Washington, D.C. – As part of National Charter Schools Week 2021: 30 Years Strong, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (National Alliance) honors 30 exceptional young leaders who are connected in some way to charter schools and are using their ideas, talents, and platforms to advance educational and economic opportunity and promote equality and social justice. The 30 Under 30 Changemakers Awards shine a spotlight on individuals from across the country who are making a meaningful impact in their community via the Arts, Writing, and Sports; Education and Politics; Leadership; Science; and Social Justice.
“The students, teachers, and advocates who make up our 30 Under 30 Changemakers reflect 30 years of the tremendous success of these innovative, student-centered public schools. I am grateful for our Changemakers and the thousands of teachers, leaders, and families across the nation who work tirelessly to support their communities and improve public education opportunities for all students,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “We are honored to recognize and lift up these 30 Changemakers like charter school senior Darnella Fraizer who bravely witnessed and shot live video of the unjust death of George Floyd while in police custody last summer and school founder Darren Ramalho who is opening the first-ever K-8 charter school in rural Perry County, Alabama focusing on project-based learning and community leadership.”
Read more about each 30 Under 30 Changemaker below. Join the National Alliance for the 30 Under 30 Virtual Awards Ceremony, featuring interviews with several of our honorees on May 12 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Register here.
National Charter Schools Week (May 10-15) recognizes more than 200,000 dedicated teachers, 3.3 million students, and 7,500 public charter schools across the nation. This year’s celebration marks the 30th anniversary of the first charter school law, which changed the future of public education and student success forever. In honor of the movement’s history and future, this year’s theme is National Charter Schools Week 2021: 30 Years Strong.
30 Under 30 Changemaker Award Honorees
ARTS, WRITING, SPORTS
London Carter Williams, 12, Waterbury, Conn. Activist, author, and Brass City Charter School student, London’s first book, Our 1st Protest, shares the details about the life-changing experience she had at her first protest at age 11. Our 1st Protest serves as an introduction to community consciousness raising for young people and shares London’s own experiences with her burgeoning interest in civil rights history.
Najah Aqeel, 14, Nashville, Tenn. Najah made history this year when she led a nationwide rule change to ensure high school volleyball athletes can wear religious headwear without seeking permission. Najah, a Muslim student and volleyball athlete at Valor Collegiate Prep High School, was forbidden from participating in a freshman volleyball game in 2020 due to a National Federation of High School (NFHS) rule requiring written approval for religious head coverings. Najah rallied support to change the rule at both the state and national level. As a result of her advocacy, athletes can wear hijabs or other religious head coverings freely without prior written permission in the sport of volleyball. The NFHS announced it will pursue changes that will impact sports beyond just volleyball in the future.
Nia Sioux, 19, Los Angeles, Calif. and Pittsburgh, Penn. Nia Sioux is a dancer, actress, author, and podcast host, initially known for her role as an original cast member of Lifetime’s hit show Dance Moms. In 2020, Nia published her first children’s book, Today I Dance, detailing her journey into the arts as a Black dancer and inspiring millions of children of diverse backgrounds to pursue their love of dance. Formerly a student at Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, Nia is currently a freshman at UCLA and continues to use her platform to encourage other young people to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams.
Natalie Wojcik, 21, Douglassville, Penn. Formerly a student at 21st Century Cyber Charter School and now a junior at the University of Michigan and leader on the school’s gymnastics team, Natalie has several titles under her belt including NCAA champion on balance beam in 2019, 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and now the 2021 NCAA team national championship title. Her accomplishments include perfect 10.0 performances on both the vault and balance beam. More than medals motivate this MVP—she has been a generous volunteer with the Special Olympics for 13 straight years.
Ayden Jent, 28, Indianapolis, Ind. Ayden Jent embodies persistence and perseverance. At a young age, doctors diagnosed him with cerebral palsy and predicted he would never walk without assistance or play sports—but he did. Ayden joined the track and cross-country teams at Herron High School and went on to join the U.S. Paralympic Team in 2016. He is a three-time national team member of USA Track and Field and won a Silver Medal in the Toronto Para Pan Am games in the 100-meter in 2015. Ayden is a member of the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities.
