Examining Student-Centered Learning Through a Racial Equity Lens

Nick Donohue

Apr 15 · 3 min read

Photo by Yogesh Rahamatkar on Unsplash

Over the past decade and in partnership with many educators, organizers, and communities across the region, the Foundation has played a part in advancing personalized, student-centered approaches to learning across the New England region. This approach has been rooted in assumptions that traditional approaches are not sufficient to address the great disparities in learning outcomes. And while we are still very committed to advancing these approaches we are learning more about what is needed to bring the full benefit of student-centered learning to bear in the name of racially equitable outcomes.

Over the last couple of years at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we’ve spent time using a racial equity lens to inspect our past grantmaking strategy that had been focused exclusively on student-centered learning. Additionally, we’ve spent time reflecting on our internal culture and grantmaking practices to inspect and disrupt how white supremacy culture shows up within our organization.

I’ve come to believe that without explicitly focusing on race and increasing public urgency around equity, we will never be able to dismantle a system built to separate and sort students by background, race, and opportunity and replace it with a more effective and equitable approach.

As I enter my final year of working at the Foundation, I’ve spent a good deal of time reflecting on the impact of the organization and our grantee partners’ work throughout the region. I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished together, from advancing innovative, student-centered approaches to supporting young people to thrive. At the same time, I’ve reflected on the limits of our initial grantmaking strategy. I’ve come to believe that without explicitly focusing on race and increasing public urgency around equity, we will never be able to dismantle a system built to separate and sort students by background, race, and opportunity and replace it with a more effective and equitable approach.

Download a copy of the report

Today, our partners at Coalition of Schools Educating Boy’s of Color are releasing the first phase of research examining student-centered learning through a racial equity lens — informed by community organizations, parents, students, and educators throughout the region. This report tells us what many have long known to be true — that the current student-centered framework as it exists has lacked an explicit focus on racial equity and needs to integrate such a focus to be an effective tool in this effort. The research gives us hope that stakeholders view student-centered learning as a strategy to potentially address racial inequities — but we know that there are many conditions that must be present for these practices to take root (equitable access to transportation, mental health supports, and antiracist curriculum, to name a few).

I am proud to support this work that will continue to inspect our current student-centered learning frame, to better lay the groundwork for these approaches to flourish in ways that most center those impacted in conversations, decision-making, and practices. Phase 2 of the Equity and Student-Centered Learning Project will investigate the development and use of equitable student-centered learning practices by community stakeholders in order to advance racial equity in schools. We look forward to continuing this learning journey with you.

Download a copy of the report!

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to…

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to Board of Directors

Today, we are thrilled to announce the appointment of Cristina Jiménez Moreta, co-founder and former executive director of United We Dream, the country’s largest immigrant-youth-led network, to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board of Directors. As a new member of the board, Cristina’s leadership and extensive experience in community organizing will aid the Foundation in advancing racial equity in public education.

“We are honored to welcome her to our Board of Directors as we continue to fight for racial equity and equal access to excellent public education for all students in New England.” — Nick Donohue

“Cristina has been a powerful force in the immigrant justice movement, empowering and organizing young people and communities of color across the country for over a decade,” Nick Donohue, President and CEO of Nellie Mae said. “We are honored to welcome her to our Board of Directors as we continue to fight for racial equity and equal access to excellent public education for all students in New England.”

“The Nellie Mae Board of Directors is thrilled to have Cristina joining us,” said Greg Gunn, chair of the Nellie Mae Board. “Cristina brings unmatched experience in movement and coalition building, community organizing, and public policy that will support the foundation in moving its agenda forward.”

Cristina is a nationally recognized organizer and movement strategist who has been instrumental in building a sustained and influential youth-led immigrant movement. In recognition of her work as a social justice organizer, Cristina received a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, the Four Freedoms Award, and a spot on the 2018 TIME 100 List. She has been celebrated in various lists including “Forbes 30 under 30 in Law and Policy” and the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “40 under 40 Young Leaders Who are Solving Problems of Today and Tomorrow.”

“In communities across New England, courageous young people are driving the change they want to see. I am thrilled to support them and continue the fight for a more just future for all young people with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.” — Cristina Jiménez Moreta

“Young people of color are facing unprecedented challenges, and the work of advancing racial equity in public education has never been more critical,” said Cristina Jiménez Moreta. “In communities across New England, courageous young people are driving the change they want to see. I am thrilled to support them and continue the fight for a more just future for all young people with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.”

Cristina co-founded United We Dream (UWD), the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country. Under Cristina’s leadership as Executive Director, UWD has grown into a powerful network of nearly one million members and has played a pivotal role in shifting the policy conversation and narrative about immigrants and immigration, ultimately influencing policy. Cristina was instrumental in UWD’s successful campaign for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She migrated to the U.S from Ecuador with her family at the age of 13, growing up undocumented.

In recognition of her work as a social justice organizer, Cristina received a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, the Four Freedoms Award, and a spot on the 2018 TIME 100 List. Cristina has appeared in hundreds of national and local media outlets including USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, HBO, The New York Times, the LA Times, ABC, NPR, The Huffington Post, Univision, Telemundo, and La Opinion. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, Huffington Post, and El Diario.

Cristina proudly serves on the Board of Directors of the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy (NCRP), Hazen Foundation, and Make the Road Action Fund. Cristina also co-founded the New York State Youth Leadership Council, the Dream Mentorship Program at Queens College, was an immigration policy analyst for the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and an immigrant rights organizer at Make the Road New York.

Cristina holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration & Public Policy from the School of Public of Affairs at Baruch College, CUNY and graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in Political Science and Business from Queens College, CUNY. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Letters & Humanities by Wesleyan University.


The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.