VELA Education Fund will develop and launch innovative learning experiences

August 4, 2020

Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers to millions of Americans, once said, “As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has.” That call to action — supporting individuals and helping them discover, develop, and apply their unique abilities — is what the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) and the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) aim to foster with the creation of the VELA Education Fund. 

Launched today, VELA — which means “sails” in Latin — will support and connect individuals and organizations that are innovating outside the lines to create alternative education solutions that recognize children as individuals. It will identify, uplift, and nurture innovators, educators, and learners operating beyond the K-12 system.

As part of its launch, VELA announced a $1 million grant program to four partners to respond to the learning disruptions impacting students due to COVID-19.  (Grants will rapidly fund educators, parents, innovators, and entrepreneurs who are developing and providing continued-learning solutions for students.) These partners include 4.0 Schools, Camelback Ventures, Homeschool Legal Defense Association, and National Parents Union.

“Every single child in this country has unlimited potential and deserves to have access to an education that nurtures their individual brilliance,” said Derek Johnson, chairman of the VELA Education Fund board. “The VELA Education Fund supports educators and entrepreneurs committed to an education system that makes this a reality. We seek to help create a world in which there are no barriers that hinder a child’s ability to pursue their chosen path in life.”

An initial $5 million in funding will support innovations outside the traditional school system structure that have the potential to provide responsive and authentic learning experiences. 

Four months into a global pandemic, with teachers and students bracing for at least another semester or learning disruptions, this collaboration is more important than ever.

VELA’s models and programs include low-cost microschools, homeschool cooperatives, youth-led programming and learning, online content, and more. VELA aims to support local, regional, and national education entrepreneurs bringing their bold ideas to life. Inaugural partnerships include: 

  • Prenda, a launchpad, tech solution, and network for microschools. Prenda combines flexible learning environments, cutting-edge techniques, human-centered technology, and passionate people to help children develop creativity, problem-solving, and 21st-century skills.
  • International Association of Colearning Communities (IACLC), an incubator of colearning communities and microschools, which provides workshops, resources, and a knowledge base for innovators starting their own educational models and spaces.
  • Hybrid homeschool research, which will study the hundreds of mixed options across the country where students attend formal classes in a brick-and-mortar school for part of the week and are homeschooled for the rest of the week. Researchers are exploring what it takes for hybrid homeschools to grow beyond early adopters and into the mainstream. 

The fund’s mission is to break down the artificial boundaries that are currently in place in America’s educational system. Too often, students see education as a conveyor belt — a path with artificial mile-markers where there is no meaningful connection between each phase along the way. From elementary school, a student matriculates into middle- and then high school because the system dictates it. The goal of the secondary education system is simply to get students into a “good” university, even if a child has no desire to go to college.

That linear scope has been shattered with COVID-19 — kids are learning anywhere and everywhere. The goal of schools, whether online or in-person, should not be just to get students to the next step. The aim should be to develop the curiosity, imagination, and problem-solving capabilities that enable children to tackle learning throughout their lives. 

Why? Because without these tools in our rapidly-changing economy, fewer individuals will survive and thrive. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, younger baby boomers held an average of 12.3 jobs from ages 18 to 52. This statistic might surprise readers. There is a myth that older workers have been loyal to just one or two companies over their lifetimes. In fact, many of those workers stayed in a job for only five years or so. The number of individual job moves, whether voluntary or compelled, likely will increase with future generations. We must educate students today so they are able to navigate the new learning curves they will encounter with each new position they occupy. 

Click here for more information about the VELA Fund.