Katrina Brown-Aliffi, 29, New York, N.Y. Katrina Brown-Aliffi has devoted the last eight years of her career to teaching dance in New York City, founding two dance programs for middle and high schoolers and Success Academy and Democracy Prep Charter Schools. The programs center around amplifying student voices, prioritizes family communication, and providing a space for students to feel empowered to express their art. As a current doctoral student in Dance Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, her study, “Dance Education in New York City Charter Schools,” was published in the Journal of Dance Education, and she has presented at the National Dance Education Organization annual conference and the International Conference of School Choice and Reform on her research on dance education in the charter sector.
EDUCATION AND POLITICS
Lauryn Renford, 19, Washington, D.C. Lauryn co-founded Pathways 2 Power after two of her fellow students were killed by gun violence. Lauryn turned her grief into power and advocates for a safer D.C. During her junior year at Thurgood Marshall Academy, she fundraised for a mural, The Limestone of Lost Legacies, honoring five teens who were killed by gun violence. Lauryn has given a TED talk about her experience and has visited different schools in D.C. to rally young people to become advocates against gun violence. Lauryn is currently a sophomore at The George Washington University studying public health.
Kyle Denman, 26, Los Angeles, Calif. Kyle is a “political scientist with a passion for fashion” whose mission is to use his own platform and privilege to create social change, share cultural narratives, and humanize the experiences of underserved communities. This political science major-turned fashion designer and 2018 Young Fashion Designer of the Year has made his mark at New Village Girls Academy in Los Angeles, a high school for young women who are survivors of human trafficking, homelessness, drug and substance abuse, and domestic violence. As the school’s Enrichment Programs Coordinator, he leads art enrichment and fashion design programs, plans ‘Leaving to Learn’ experiences, and helps students access the supports and resources they need—ranging from diapers to college and career prep, to mental health resources.
Jalen Ramsey, 26, Los Angeles, Calif. and Nashville, Tenn. NFL star Jalen Ramsey is an all-star Nashville hometown hero who puts kids first. He has dedicated his time and energy in the off-season to improving and creating access to quality education in Nashville’s community. Notably, Jalen donated $1 million during the pandemic to Purpose Preparatory Academy, a local charter school that is in the top five percent in the state for academics. As a partner and donor, Jalen is inspired by the school’s focus on breaking structural barriers to bring about equity for students of color and making learning more meaningful.
Roquel Crutcher, 26, Memphis, Tenn. As a policy entrepreneur at Next100, Roquel focuses on both racial equity and increasing educational opportunities and postsecondary outcomes for young people in marginalized communities. She has recently released a project to elevate the voices of charter school alumni and continues to advocate for policy solutions to anti-Black racism. Roquel was founder and president of American University’s chapter of the NAACP and later served as the D.C. branch chair of the Young Adults Committee. Roquel was selected for New Profit’s Millennial Impact Fellowship, NAACP’s Next Generation Fellowship, a 2018 Aspen Ideas Fellowship, and an inaugural KIPP Accelerator Fellow as a KIPP Memphis alumna.
Phillip Nguyen, 29, Toms River, N.J. Phillip has dedicated his entire career to inspiring students and cultivating strong, diverse leaders. Phillip is the founder and executive director of EdChiefs, an equity-driven consulting firm dedicated to diversifying the education space with executive leaders of color. He is also a senior director at BrainPOP and the founding New Jersey Impact Lead for ImmSchools. His most current project is the New Jersey Charter School Launch Program–Executive Director Fellowship that aims to support BIPOC leaders in launching the schools of tomorrow. In his early career, Phillip served at KIPP Texas, STRIVE Prep Public Schools, and Mastery Charter Schools.
Kalan Rogers, 27, Calhoun Falls, S.C. Kalan graduated from Calhoun Falls Charter High School and returned as principal of his alma mater, where he focuses on creating a positive and safe school environment. Under his leadership, CFCS has been recognized by the U.S. News and World Report as a one of the best high schools in the country. Additionally, Kalan coaches cross-country and track and field, drives a morning school bus route, and advocates for his students, parents, and the community.
Gavin Schiffres, 27, St. Louis, Mo. Gavin is the co-founder and CEO of Kairos Academies, a K-12 public charter school in St. Louis that focuses on student choice and self-direction. Kairos has been highlighted as one of the most promising models for 21st-century schooling by Forbes, The Today Show, Education Week, Teach For America, and more. Gavin and his team are reimagining school around personalized learning and self-direction, so students gradually earn ownership of where, when, how, and with whom they work to prepare them for what to expect in college. Gavin graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with honors for his theses on charter school policy and design and holds a Master’s in Education from the University of Missouri—St. Louis.
