Exhibits | Models of Excellence

These curated collections of student work highlight what is possible when students and teachers are engaged in work that is challenging, adventurous, and meaningful. We feature these projects in the hopes they will inspire discussion, provoke thinking, and model powerful ideas in action. These exhibits offer context and frameworks, rich storytelling, videos, and resources to improve teaching and learning.


Student Work That Contributes To A Better World

Our inaugural exhibition made possible by The Estée Lauder Companies features a carefully curated collection of student work explicitly focused on citizenship, community building and making a difference. Each project featured in this exhibit has changed the world for the better and it is our hope is that this collection will serve as a true source of empowerment for teachers and inspiration for students.

A tour has interactive tags placed on a significant image from the project. Hovering over a tag allows you to enter a particular point of interest and learn more about the project. Please begin with the red tag for a summary of the ways in which the student work contributed to a better world. Additional tags will illuminate key aspects of the project (fieldwork, products, interviews, expert contributions) and allow you to explore through text, music, video, and additional images.

  1. Tidepool Treasures
  2. Erie Canal Project: Revitalize Rochester
  3. Peacekeepers
  4. Hooked On Books
  5. The Colorado Coralition
  6. Small Acts of Courage
  7. Greenprint
  8. Perspectives of San Diego Bay: A Field Guide
  9. A to Z Book of Homelessness
  10. The Other Side: Groove
  11. Wheelchair Hand Drive


Tour #1 Tidepool Treasures

1st and 2nd Grade | High Tech Elementary
San Diego, CA

Kindergarten and first-grade students from High Tech High Elementary North County in San Diego, CA learned about the natural phenomena of tides and the tidepool habitat and then worked to educate others and advocate for sea creatures. Students created a beautiful interactive kit of tools and games, illustrated books, and led a public exhibition of their work.


Tour #2 Erie Canal Project: Revitalize Rochester

6th Grade | Genesee Community Charter School
Rochester, NY

Over two years, sixth grade classes created professional-quality reports submitted to the city government of Rochester advocating for the revitalization of the downtown by re- watering derelict sections of the Erie Canal. Students endorsed a previously-failed bond issue and engineering plan to renew the canal pathways and the urban center.

Students raised funds and, in small teams, visited cities that had successfully revitalized their downtowns through a central water feature—Providence, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Ottowa. In each city, they interviewed city leaders, engineers, business leaders and citizens to get background data and evidence-based arguments for their report.

With expert guidance, students also surveyed city residents to determine support and successfully lobbied the city to re-open the issue. Thanks to the student campaign, the city has agreed to commit millions of dollars to this project.


Tour #3 Peacekeepers

7th Grade | Polaris Charter Academy
Chicago, IL

After studying deeply the U.S. Constitution and 2nd Amendment, middle school students worked to address the plague of gun violence in their urban community. Hundreds of incidents of gun violence occurred around the school each year; 96% of students personally knew a victim.

Students researched local efforts to address the problem. They met with community leaders and police; created PSA’s that aired on local TV and were shown to legislators; interviewed local activists, clergy and members of law enforcement working for peace, and profiled those heroes in text and photos in a published book, Peacekeepers of Chicago.

Students also organized a “City-wide Day of Peace”, during which gun violence disappeared for one day in their area of Chicago for the first time in history. They organized community “Sweep and Greet” events: neighborhood gatherings with music and food where citizens worked together to clean up the streets.


Tour #4 Hooked On Books: State-wide Literacy Campaign

4th–8th Grades | Santa Fe School for the Arts and Sciences
Santa Fe, NM

Middle school students created a literacy campaign to reach low- income children; it expanded to a state-wide reading program, Hooked on Books, that recruited student leaders from across New Mexico. The program included a range of literacy supports and incentives for young readers, all designed and run by students.

Students directed reading contests with prizes that reached 32 schools and over 1,000 participants; built bookshelves, filled and refilled with donated children’s books, placed in waiting areas of hospitals and service agencies; created a program for incarcerated fathers to record read-aloud books for their children; and created and led a summer camp for young low- income students to boost engagement and skill in reading.

The summer reading camp, Reading Is Magic, designed and run entirely by students, resulted in an average tested gain of an entire year of reading level for the young campers in only two weeks.


