opportunity to design their own playground. The students’ ideas were on display in the hallway, allowing the whole school to view the designs and vote on their favorite. Then a landscape architect developed a plan based on the most popular ideas. This effort also motivated the PTA to hire a recess coordinator to help students get their materials organized, learn new games, and resolve conflicts.

Mission Grammar School

Private, Roxbury, MA

Mission Grammar School believes that instilling love for others, empathy, and a deep understanding of the Gospel Values will support scholars throughout their lives and help them to make lasting change in their communities. They have a shared leadership model and developed a core set of values based on Responsive Classroom: CARES (cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control). Students design their own service-learning projects beginning in preschool through the Peace First Program, and the Catholic social teaching doctrine allows them to explore matters of social justice, issues around poverty and wealth, economics, social organization, and the role of the state.

Mission Hill School

Public, Boston, MA

During election years, Mission Hill does a whole school study of voice, asking the question, “Who is speaking, and who does not have the opportunity to do so?”  In Kathy Clunis D’Andrea’s kindergarten classroom, her students respond to this theme by using their voices to create a positive change. In 2012, Kathy’s students decided they wanted to educate their families and the other classes in the school about environmental issues and endangered species. The students then decided to take on various projects in their school community, such as planting trees and starting a school-wide recycling program. At the end of the project, students designed presentations on their projects, which they shared with high school students and with Boston’s mayor.

More on Mission Hill School:

Momentous Institute

Private, Dallas, TX

Momentous Institute is a private school funded by the Salesmanship Club where 80 percent of students come from low-income families. Momentous is a lab school for examining what works in serving low-income student populations. They host a conference on social and emotional learning and have led training for Teach for America teachers in the Dallas-Fort Worth corps. Additionally, they have an in-house researcher who examines academic, social, and emotional learning outcomes, as well as an external evaluator that follows its students for seven years after they leave and collects data on high school graduation and post-secondary enrollments. Their latest numbers indicate that 95 percent of former Momentous students graduate on time and of those students, 92 percent enroll in post-secondary education.

More on Momentous Institute:

Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Private, Atlanta, GA

At Mount Vernon Presbyterian (MVP), design-thinking is infused across the curriculum and culture of the school as a means of cultivating a changemaking attitude in students. The design-thinking program is rooted in empathy, and because of this students are able to relate what they learn in school to wider community issues. MVP is devoted to spreading their ideas—they developed an Institute for Innovation, which takes successful experiments and approaches that teachers have created in classrooms and conducts research to build best practices. MVP continues to nurture future leaders and their design-learning framework has become a beacon of success for other schools across the country.

Mundo Verde Public Charter School

Charter, Washington, DC

Mundo Verde is founded on the premise that education in the 21st century should prepare tomorrow’s youth to become compassionate global stewards of society. With local communities ever more woven into the broader global community, future leaders will need both mind- and skill-sets well beyond those attained in a traditional curriculum. The next generation of leaders will need to be fluent and literate not just in one, two, or more languages but also in their capacity to connect, innovate, integrate, and build partnerships across and beyond typical dividing lines. The engaging curriculum at Mundo Verde implements two way language immersion, sustainability education, and expeditionary learning to foster high levels of academic achievement.

Namaste Charter School

Charter, Chicago, IL

Namaste Charter School promotes lifelong student success and a love of learning by implementing and sharing a groundbreaking educational model that combines health and wellness with academic rigor in a peaceful environment. The school has developed its own Peaceful People curriculum and has mandatory core instruction blocks dedicated to a wellness component. The community is driven by the spirit of a Peaceful School Culture and all activities center around that. Each team member believes in the importance of each child developing physically, nutritionally, and mentally healthy habits and lifestyle choices. Families are involved through their commitment to volunteering to support school initiatives and by attending family events that are held throughout the year.

For more information, please visit:

North Glendale Elementary

Public, St. Louis, MO

In the 2011-2012 school year, teachers Amy Potsou and Elizabeth Stickley worked with the fifth graders of North Glendale Elementary to participate in Youth Venture and RandomKid’s “The Big Return” event. Targeting middle school and high school students, North Glendale’s 5th graders, with the support of Amy and Elizabeth, guided their whole elementary school in supporting the St. Louis Children’s Hospital. After interviewing staff at the hospital, the 5th graders determined that the problem they would solve would be making St. Louis Children’s Hospital feel more like a home. To achieve this goal, the fifth graders led other classes at the school in empathy-based brainstorming on what they could do to make staying in the hospital feel more like spending a day, night, or prolonged period of time at home. They asked the other students to imagine themselves at home as well as the feelings they had at home, and then to imagine themselves at a hospital and the feelings they experience there. The fifth graders then collected ideas from the brainstorming session and raised money to fulfill those ideas.