Samantha Aponte, 28, Tulsa, Okla. Samantha is the interim principal at Tulsa Honor Academy. As a former teacher and assistant principal, Samantha helped build literacy systems and promote best practices to better support diverse learners. Samantha also engages with nonprofit boards and foundations in the Tulsa community with an eye for leveraging relationships and organizational structures to elevate BIPOC representation. She supported several local social service agencies in engaging and elevating the perspectives of Latino families.
Audrey Hagopian, 29, Phoenix Ariz. Audrey is putting the focus on teacher development and preparation as the Regional Director for Primary Schools for BASIS.ed. A former science teacher, she is also making science cool, fun, and pandemic-friendly by partnering with bloggers and creating hands-on experiments videos for kids across the nation.
Davian Morgan, 29, Washington, D.C. Davian is the Vice Principal of Literacy at Ingenuity Prep Public Charter School and founder of Hopeful HoriSONS, a nonprofit that provides academic and social emotional support as well as community service opportunities for students in the Washington D.C. metro area. Most recently, he launched Hopeful HoriSONS’s Black Boys Book Bunch—a virtual club for boys of color that builds literacy through conversations about books and current events while supporting the development skills needed to cope with tough feelings and trauma.
Darren Ramalho, 29, Marion, Ala. Darren founded the first charter school in rural Perry County, Alabama. Breakthrough Charter School is a diverse-by-design, K-12 school that focuses on project-based learning and community leadership. Darren hopes that Breakthrough will change the education landscape in Alabama’s Black Belt Region.
Amira Thomas, 29, Cleveland, Ohio. Amira started volunteering at a young age and never stopped—allowing her to build relationships with and serve families who need clothes, food, and shelter. She is the Director of Randall Park High School—a dropout recovery school in Cleveland—and when she stepped into her new role, she quickly established partnerships and engaged her scholars in community service. Through partnerships with local organizations, Randall Park High School has provided hot meals, toiletries, clothing, and toys for the holiday season to fellow scholars and community members in need.
Mari Copeny, 13, Flint, Mich. Known as “Little Miss Flint,” Mari made her name advocating for the people of Flint throughout the water crisis. It was her letter to President Obama that prompted him to visit the city and approve $100 million dollars in relief for the city of Flint. Mari has spoken twice at the March for Science about how the Flint water crisis has affected her community and fundraised $250,000 to give away more than 1 million bottles of water. She also sits on the Flint Youth Justice League and the Michigan Department of Education’s Anti-Racism Student Advisory Council. A student at Woodland Park Academy, Mari was recently named to the U.S. Delegation of the 65th Session of the UN Commission on the Status Women. She is the youngest delegate selected to the UN Commission in history.
Gitanjali Rao, 15, Lone Tree, Colo. Gitanjali is a real, live Superhero. The young scientist was featured in an episode of Marvel’s Hero Project, Genius Gitanjali, which followed her work developing an app that detects lead in drinking water, inspired by a trip with her family to India and the Flint Water Crisis. This app developer and anti-cyber-bullying advocate is also TIME’s first Kid of the Year. Gitanjali also dedicates her time to running innovation workshops to mentor fellow students not just at STEM School Highlands Ranch, but worldwide. To date, she has mentored more than 45,000 students across four continents.
Nathan Ream, 16, Jacksonville, Fla. After being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of nine, Nathan has made incredible contributions to the awareness and research of blood cancers. As a student at Duval Charter High School at Baymeadows, he has touched the lives of many individuals as featured speaker at his school’s annual “Growing Hearts” day of giving. Nathan is a volunteer for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society, helping them raise awareness and money to support patients and survivors.
Anna Grace Tiede Hottinger, 18, Shoreview, Minn. When Anna Grace saw tobacco products like e-cigarettes growing in popularity among her peers, she sprang into action. She helped organize students to speak at their local council meeting advocating to raise the age to legally buy tobacco from 18 to 21. Her advocacy caught the attention of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, who recognized her as a national youth ambassador. As an ambassador, she advocates at the federal, state, and local levels to reduce youth tobacco use through policies to such as banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes that are addicting a new generation of kids. Still in her senior year at EdVisions Off Campus, Anna Grace is also involved locally with the Association for Non-Smokers and has been engaged in tobacco control work for more than two years.
