Two organizations with ties to IWF’s Education Freedom Center are semi-finalists for a prestigious educational innovation prize. Erika Donald’s Optima Academy Online and Colleen Dippel’s Families Empowered are in the running for the Yass Prize, an award known as the Pulitzer Prize of education innovation. 

The Yass Prize, which was initially founded as the STOP Award, was created in August of 2021 to honor those who, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, were providing excellent educational opportunities for students. Since then, it has morphed into the Yass Prize for Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding, and Permissionless (STOP) education. Last year, the organization awarded twenty million dollars to education entrepreneurs across the country. This year, they will award one lucky finalist one million dollars, eight finalists $500,000, 23 semifinalists $200,000, and 32 awardees $100,000. 

Guided by their mission to “find, reward, celebrate and expand best-in-class education organizations,” the Yass Prize seeks to create partnerships between those who create outstanding educational opportunities and students who deserve them.

Optima Academy Online is a virtual instruction provider that uses virtual reality technology to deliver a classical education for students in grades kindergarten through ninth. Born during Covid-era Zoom school, Optima Academy has developed courses in a wide range of subjects that can be experienced using virtual reality headsets. Classes at the Optima Academy are inspired by the classical tradition, which fosters a natural love of learning by emphasizing great books with the aim of moral character and civic virtue.

Erika Donalds, the President and CEO of the Foundation Optima joined Ginny Gentles, Director of IWF’s Education Freedom Center on a She Thinks podcast episode, as well as an in-depth discussion about the importance of expanding educational options and empowering parents. Donalds is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Education Freedom Center.

Families Empowered is a Texas-based non-profit that envisions a state in which all families are well equipped to navigate the vast educational choice landscape. Families Empowered recognizes the unique challenges that researching, applying for, and choosing the perfect educational fit for a child poses. For this reason, they offer free services to families in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Tarrant County. 

Families Empowered serves families by inviting them to fill out a form or call a representative to request information about the options available to their child, ranging from private schools to charter, magnet, and homeschooling options. Families Empowered also recognizes that parents of special needs students may need extra support in navigating the grant opportunities for students in Texas and provides guidance on steps to take to apply. 

The winner of the Yass Prize will be announced on December 13 at an awards ceremony hosted in conjunction with Forbes Media.

The Yass Prize is an exciting opportunity for education innovators who are working to provide unique opportunities for the next generation. Not only will the inflow of cash allow these extraordinary organizations to serve more students, but it will also inspire other creative entrepreneurs to build their own educational organizations that meet the needs of students and families everywhere.