More About North Glendale Elementary:

Oak View Elementary

Public, Silver Spring, MD

Oak View Elementary is dedicated to students’ social and emotional development. Under the character committee, each class is given a “character word” to shape their classroom experience, and students are recognized for demonstrating positive character traits. Throughout the school year, students are given inquiry projects to cultivate teamwork, problem-solving, and presentation skills. Students take on leadership roles through Dragon Masters, a club for at-risk boys, and Girls on the Run. With a shared vision of creating a peaceful educational environment, members of the Oak View staff and community have worked hard to create a culture of peace, pride, and safety at school.

Opal School

Public Charter
Charter, Portland, OR

The mission of Opal Public Charter School is “to provoke fresh ideas in education.” A Reggio Emilia-inspired school chartered by the Portland Children’s Museum, it fulfills this mission in a number of ways. One way is holding fast to its belief in children and adults as researchers and co-creators. Throughout the year, teachers co-create the curriculum with students (see their blog for some examples) and they share the fruit of their research with other educators from around the world at Opal School’s annual symposium.

More on Opal Charter School:

Walking a Story:

Marshmallow Challenge:

Exploring the Idea of a Quest:

Dialogue with Natural Materials:

Orchards Elementary School

Public, Lewiston, ID

Orchards Elementary is a Leader in Me school where each child discovers and develops his or her own unique gifts and talents and is given ample opportunities to lead. As leaders, students become active, engaged partners in their own education, allowing their self-confidence, responsibility, and initiative to grow. The children understand the benefits of different gifts and talents; they learn to listen to new ideas, work together to achieve results, and motivate one another to be their best selves. The environment at Orchards encourages students to be leaders in all aspects of the school day: they track their own learning data, participate in "changemaking" committees, and are involved in multiple areas of the school system, from morning announcements to lunchtime kitchen duty.

Park Forest Elementary School

Public, State College, PA

As a caring community of learners connecting learning to the world outside, Park Forest Elementary’s mission is to have all students live as good people and citizens, having respect for themselves, others, and the environment. All children and adults who walk through their doors are welcomed as learners who strive to develop a commitment to lifelong learning. At Park Forest, they seek to honor all voices by embedding democratic practices and encouraging global awareness in the daily life of the school. PFE’s commitment to the school-wide community, service-learning, inquiry and inclusive practices are at the heart of how they meaningfully engage all learners. These opportunities and experiences help nurture and empower their community as they grow in empathy and agency.

Promise Heights Partnership

Charter, Baltimore, Maryland

The Promise Heights Partnership comprises two schools: Historic Samuel Coleridge Taylor Elementary and Furman Templeton Preparatory Academy. Inspired by Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Heights is a collective impact effort to create a “cradle to career” pipeline for children in the neighborhood. Promise Heights believes that a child’s emotional and spiritual needs must be met before they are ready to be taught. For this reason, yoga practice is incorporated into the school environment, students are taught early on how to identify and deal with emotions, and children and families are surrounded with a holistic set of support that enables them to succeed at home, in school, and in the community.

Prospect Sierra

Private, El Cerrito, CA

Social and emotional learning, student leadership, and social change are at the heart of Prospect Sierra School. The steps of listening and observing empathetically, defining a problem, coming up with ideas for solutions, building those solutions, and testing those solutions are engrained through the curriculum, kindergarten through 8th grade. For example, students learn how to listen to and understand the perspectives of other students through storytelling projects like “This P.S. Life” and their World War II interview project. They also define and understand problems through each grade’s service-learning projects and design their own solutions that can be funded by the student council. Students have continued some of these projects beyond their graduation from Prospect Sierra or have taken what they learned at Prospect Sierra to create a social venture later in their lives.

