VELA Education Fund Awards $665,000 in Grants to Expand Access to Nontraditional Educational Opportunities Around the Country

October 14, 2021 — VELA Education Fund today announced six recipients from around the country who will receive $665,000 in bridge grants to support more widespread adoption of nontraditional educational programs. The grants are awarded to a diverse collection of organizations — many parent-led — that are offering learning environments and resources to support students and families. 

Families’ interest in nontraditional models has soared during the pandemic, with the percentage of families homeschooling their children doubling and the percentage of Black families homeschooling their children increasing fivefold. 

Interest in VELA’s bridge grant program was similarly high. As compared to VELA’s microgrant offering, bridge grants are larger awards ($25,000-$150,000) for more established organizations that are looking to bridge to broader adoption. VELA received 162 applications and selected the six recipients from amongst this group. Two of the six organizations previously received microgrants from VELA and are now receiving larger awards.

“VELA Education Fund’s investment will deepen these programs’ offerings and make their models accessible to more families,” said Meredith Olson, President of VELA Education Fund. “We selected organizations that have demonstrated momentum meeting students’ and families’ needs and giving them the boost they need to bring their innovative models to even more people around the country.”

Here’s information about each of the six recipients:

Great Hearts America | Arizona & Texas | $150,000

Modeled after its robust classical liberal arts model of nonprofit charter schools, Great Hearts will utilize VELA’s investment to respond to families’ interest and launch four microschools this year in Arizona and Texas. Its microschools will offer flexible programs with small class sizes to meet the dramatic rise in families seeking alternative methods of educating their children. Learn more at Great Hearts America.

Smart Girls HQ | Charlotte, NC | $150,000

Smart Girls HQ offers girls exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through everyday activities, hands-on project experiences, mentorship, and toys. VELA’s bridge grant will support founder Abi Olukeye’s efforts to scale to students in nontraditional environments. Forthcoming features include options for parents of girls interested in STEM to connect with each other and access tools to explore STEM career paths. Learn more at Smart Girls HQ.

Weird Enough Productions | Atlanta | $150,000

Weird Enough Productions creates engaging comic books that support social emotional learning, digital literacy, and diverse representation. Even though students of color are most at risk for pandemic-related learning loss, only 30% of children’s books feature characters of color; founder Tony Weaver Jr. is working to change that. With VELA’s bridge grant, Weird Enough will expand its reach to more than 1 million students, including in nontraditional settings. Learn more at Weird Enough Productions.

Engage Learning Oklahoma | Oklahoma City | $135,000

Engage Learning provides in-person afterschool and summer STEM lab programming at a state-of-the-art K-12 makerspace and is expanding its offerings online. By supporting students in learning about the physics of flight, scratch coding, robotics, electronics, and advanced 3D printing, Engage Learning is helping students develop critical skills like creative problem-solving, critical-thinking, collaboration, and communication. VELA’s bridge grant will support their expansion to serve hundreds of students in nontraditional and rural communities throughout Oklahoma and nationwide through live, hands-on distance learning. Learn more at Engage Learning.

Black Mothers Forum | Louisiana | $50,000

Black Mothers Forum is a group of Black mothers who have come together to end the school-to-prison pipeline through the creation of safe and supportive learning environments for Black children. The group has launched seven microschools in Arizona and plans to use its bridge grant to expand to Louisiana and open microschools there as well. Learn more at Black Mothers Forum.

Free Forest School | Nationwide | $30,000

With more than 200 local chapters in 49 states, Minneapolis-based Free Forest School’s nature-focused program provides traditional and nontraditional educators with training and resources to implement outdoor learning for children. With its VELA funding, the organization plans to expand its membership to at least 50,000 students while piloting solutions to reach families living in lower-income and underserved communities who face the most significant barriers to access. Learn more at Free Forest School.

Bridge grant recipients and Meredith Olson, President of VELA Education, are available for interviews. If interested in pursuing a story, please contact VELA at

About VELA Education Fund 

VELA Education Fund is a national nonprofit fund that invests in nontraditional education innovations that meet learners’ unique needs. VELA awards microgrants and bridge grants to eligible individuals and organizations that are innovating outside of the traditional education system, to help them put their ideas into practice. Since it launched in fall 2020, VELA has awarded 865 grants totaling $7.35 million and reaching five million learners. VELA connects its grantees to a national network and provides them with a platform to elevate their work and learning.