Begins: June 1, 2019
Ends: August 31, 2020

2019 LRNG Innovators Challenge—From Passion to Purpose

“We believe every young person deserves access to a quality education. We know that teachers have the unique power to change students’ lives, and we’re excited to continue supporting educators who are designing innovative ways to inspire young people.”
—John Legend

The Challenge

Connected Learning research demonstrates that all young people benefit from opportunities to follow their interests alongside the support of peers and mentors who give them the time and space to create work that is meaningful to them. As educators, how can we support, showcase, and celebrate the powerful work that youth create when they have opportunities to explore interests and ideas that are valuable to them and their communities?

LRNG Innovators launched a new challenge in 2019, inviting educators to design ways that youth can share their work with authentic audiences, build real-world connections, and have impact on issues that matter most to them. Proposals were submitted from around the US and award recipients are below.

Year 4 LRNG Innovators Award Recipients

Addressing Gun Violence: Creating Visionaries, Storytellers, Community Activists

Oakland, CA
Lighthouse Community Charter School will develop a three-month curriculum focused on gun violence prevention involving the entire 7th grade. The “Addressing Gun Violence: Creating Visionaries, Storytellers, and Community Activists” program is a production-centered, youth-led initiative which grew out of a direct request from Lighthouse students to focus on gun violence. The program is interdisciplinary and allows youth to focus on an interest-powered issue while strengthening community relationships and gaining valuable real-world experience. This work will happen in partnership with a local non-profit Vision Quilt, engage older students through a Teen Council and internship program at the school, and culminate in a youth-led community exhibition that engages students’ peers, families, and the wider community in meaningful ways. Read More ›

The 290 Project: Lives Along the Exits

Chicago, IL
Chicago is a city of great possibility, pride, and deep racial and socio-economic segregation. Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School is located at the Laramie Exit along the 290/Eisenhower Expressway, or “290” as referred to by Chicagoans. The students note that many people drive down 290, but don’t know about the lives of the people who inhabit the communities off the 290 Exits. Therefore, in the spirit of the West African griot tradition, students will become the historians and storytellers of those living along 290, spanning from our Austin neighborhood on the western border of the city to the downtown businesses and institutions. Their work will be showcased in a culminating event that challenges the dominant narrative about the youth of Chicago, and celebrates both the lives of those along 290 and the power of storytelling.

Young Writers Workshop: Advocacy & Action

Baltimore, MD
This project is a community-based writing workshop for middle- and high-school students focused on writing for advocacy. Participants identify issues of interest to them and their communities and then learn from local writers, artists, and activists how to use print and multimodal compositions as tools for advocacy. Students create compositions—including short stories, written and spoken word poetry, op-ed pieces, podcasts, videos, and written and spoken testimony to the state legislature—to educate a variety of public audiences about their chosen issues and to advocate for change. This project is a partnership between the Maryland Writing Project, Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore, and CHARM: Voice of Baltimore Youth. Read More ›

Performance & Spoken Word Poetry as Artistic Expression, Political Action, Social Justice, and Environment Advocacy

Petoskey, MI
This project gives students the opportunity to cultivate their identity as researcher-writers and artists in their own communities. Students will have the opportunity to select topics and create images that have meaning to their own lives and/or to their self-selected areas of social-justice research. Teachers will assist students in connecting their individual topics of interest to larger, national and global issues. Performance poetry is a genre that inspires students to discover their voice on the page and cultivate their identity as researcher-writers. Many scholars describe this genre as an “artistic, social, and cultural movement.” It is a genre ripe for connecting author and audience to the critical issues of our time. Each student will be supported to research their own self-selected area of interest and transform their expertise into performance and visual art that can change the world. Read More ›

The Leatherstocking Writing Project’s Video Game Designer Institute

Oneonta, NY
The Leatherstocking Writing Project’s Video Game Designer Institute provides school professionals and rural youth—4th- through 8th-grade students—the opportunity to participate in a STEM/STEAM writing workshop around video-game terminology, planning, review, and production. Institute coordinators will host a three-day professional development workshop to guide educators in game design and systems thinking. For students, the institute will provide a summer camp and after-school activities during the school year to provide access to technologies, proximity for engagement, and opportunities for critical experiences in game design and systems thinking. This parallel approach to training for teachers and students will provide opportunities for reciprocal teaching between the two groups. All participants in the Video Game Designer Institute will learn game-design skills and experience video-game production through Gamestar Mechanic: an online interactive comic that introduces users to game design and provides the tools for users to ultimately create their own games.

