VELA Education Fund Announces More Than $2 Million in Grants to Rethink Educational Options That Meet Students’ and Families’ Needs

JULY 7, 2021 — National nonprofit VELA Education Fund announced today that more than 200 families and organizations will receive microgrants as part of a $2.1 million round of funding that supports the type of nontraditional educational options that flourished during the pandemic. The funding supports students, parents, educators, and community leaders who are designing custom education solutions for their communities, such as microschools, homeschool co-ops, and after-school programs. 

The 233 grantees represent 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. More than 50 percent of grantees identify as people of color. Together, the group of grantees report serving more than 685,000 learners and families, and the grants will allow them to serve approximately 615,000 more, or over 1.3 million in total. 

Grantees include Genevieve Chin, an 18-year-old who founded the Los Angeles Youth Changemakers Initiative to encourage other teenagers to pursue interdisciplinary exploration and social entrepreneurship. Chin, who will enroll in UCLA this fall, and her sister, Roselyn, a high school student, are working with the public library system to engage students across the city in hackathons and workshops to expose young people to the myriad of careers they could explore.

“This inspiring group of grantees are everyday entrepreneurs who are taking action to ensure children have educational opportunities that meet their needs,” said Meredith Olson, VELA’s president. “The pandemic underscored the importance of adaptation, and VELA’s grantees are developing nimble, creative approaches to education that put families in the driver’s seat.” 

Recipients will receive an unrestricted grant of $10,000 or $2,500. In addition to the funding, grantees will access a network of creative, resourceful individuals who they can convene with and learn from. 

For this latest round of funding, grantees include:

Cherelle McKnight, founder of P.O.W.E.R. Academic Strength and Conditioning

With instruction delivered virtually during the pandemic, many students struggled to progress academically. That’s where Cherelle McKnight comes in. The Atlanta-area resident and former teacher is a math whiz with expertise in using online tools to teach remotely. “I try as much as possible to dissolve the screen,” she says. McKnight works with students from kindergarten to ninth grade from across the country. She also uploads read alouds to YouTube, where some of her videos have been viewed more than 230,000 times

Iris Chen, author of Untigering

Iris Chen is an author and unschooling mother of two children who lives in the Los Angeles area. Unschooling is a consent-based lifestyle and educational approach that values children’s self-direction and autonomy. Chen received a grant from VELA to support writing a new book about her experience with unschooling, especially as an Asian American who grew up in a highly structured, traditional school environment where academic achievement was emphasized. The book is expected in fall 2022.

Angie Channell, leader of the Mountaineer Homeschool Hub

Channell leads the Mountaineer Homeschool Hub, a homeschool enrichment center for families in and around Morgantown, West Virginia. Participation more than quadrupled during the pandemic, leading the program to move into a new space this summer (a kickoff event is planned for August 14). This summer, the Homeschool Hub is offering classes on gravity and photography; past offerings have included Grossology and Wagons Ho! 

These grant recipients were chosen from more than 500 applications that VELA received from across 47 states, a sign of strong interest in nontraditional educational options even as the pandemic subsides. During the height of the pandemic, the percentage of families who were homeschooling their children more than doubled, and rose more than fivefold for Black families, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau

More than half of the recipients in this round described their idea as a nontraditional learning environment. Scores of other grantees said their grant would support content or learning materials or support for learners and families. 

These grantees will join a community that includes more than 450 grantees from VELA’s first round of funding in fall 2020, who have been featured in videos and stories in USA Today, PBS, and other major news outlets.

“We are impressed by the ideas that caught fire during the pandemic and by the humanity that everyday entrepreneurs are bringing back to education,” said Olson, VELA Education Fund President. “VELA’s Meet the Moment 2.0 investment will help to sustain and expand this innovative education movement going forward.”

Please contact Lisa Cohen if you are interested in a story on VELA or its grantees. 

About VELA Education Fund

VELA Education Fund is an independent national nonprofit that invests in nontraditional education innovations that meet the needs of learners and families. VELA partners with organizations and communities to administer grants to eligible individuals and organizations that are innovating outside of the traditional education system. VELA connects its grantees to a national network and provides them with a platform to elevate their work and learning. Through Meet the Moment 1.0, VELA worked with five partners to distribute more than $2.7 million to 450 grantees, who were located in 43 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Together, the Meet the Moment 1.0 grantees impacted more than 225,000 children and families.