More About Prospect Sierra:

Rainbow Community School

Private, Asheville, NC

Rainbow Community School believes that we are being invited to a higher consciousness as a human community. They respond to this invitation with their mission: “We develop accomplished, confident, and creative learners who are prepared to be leaders in building a compassionate and environmentally sustainable world.” They strive to provide a “Rainbow” model for the education of children, the inspiration of families, and the personal and professional growth of staff. This model will inspire educators everywhere to grow and evolve their programs by bravely and creatively embracing the seven domains of the whole child, thereby increasing humanity’s collective awareness and capacity for growth. Visit their site at

Salem Hills Elementary School

Public, Inner Grove Heights, MN

Salem Hills Elementary School envisions a school environment in which all students learn at high levels and each child’s individual strengths are recognized. The school works to create the necessary conditions for leadership opportunities, and to empower students to make a difference in their school, community, nation, and ultimately, the world. The school’s success is measured by recognizing positive student behaviors as demonstrated by their understanding of and involvement in the B.U.C.K.E.T (Being: Understanding, Compassionate, Kind, Empathetic, Tolerant) Initiative, where each student has an imaginary bucket on their head so other students (“bucket fillers”) can add compliments or words that promote safety, responsibility, and respect to their buckets.

For more information, visit:

San Diego Cooperative Charter School

Public Charter
Charter, San Diego, CA

San Diego Cooperative Charter School has a strong culture of innovation. Principal Wendy Ranck-Buhr gives teachers the freedom to try new ideas, and thus the staff members are not afraid of taking smart risks to advance student learning. As a case in point, teachers Kate Dickinson and Debbie Spellman-Smith wanted to create small “families” of students from different grade levels to help students build relationships with other students and adults they don't normally interact with. To do this, Kate and Debbie conducted research at other schools that were already doing similar things. They were then able to create family groups that would spend a few days per month together on projects and activities from a wide variety of content areas. Now the school is expanding the family groups structure to their second campus. 

San Miguel Elementary

Public, Sunnyvale, California

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Miguel has a very culturally and socio-economically diverse student population. They work to provide students with the basic academic tools they will need to become productive, responsible citizens, believing that it takes a collaborative effort to enable all students to meet the social, multicultural, and technological challenges of the twenty-first century. San Miguel Elementary believes that their students make a difference in the community and that it is important to prepare them to do so at an early age. They partner with Acknowledge Alliance, building teacher support groups to cultivate empathy skills and care for the social emotional learning needs of educators.

Shady Hill School

Private, Cambridge, MA

Shady Hill School wants children to be joyful, active learners who develop the intellectual discipline necessary to become contributing, ethical citizens. They believe in the primacy of exploration and discovery, they advance students’ mastery of skills, and they help students shape meaning from knowledge. The student board organizes projects ranging from Mardi Gras to advocating for gay rights in Arizona. A comprehensive service-learning program focuses on the immediate school community for the youngest children, and expands across borders for older students. Shady Hill also has a progressive teacher training program where 1,300 graduates bring a “Changemaker Ethos” to schools across the country.

Spring Mill Elementary School

Public, Indianapolis, IN

Spring Mill’s mission is to create global learners who are driven to action through inquiry and who contribute to the community as responsible, caring, and productive citizens. They value individual voices and thoughtfully nurture creativity and talent. As an International Baccalaureate World School, Spring Mill wants students to be lifelong learners who engage with the world. Their school culture centers on developing traits that allow students to thrive in a complex world. Since 2011 they have used stories from Jackie Robinson’s life to guide students in making positive behavior choices. Spring Mill students support causes, learn together, care about families, inquire into social justice issues, and show respect through their actions.

St. Ann Elementary School

Private, Bridgeport, CT

One of the principles behind St. Ann’s success is letting students take the lead. When framing the school’s strategy, Principal Theresa Tillinger is careful to articulate what the school avoids doing. They do not over-structure, over-guide, or over-prescribe. In fact, Tillinger describes the teacher’s role as providing a vision and a nudge but then remembering to “get out of the way” so that students can take responsibility. St. Ann School shows that when students feel ownership over what they’re learning and doing in school, they learn passionately. Give them an opportunity to apply their talents in the real world, and they’ll still light up when they describe it months later. Encourage and reward empathy – for fellow students as well as for people halfway around the world – and empathy will thrive.

