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It was a chilly morning in Montana 1998, and I was finally going home. I had spent last 18 months at a “therapeutic” boarding school after a few stints in jails and wilderness programs. But instead of conveniently flying home, I was told I’d be taking a multi-day, Greyhound bus home, alone, and with very little cash. It was a last boarding school lesson I needed.
I thought a lot on that long cross-country journey about how badly broken “the system” for kids like me who made mistakes or who simply learned differently. This experience steeled me for the work I do now for students in need—for students who are like I was.
I joined Oakmont Education to find and support students who have dropped out to recover their education with individualized, hands-on learning, and skills-based job training. We recognize that dropouts don’t lose their potential to contribute simply because they dropped out of school. Oakmont offers dropouts a second chance at education—at lifelong learning. Ultimately, our number one goal is to restore a student’s capacity to hope, to provide pathways to the middle class, and to address the current worker shortage problem impacting too many communities across the country.
Too many among us still expect students to learn along a linear and an antiquated educational continuum. But why are we still opting for the same failed systems that have pushed kids like me towards the cracks?
What too many keep forgetting is that the status quo in education has already written off most students. But while most have accepted these tragic and preventable failures, we at Oakmont Education buck the system. We reject the status quo, and we are making significant strides towards ensuring every child is seen and that nobody falls through the cracks. And we mean it. We don’t care about a Twitter ratio; we care about access, opportunity, and building a scaffolding of support for all students to succeed—regardless of the journeys they take to arrive at their success.
Had you told me, or my parents, that in 2022 I’d be standing on a stage in New York City, accepting a $500,000 Yass Prize to further make an impact for students—students just like I was—nobody would have believed you. But that “pinch me” moment is real and the time for impact is now.
We at Oakmont Education plan to partner with other Yass Prize winners to do what is right for all children and their families. How else would a network of Dropout Recovery Schools in Ohio meet and partner with a public district in Alabama to assist them in making prosthetic legs with 3D printers? How else would opportunity youth from Ohio have a chance to potentially not only see the ocean for the first time, but to sail it, with our friends at Florida’s SailFuture Academy? Our students’ lives are enriched by the network we’ve built thanks to the Yass Prize family.
But this is only the beginning. The space to watch in education is here, and it’s expanding in the most beautiful, impactful, and meaningful ways for students. Don’t look away.