Andrew Campanella: Tell me more about iLearn Schools, your model of STEAM education, and what sets this model apart?
Beanne DeGuzman: Our mission is to provide a high quality STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math)- based education in a digital learning environment. We want to try to empower our students to meet and exceed grade level standards and to succeed in their college careers and in life. That’s our main mission…Now, we are opening two new schools next year, and we’re expanding in New York, specifically the Bronx.
Andrew: What do you think is the key to success for your schools?
Beanne: I think it’s because we are working to develop the whole child. A ‘whole child,’ meaning they’re not just academically advanced, but they’re also ‘life ready.’ We just had a mini conference where we were just talking about life skills application. For example: ‘What does a credit score mean to you, and why is it important?’ to ‘Why is opening a bank account important?’ to ‘How do you pick yourself up after failure.”
Andrew: How did your Thanksgiving celebration start?
Beanne: It started more than four years ago. We decided that it’s part of giving back to our community, and to our families, to celebrate Thanksgiving as a family – as an iLearn Schools family. Seventy-five percent of our population is free and reduced lunch…and most of the students are first generation immigrants. So, they come and they don’t know about Thanksgiving yet. So, we want them to celebrate Thanksgiving with dignity because many students are coming from low-income families that might not have the capability to celebrate.
Andrew: In addition to giving turkey and food to families, and holding the dinner, you also have an art contest. Tell me more about that.
Beanne: We have a Thanksgiving place mat, where our corporate partners purchase an ad to help support the Thanksgiving dinner. Part of that placemat is also an art contest for each school. Students participate, and we pick two winners from each school. This year we have 12 schools and will have 24 winners. And at the Thanksgiving dinner, we announce the winners, give them gift cards, and also give them a certificate of participation.
Andrew: I know that your school participates, every year, in National School Choice Week. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to thank you for celebrating with us. How do you celebrate at iLearn Schools?
Beanne: We do a lot of posting on social media. We also ask our parents to post on their social media, and use hashtag #schoolchoice. And we hand each of them yellow scarves, and students go around and wear them every day for the whole week. I am a school choice parent, also, and as a parent, I wear the scarf and I go talk to people about the importance of school choice.