Artemisio Romero y Carver, 18, Santa Fe, N.M. Artemisio is a high school senior at New Mexico School for the Arts—and a climate activist. He is the co-founder and policy director of Youth United For Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA), a local nonprofit that trains young activists in social and environmental justice organizing and supports intergenerational campaigns to advance climate justice, transformative education, sustainability, democracy, and civil rights. To make it easy for young people to engage in action, YUCCA endorses candidates, lobbies for legislation, and organizes protests, giving their youth advocates a powerful introduction to active citizenship. His writing has appeared in numerous publications. In Spring 2020, Artemisio was named Santa Fe’s youth Poet Laurette and earned First Place in Specialty Articles during the New Mexico Press Women’s 2020 Communications Contest.
Adriana Mancini, 22, Palm City, Fla. An alumna of Clark Advanced Learning Center, Adriana’s passion for sustainability and community outreach began in elementary school when she founded Team Green Martin, a recycling program that pairs students with disabilities with peer mentors. Today, Adriana leads Students4H2O, which she founded to encourage students to be a part of the solution to end the global water crisis. Her efforts have helped raise more than $100,000 to provide clean water and sanitation to developing countries.
Darnella Frazier, 18, Minneapolis, Minn. Darnella bravely witnessed and documented the unjust death of George Floyd while in police custody in 2020. It was her video footage, taken with her camera phone, that sparked the reaction to the horrific event. As a result of her quick action, Darnella brought attention to a grave injustice and inspired millions of people to rally together for social change and helped to secure a conviction for Mr. Floyd’s killer. She recently testified in his murder trial, saying, “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles.” A student at Augsburg Fairview Academy, Darnella continues to use her platform to advocate for racial and economic justice.
Alessandro Iaia Hernandez, 18, Wilmington, Del. Alessandro is a senior at the Charter School of Wilmington and helped create programs to push for equal treatment and opportunities for marginalized people, particularly those in the Latino community. His interest in helping the community sparked from seeing the discrimination his mother faced as a Hispanic immigrant, as opposed to his Italian immigrant father.
Kwastlmut Sadie Olsen, 19, Bellingham, Wash. Kwastlmut is an advocate for Indigenous rights and an active participant in community healing. She’s been instrumental in the startup of Whatcom Intergenerational High School (WIHS), an innovative new charter school that will open its doors this fall. As an Indigenous student, Kwastlmut advocates for Indigenous cultural ways to be included in curriculum, policies, and practices. She is a member of the Northwest Portland Area Youth Indian Health Board and she co-facilitates diverse groups of students and adults for Western Washington University’s Community Engagement Fellows.
Jess Stone, 24, Flat Rock, Mich. Jess is a math teacher at River Heights Academy and advocates for LGBTQ+ students and staff. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Jess founded the “Equity Club” for 6th – 8th graders as a space for LGBTQ+ students and allies to support one another and learn evidence-based information about age-appropriate topics and public health concerns facing them and their peers, as well as developing a sense of community within the school. Jess also serves on the Distinctive Schools Michigan Regional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Curriculum Committee, exploring, iterating, and designing student-facing materials that are representative of traditionally marginalized groups.
Noelani Gabriel, 26, Boston, Mass. Noelani Gabriel’s commitment to social justice, civil rights, and active anti-racism has a significant positive impact on her school’s community and students. As the director of family and community engagement at Community Charter School of Cambridge, she develops programs to foster collaboration between educators and families, cultivates relationships with community organizations, and leads equity and restorative justice work. Noelani plays an active role on the Cambridge LGBTQ+ Commission and the Kendall Square Association Board of Directors to build antiracist organizations and businesses in her neighborhood.
Brianna Noble, 26, Oakland, Calif. Brianna is an equestrian and Black Lives Matter advocate who received international recognition when she rode her horse, Dapper Dan, to a Black Lives Matter protest in Oakland, California, following the death of George Floyd. As an alumna of Oakland School of the Arts and the founder Mulatto Meadows, she is passionate about teaching horsemanship, riding, and bringing equestrian opportunities to BIPOC youth and serves as a role model and leader voicing the concerns of marginalized communities.
For questions regarding today’s announcement, please reach out to Jennifer Diaz, Vice President of Communications (email@example.com) For information on National Charter Schools Week please visit us online.