Producing Justice: Urban Youth Changing Their Community

Rochester, NY
Beginning with urban high-school students’ authentic interests in bringing about meaningful change in their community, this project will bring together a team of nine East High School teachers across content areas with their students to design and implement student interest-based justice projects. Given the endemic issues of poverty and under-teaching in Rochester, the team shares the purpose of working with students to design and implement justice-oriented projects that will seek to change the inequities they live with every day. The project will facilitate their developing relationships in the community and identify mentors who can help them make the changes they want to see. This project will focus specifically on connecting students with people in community organizations, neighborhood groups, a new national newspaper, and relevant government offices who can help student collaborative teams enact the projects they design and to make their projects freely accessible via various digital outlets. The shared purpose is to take authentic action for justice and equity in the Rochester community and beyond.

The City is Our Campus: Amplifying Youth Voice, Expanding Youth Space

Cleveland, OH
Drawing on Youth Participatory Action Research and Connected Learning frameworks, this project focuses on the design and implementation of the first year of a four-year, youth-led research sequence at a public high school in Cleveland, Ohio. This project invites 9th graders to identify, research, and act on a community issue related to the larger theme, “The City is Our Campus.” All youth participants will collaborate with a specific community partner to “read” a space and engage in place-based efforts to shift how youth use the places they share with other community members. All students will produce an outcome appropriate to their selected topic and issue. The six community partners will facilitate learning experiences that allow for sustained interactions, ongoing mentorship, and regular opportunities for relationship-building with students. To bolster the depth of collaboration, the project is designed to evolve with students for their entire high-school experience. Read More ›

Writing the Past, Changing the Future: A Century of Learning the 1921 Race Massacre

Tulsa, OK
“Writing the Past, Changing the Future: A Century of Learning the 1921 Race Massacre” is a wide-scale, youth-driven inquiry project for middle-school and high-school students in Oklahoma. Student populations from several school districts throughout Oklahoma, integrating up to 200 students from diverse backgrounds, will thrive within opportunities to learn from one another about social justice, critical thinking, collaborative inquiry, and composition in digital spaces. With leadership from classroom teachers and the OSU Writing Project, Oklahoma youth will learn about the 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa and then spend time leading the creation of digital artifacts to document their experiences in learning about this historic event. Student leaders from participating schools will collaborate to create and host a youth symposium in spring of 2020 for students to share their inquiry projects that highlight their collaborative work. Students will create a digital repository of their digital artifacts as a testament to their learning and for citizens of Oklahoma and beyond to learn more about the impact of the 1921 Race Massacre on the world. Read More ›

Revisiting History through Literature, Landscapes, and Local Legends

Portland, OR
Harriet Tubman Middle School was birthed in struggle during the desegregation era in Portland, Oregon. “Revisiting History through Literature, Landscapes, and Local Legends” seeks to build community by using literacy to educate students, teachers, and families about the historical legacy of this school and its community. Students will read local authors, like Renée Watson, study murals, and interview local history makers while teachers work to design a four-year sequential curriculum to explore the history of desegregation, urban renewal, gentrification, and resistance in the historically black Albina neighborhood. At each grade level, students will produce podcasts, plays, chapbooks, comic books, poetry, QR codes, and news articles with the goal of educating feeder-school students, families, and the larger public. Read More ›

Seize Your Future: Career Passion Projects

Lake Stevens, WA
Students in Washington State face the rigorous expectation of 24 credits to graduate from high school. For students whose learning is disrupted by trauma or who don’t find relevance in their academic courses, even one failed class puts them at risk of dropping out. This summer program helps students make connections between a dream job and the academic standards they need to graduate. As they propose, create, and present a Career Passion Project based on their interests and academic needs, students are supported by content-area specialists and local professionals in a variety of fields. This pilot program will prove more engaging, more rigorous, and more relevant than traditional credit retrieval. This scalable experiment provides a meaningful solution to the larger problems of graduation rates and student engagement. Read More ›


The Show Me Campaign

In 2007, John Legend started The Show Me Campaign to give every child access to a quality education as well as address systemic issues in our criminal justice system that disproportionately impact the poor, minorities, and disadvantaged. The Show Me Campaign aims to give every single child the opportunity to not just survive, but to thrive.

National Writing Project

The National Writing Project (NWP), the founder of the Educator Innovator Initiative, is a network of educators and dedicated practitioners working together to improve practice with an eye toward young people as producers. The NWP envisions a future where every person is an accomplished writer and maker, not just a passive consumer.