In partnership with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (Robert F. Kennedy Center), Schools That Can (STC) announced the winners of the first-ever Robert F. Kennedy Urban Education Awards. The annual ceremony honors urban school leader, teacher, and student from across education sectors who have turned adversity into opportunity.

Kate Kennedy, granddaughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, presented the inaugural awards at the Gala Dinner at the STC National Forum on Thursday in Harlem, with Robert F. Kennedy Speak Truth To Power Human Rights Education and Training Manager Karen Robinson in attendance.

“Robert F. Kennedy, dedicated his life to justice,” said Kate Kennedy. “The United States Department of Justice is housed in the Robert F. Kennedy building in Washington, D.C., as a tribute to the man who dedicated his life to justice and civil rights. For people my age, education is the civil rights issue of our generation. Just as it was important to single out civil rights leaders in the 50s and 60s, it is important to do the same today. That is why I think this award, in the name of my grandfather, is relevant to urban youth today.”

“We are at a defining Sputnik moment in education where our future quality of living standards and ability to compete globally will be determined in the next five to ten years,” said Michael Druckman, Executive Chairman at Schools That Can. “As a reflection of Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy, we must commemorate our fellow Americans defying the status quo and learn from them as models of success.”

School Leader Honorees:

Father Edwin Leahy
St. Benedict’s Preparatory; Newark, NJ
School Sector: Independent

“In 1972, a group of monks left the Newark Abbey, home to St. Benedict’s Prep, after closing the school because of the changing demographics of Newark. Father Edwin was chosen by his fellow monks to lead the school as it reopened and he has continued to lead it for 41 years… Under Father Edwin’s leadership and direction as Headmaster, St. Benedict’s has grown to over 550 students from around the region, the state, the country, and the world. The property has grown to 13 acres, including a dormitory, world class gym and pool complex, library, and fields.” – Erin Sweeney, St. Benedict’s Preparatory; Newark, NJ

Frank Lozier
Laurel Street Elementary School; Compton, CA
School Sector: Public District

“Frank Lozier could have ended up as another statistic summing up the plight of men of color. As a high school student in Oakland, he was homeless and essentially had to raise himself. Rather than letting his circumstances determine his destiny, Frank saw education as the one stable institution in his life: the path to forging his own future. Rather than seeking pity from his teachers, he sought out the most challenging classes that would put him on a path to college… As a principal, he has led his school to an Academic Proficiency Index to above 900 (out of 1000) for three consecutive years. His Compton students are performing on par with their more affluent peers in Beverly Hills.” – Roy Quinto, American Martyrs School; Los Angeles, CA

Teacher Honoree:

Rachel Friedman
Civicorps Academy; Oakland, CA
School Sector: Charter

“In July 2013, things were heating up in Oakland, CA. The facts surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin and subsequent verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman sent our school into a tailspin. Students, staff, and the greater Oakland community were outraged and left feeling hopeless. At this same time the movie Fruitvale Station was being released. The situations of both of these young men hit home.

Searching for a way to validate the feelings of our school community and create positive outlets for their discontent with “the system”, Rachel guided our team in creating a Teach-In. During this 2-day event, entitled “From Injustice to Social Action”, students, staff, guest speakers, and members of the broader community came together to critically analyze the issues surrounding the Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant murders.” – Tessa Nicholas, Civicorps; Oakland, CA

Student Honoree:

Marisol Santiago
P.S. 69X Journey Prep; Bronx, NY
School Sector: Public District

“Before Marisol was enrolled in PS 69X, she was diagnosed with a rare cancer located in her legs. At a mere four years old, her diagnoses was grim and so were her chances. Immediately, she began a fight that would show not only her true character, but reveal a true hero underneath. After painful and aggressive treatments, Marisol lost her hair, her strength, but not her hope.

Whereas many adults in her situation would give up, run and hide, Marisol did not. She became her best advocate. Educating the children and adults around her, she spoke eloquently about the fight and the suffering that she not only experienced, but shared with so many who face the same challenges she did. She blossomed from a young child to a strong individual who inspired others and provided hope in all aspects of life.

Along with her mother, she founded Princess for a Lifetime, an organization that supports children who suffer from Cancer. She has shown determination and resilience in her own life and within school. Academically, Marisol has shone brightly and has never faded. She continues to absorbed knowledge and grow as not only a student but a person.” – Sheila Durant, P.S.69X Journey Prep; Bronx, NY

In addition to the RFK Urban Education Awards, this year’s STC Forum, The Power of Transformation in Urban Education, featured workshops, panels, and presentations led by education thought leaders including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, NY State Education Commissioner John King, “Grit” researcher Angela Duckworth, Harlem Children’s Zone Former President & CEO Geoffrey Canada, and others. Sessions were held on creating 21st century learning environments, teaching cognitive skills, building community engagement with urban schools, sharing innovative schools practices, and more.

About Schools That Can: STC is a national nonprofit that improves the quality of urban education for the 21st century by working across education sectors with high-performing and high-potential schools. STC facilitates peer to peer learning, partnerships, equips students and leaders with 21st century skills, and provides peer recognition and support locally between schools and nationwide between cities for the purpose of sustaining and growing high-performing urban schools. Its current network of schools serves over 52,000 students nationwide.

For more information or schedule an interview, contact Stephanie Whited, 646.335.3987,