Tour #5 The Colorado Coralition

7th-10th Grades | Polaris Expeditionary Learning School
Fort Collins, CO

Inspired by their teacher's own transformative experience of learning to scuba dive and volunteering with a coral restoration group, students from Polaris Expeditionary Learning School in Fort Collins, Colorado engaged in a project with multiple components: in-depth study of environmental issues surrounding the decline of healthy coral reefs, scuba certification for students, a trip to serve in the coral restoration efforts on a reef in the Florida Keys, and spreading the message about their learning and experiences through presentations, music, and video. Explore this project here! Materials include two documentaries, student reflections, and descriptions of key components with teacher commentary


Tour #6 Small Acts of Courage

7th Grade | King Middle School
Portland, ME

As part of a study of the civil rights movement, urban middle school students researched local citizens who were active in the movement across the U.S. Students studied the history of the era and the civil rights movement and then interviewed unheralded local heroes who struggled for social justice.

The students created a series of four books featuring oral histories of these local heroes that described their contributions to the movement, along with photographic portraits. The books were donated to the African American Collection of Maine.

Students hosted their interviewees at the school for a formal ceremony where the contributions of these heroes were celebrated and the books were inducted into the state collection. Their project inspired other schools to create similar books celebrating the contributions of local citizens.


Tour #7 Greenprint

9th Grade | Springfield Renaissance School
Springfield, MA

Freshman science students at this urban secondary school, as part of a learning expedition called “Powering the 21st Century”, were trained by city engineers and financial managers to conduct energy audits of city buildings: assessing the efficiency of HVAC, appliances, boilers, insulation, and windows.

The students created a report that recommended energy-saving renovations to city schools, with plans for building improvements and a cost-benefit analysis of investments and savings over time. They recommended that the city invest $156,000 in renovations, guaranteeing a five-year payback.

The city followed the student recommendations, renovated the buildings, and saved over $160,000 in two years, helping the city financially and helping the environment. The city then set aside $250,000 and asked students to study other buildings. 100% of this class graduated high school and was accepted to college.


Tour #8 Perspectives of San Diego Bay: A Field Guide

9-12th Grades | High Tech High
San Diego, CA

Students at High Tech High in San Diego, CA engaged in deep research about the San Diego Bay, research went beyond listing and classifying species; they were involved in multiple research projects, including census collection of macro-invertebrates as indicators of the health of the water in the bay and boat channels. Students created a professional-quality field guide that met a genuine market need, as there was no existing field guide to the bay. With a forward written by Jane Goodall, this book set a new standard in the genre of student products known as field guides.


Tour #9 A to Z Book of Homelessness

3rd and 4th Grades | Capital City Public Charter School
Washington, D.C.

Third and fourth graders wished to extend kindness to the homeless adults who surrounded their urban school. They organized research teams to interview staff at shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, police stations, as well as homeless people themselves, to understand: why people become homeless; how society helps them; and how they, as students, could help.
In addition to contributing through charity, the students wanted to contribute through education. Because they learned that many homeless had lost more than a home, but also their self-respect, they created a book to remind young people that homeless people are worthy of respect.

They created an ABC book for young readers that celebrated the humanity of homeless people, with text in English and Spanish, and watercolor illustrations. They donated copies of the book to schools and shelters to be read by and to young children.


Tour #10 The Other Side: Groove

9th -12th Grades | High School for Recording Arts
St. Paul, MN

When faced with the statistic that every 26 seconds in America a student drops out of school, High School for the Recording Arts (HSRA) students in St. Paul, MN reacted with shock and disbelief—then they took action. Investigating this statistic through in-depth research, students became passionate about building a campaign to combat student dropout rates. Their work—called BMOR26— was thought-led by HRSA students and sponsored by State Farm. It included: engaging social media; working on a logo; garnering pledges from students; an entire album around dropout prevention; and videos to explain the power and importance of school.


Tour #11 Wheelchair Hand Drive

7th-12th Grades | Nuvu: The Innovation School
Cambridge, MA

As part of the studio, “Hacking Wheelchairs for Urbanity” NuVu students in Cambridge, MA were tasked with improving the wheelchair by accessorizing it as opposed to redesigning the chair itself. Students created an affordable, easy to use product with a free, open source design. As the studio came to an end, the team was invited to show their invention to the White House Science Fair where President Obama came to their station, tested the device, and was impressed by the concept.