More on St. Ann School:

St. Madeleine Sophie Catholic School

Private, Bellevue, WA

Inclusion plays an important role in St. Madeleine Sophie’s identity as a Changemaker School. A Catholic school at which 20% of the student population receives special education services, St. Madeleine Sophie views inclusion as an opportunity for all students, teachers, and parents at the school to empathize with each other and support each other in their efforts to make positive change in the community. As a result of the school’s efforts and investments to encourage inclusion and teamwork, 83 percent of fourth through eighth graders reported that they feel they belong at St. Madeleine Sophie Catholic School, and 96 percent of kindergarten through third graders reported that they like school.

Summit Elementary

Public, Casper, WY

Summit Elementary’s mission is to prepare children to excel and lead in the 21st century. Summit, located in rural WY, is a Leader in Me Lighthouse School where students play roles in school-wide leadership, classroom leadership, and through teaching leadership skills to their peers. In Summit’s kid counsel, students are fully responsible for running and editing a podcast to provide news, tips about the 7 habits from Leader in Me, as well as informing students about upcoming job applications. A school-wide Leadership Day invites the whole district and community residents are to learn about the 7 habits for themselves and for students. Additionally, they use a shared leadership model and have multi-age expeditions.

Sustainability Academy

Public, Burlington, VT

Sustainability Academy aims to educate and empower students to improve the quality of life for all—economically, socially, and environmentally—now and for future generations. Their goal is to prepare students to be responsible citizens and agents for change in the community and beyond. They believe that place-based, project based, service-learning opportunities are essential to engage students and create an atmosphere of activism and advocacy. They hold weekly Monday morning meetings, bi-annual town meetings, regular community dinners and forums, and community work days. They have also developed a stewardship team, leadership team, parent-teacher organization, and family-school partnership team. They consistently utilize liaisons to make sure all families are informed and encouraged to participate.

The Brooklyn New School

Public, Brooklyn, NY

At Brooklyn New School, social studies and science are the basis for an inquiry-based curriculum that supports students in becoming changemakers. This approach has led to student-designed innovations such as rainwater catchment system, a school-wide composting program that attracted the attention of other Brooklyn schools and the Bloomberg administration, and a wigwam built in Prospect Park. As sustainability is a core value of the school, Brooklyn New School hosts an “Ecorama” at the end of the school year in which students present their science and social studies-based sustainability projects to the greater school community.

The Nueva School

Private, Hillsborough, CA

In addition to being a leader in the social and emotional learning community, Nueva School is a leader in design-thinking education. Educator Kim Saxe created the I-Lab at the school, which challenges students of all grades to identify problems and develop innovative solutions in response to those problems. For example, 4th graders at Nueva School designed a lamp that would light dark corners, 5th graders designed toys by interviewing parents, teachers, and kindergarteners, and 6th graders worked with Kaiser’s innovation lab to design and pitch health solutions. Nueva School shares its expertise on social and emotional learning and design thinking through a number of teacher training institutes.

More about Nueva School:

Design Education at Nueva School:

The Project School

Charter, Bloomington, IN

The vision of The Project School is to eliminate the predictive value of race, class, special capacities, and gender identity on success in school and in life. They aim to uncover, discover, or recover the unique gifts, talents, and interests that each child has and help the child apply those assets to academic challenges that emerge. The Project School use a P3 curriculum framework, which is a child-centered approach to place-based, problem-based, and project-based education. The Project School is committed to social justice, educational equity, and environmental sustainability. For example, on “Museum of Authentic Work Day,” students present an age-appropriate aspect of a social justice issue to the community.

The Star School

Charter, Flagstaff, AZ

STAR (Service to All Relations) School serves students from preschool through grade 8 who live in a large rural area in the southwest corner of the Navajo Nation. Their vision is to create a joyful learning community in which members develop the character, skills and attitudes for understanding themselves, living in balance, and serving all relations. Drawing on foundational values of the Navajo culture, the school focuses on The 4 R’s: Respect, Relationship, Responsibility, and Reasoning, toward themselves and their surroundings. A fundamental value practiced among Navajo people is the importance of relationships (K’e’). Therefore, STAR School emphasizes the building of meaningful and respectful relationships with the children, the staff, the community, the land, and all of the surrounding nature. The whole school is powered with solar energy and a few wind generators, making it the first school to be entirely off the grid. Whereas less than 1% of native populations receive post-secondary education, more than 68% of STAR school students go on to receive post-secondary education. All staff contribute to the STAR School environment where confidence is developed to solve problems by working together.

