District, school and individual champions are recognized for their commitment to high quality Project Based Learning

Novato, CA (July 13, 2021) – PBLWorks, the leading provider of professional development for Project Based Learning (PBL), has announced its 2021 PBL Champions – a program that honors schools, districts and individuals for their commitment to high quality Project Based Learning. This year for the first time, the program includes two school district Champions, and a PBL Champion of the Decade.

The 2021 PBL Champions are:

PBL Champion Districts

  •  Pearl City Waipahu Complex Area (Waipahu, Hawaii)
  • Manchester School District (Manchester, New Hampshire)

PBL Champion School

  • Waxpool Elementary School (Loudoun County Public Schools, Virginia)

PBL Champion Individual

  • Dr. Yolanda Roberson, Interventionist at John P. Freeman Optional School (Memphis, Tennessee)

PBL Champion of the Decade

  • George Lucas, film director, producer, screenwriter, and entrepreneur

“All students should experience (Project Based Learning), especially Black and brown students because we know the power of the academic success, the success skills, and the agency that comes through PBL. It is a civil right,” said PBLWorks CEO Bob Lenz in announcing the PBL Champions at the 2021 PBL World conference. “By selecting these organizations and individuals, we are sharing the stories of the people who are the co-conspirators, who are the brave ones, who are making change right now in schools, districts, and in classrooms. I couldn’t be more inspired by their work.”

During the 2021 PBL World Conference, PBLWorks also announced the creation of the “John Larmer Lifetime Learner Award” named after author and PBLWorks’ longtime editor-in-chief John Larmer. The new program will provide annual scholarships for two teachers to attend the PBL World conference starting in 2022.

About the Champions

Pearl City Waipahu Complex Area in Hawaii and the Manchester School District in New Hampshire were both selected as PBL Champion Districts for their work to scale high quality Project Based Learning during a three-year research partnership with PBLWorks. Since the partnership began, more than 70% of the students in their districts have now experienced high quality Project Based Learning.

“The commitment we made for PBL to be implemented across all of our schools has transformed the way we facilitate teaching and learning,” said Pearl City-Waipahu Complex Area Superintendent Keith Hui. “Our ultimate goal was to ensure students are college, career, and citizenship ready when they leave our school system, and PBL has helped propel us in this effort.”

Amy Allen, assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and leading for the Manchester School District, called Project Based Learning “a game changer for our students, teachers, and district. It has improved our student engagement, teacher efficacy, and student experiences,” she said.

Waxpool Elementary School in Loudoun County, Virginia, was named the PBL Champion School for its commitment to Project Based Learning, including during the pandemic. The school opened in 2019 as a “wall-to-wall concept school” focused on Project Based Learning. “We were truly making the decision to create today's 21st century learners,” said Principal Michael Pellegrino about the school’s PBL work the last two years. “Providing students with experiences relevant to their lives really helped to meet the needs of all students regardless of previous experiences, background knowledge, race, gender, (or) economics.”

Dr. Yolanda Roberson, Interventionist at John P. Freeman Optional School in Tennessee was selected as the PBL Champion Individual for her PBL work including leading a school-wide PBL project this year called “flatten the curve” in which all student projects were centered on the coronavirus pandemic. “What my school and I were able to do this year has been a life-changing experience for me,” Roberson said. “You have the opportunity to help students think critically, bring out their creativity, learn to collaborate with those that they may not have worked with otherwise, (and) develop their reading or communication skills. They can develop these skills all while sharing something about their culture and background with you.”
She said Project Based Learning creates moments that are life-changing for students and is an opportunity to advance racial equity. “All you need is heart, enthusiasm, and a willingness to go outside of your comfort zone to give your students voice and choice, and a lens through which you can see the endless opportunities for your students, especially those that cannot see their full potential, but you can,” she said. “Remember, if you grab their heart, their minds will follow.”

George Lucas was selected for a special recognition as the 2021 PBL Champion of the Decade for his significant contributions to the field of education and promotion of high quality Project Based Learning through the George Lucas Education Foundation: Lucas Education Research (LER) and Edutopia.
“We're trying to introduce people to social and emotional learning, to multi-disciplinary studies, to Project Based Learning – things that have been taken for granted for so long,” Lucas said during a recorded speech. “The skills kids need to come out of high school and college with are the skills of a problem-solver, of a creative thinker, of a collaborator, of a lifetime learner,” said Lucas. “That's what our goal is, to help people see what's possible and then we implement it in a way that changes what kids learn.”

About PBLWorks

PBLWorks (the brand name of the Buck Institute for Education) believes that all students – no matter where they live or what their background – should have access to quality Project Based Learning to deepen their learning and achieve success in college, career, and life. Our focus is on building the capacity of teachers to design and facilitate quality Project Based Learning, and on supporting school and system leaders in creating the conditions for these teachers to succeed with all students.