Philanthropy Roundtable believes every American should have the freedom to reach his or her full, unique potential and achieve economic security. The Roundtable supports organizations that eliminate barriers to upward mobility, expand opportunity and reward hard work and perseverance.
Earlier this fall, 32 remarkable education organizations were announced as Yass Prize semifinalists at Forbes on Fifth in New York City. They were selected from thousands of impressive applicants for a prize that recognizes top education providers from around the country. A final winner will be announced later this month.
The $1 million Yass Prize, awarded for the first time in 2021, celebrates the “country’s education provider which best demonstrates the STOP principles” – Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless. Prize organizers say these principles “have the power to drive educational change for every child,” In conjunction with the Yass Prize, the STOP Awards initiative provides over $16 million in support annually to honor educators who achieve excellence.
This year, semifinalists come from 23 different states and though their work is varied and spans both the nonprofit and for-profit space, they all prove innovation is alive and well in education. Micro schools, pods and hybrid learning environments almost unheard of two years ago are now being utilized by parents and educators across the nation, and are among those being recognized here for their effectiveness. Other semifinalists include traditional public schools that operate more like a charter and charters that continue to flourish outside of traditional systems, as well as private schools serving specialized populations that are often overlooked. The Yass Prize also is celebrating leaders in the education tech space who are providing remarkable tools that can be integrated into learning.
“Great education providers come in all shapes and sizes,” said Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, which helped found the prize in partnership with Jeff and Janine Yass and Forbes. “One of the deficiencies of the traditional education reform movement is that we thought it was only about schools. But there are education providers that may have just as much if not more ability to scale and support students. We should be encouraging actors from every field who are engaging in social entrepreneurship and doing really great work.”
This prize was the brainchild of Jeff and Janine Yass, who sought to provide additional support for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They saw the extraordinary challenges that students and families were facing during COVID-19,” Allen said. “And we all knew there were groups out there solving the crisis. They saw health care workers getting support, so they asked the question, ‘Why don’t we find the folks who are helping underserved students?’”
For more than 25 years, the Yasses have dedicated their time, talent and resources to creating excellent schools and expanding education options for students and families. But, the crisis in education during the pandemic revealed to them the depth of problems facing students. They pivoted to what they say is a more impactful way to spend their resources – a prize that might help improve student outcomes more quickly.
“A prize seemed like a really great way to stimulate a word-of-mouth referral process across the entire country and that is exactly what we have seen,” said Allen. “We received 2,7000 applications over three months and found some really unique approaches.”
The 2021 winner was the Discovery Center of Springfield, located in Missouri. Their mission is to “inspire curiosity and a life-long love of learning through memorable and engaging hands-on experiences in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).” Amid a challenging education environment in the Ozarks, this museum and science center taught thousands of children when schools were closed during COVID-19, many whose parents were first responders and economically insecure. The Discovery Center provided over 200,000 hours of free childcare, over 50,000 free meals and snacks and served over 1,500 children.
The 2022 Yass Prize winner will be awarded on December 14 in the New York City Forum at Forbes on Fifth.