Thomas Magnet School

Public, Shelbyville, TN

The vision at Thomas Magnet School is to develop citizens that create an enduring and positive impact on any endeavors they pursue. Thomas Magnet is located in a rural Tennessee town known for agriculture and pencil manufacturing. Their school learning environment is based on Paideia Socratic Seminars which help students learn to express their thoughts and opinions by communicating openly during regularly held seminars. A student council organizes projects at the school; if a need arises within the community, students pick that up and take their ideas to their teachers to try it out. In addition, Thomas Magnet School partners with the Confucius Institute to bring Chinese classes to the school.

THRIVE Academy

Charter, Baton Rouge, LA

THRIVE embraces the idea that all children can learn. THRIVE Academy is a free, college preparatory, charter boarding school for grades six through twelve in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, serving at-risk youth from East Baton Rouge Parish. The mission of THRIVE is to empower students from underserved Baton Rouge communities and prepare them academically and personally for success in college and beyond. All efforts are guided by the core values of Endurance, Compassion, Independence, Ownership and Partnership.

Two Rivers Public Charter School

Charter, Washington, DC

The Two Rivers Pubic Charter School mission is to nurture a diverse group of students to become lifelong, active participants in their own education, develop a sense of self and community, and become responsible and compassionate members of society. The school provides experiences for children to construct their own knowledge by grappling with deep content and to solve complex problems using cognitive and social skills. As an expeditionary learning school, all subjects are taught through projects that the students and teachers create together. Open ended problems require students to think deeply and to develop the content knowledge necessary to solve them. Assignments often have a variety of ways for students to engage in the material, ensuring that each student is challenged and growing in their content knowledge and skills. Distributed leadership is an important component of Two Rivers, where no one person is responsible for making a decision. Rather, the staff collectively determines the instructional focus for each school year through consensus.

University of Wyoming Lab School

Public, Laramie, WY

Education students at the University of Wyoming get their hands-on training as future teachers at the UW Lab School, which just celebrated their 125th anniversary. Their mission is to create a positive learning community that will recognize, foster, and assess continuous improvement toward high levels of academic and social achievement for ALL students, pre-service teachers, faculty, and staff. Students lead Socratic seminars as part of the Matthew Shepard Symposium, and they have led Socratic seminars for the League of Democratic Schools. Students have the opportunity to create their own electives, for example “The Force of Altruism”, which does events like a peace jam and pie day to introduce students to social issues.

Urban Montessori Charter School

Public Charter
Charter, Oakland, CA

Urban Montessori Public Charter School is one of the only schools in the U.S. that is combining the Montessori approach, design thinking, and arts integration to provide its students with a “changemaker education.” One of the ways that Urban Montessori accomplishes this is through community days, in which the school gathers its students, parents, teachers, and members of the surrounding community to use design thinking to solve a community problem together. Urban Montessori also hosts design-thinking workshops for parents, which involve challenges such as interviewing another person at the workshop and designing something for that individual based on his or her needs.

Voyager Academy Elementary School

Public Charter
Public, Durham, NC

Voyager Academy Elementary School’s curriculum envisions the creation of nurturing and respectful classrooms full of learning, where children care about the world around them, embrace and value diversity, and inspire curiosity beyond the school day. Voyager’s core values are: Confidence, Curiosity, Empathy, Reflection, and Integrity. The school creates a community where kids feel heard, safe, and accepted through daily morning meetings that set a positive tone. From this foundation, the school approaches every child as though he or she has questions and ideas worthy of investigation that is far beyond what is gleaned from a textbook. From an early age, students are taught to be observant, critical thinkers, and team-players.

For more information, please visit:

Westtown School

Private, West Chester, PA

Guided by the essential Quaker calling to seek out and honor that of God in each of us, Westtown School challenges its students to realize their individual gifts while learning and living together in a diverse community. Changemaking is engrained throughout their curriculum. For example: 8th graders read "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" and as a result decided to create a wind generator on their school farm; student council works in a way that any student who wants to lead can self-nominate and lead without going through an election; and parents host upper school students for internships while others co-teach classes such as Business Ethics.

Youth Initiative High School

Private, Viroqua, WI

The Youth Initiative High School was founded in 1996 when a group of high school students from the Viroqua area decided to take responsibility for their education. Today, YIHS continues to emphasize the development of student responsibility, initiative, and citizenship in all aspects of school life. Students are full voting members of the school community, serving alongside parents and faculty on the Board of Trustees and on many other committees.