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Sheryl Lee Ralph, Student Tours, and Education Equity: Our Favorite Moments from Partner Summit 2023


At DonorsChoose, we know that our ability to create a more equitable education system comes from the power of our community. That’s why we set aside time each spring to meet with our most generous partners; we dive deep into our mission and build new connections. This May’s Partner Summit marked our first in-person event since 2019, and as one attendee put it, “Being back with everyone in person feels like a warm hug.”

Over two learning-packed days in Manhattan, our partners met with students and teachers at the High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice, joined our Community Homecoming reception at the iconic IAC Building, and discussed our country’s biggest education challenges and opportunities with thought leaders and educators at Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice.

Here’s a look at some of our favorite moments.

Celebrity advocates ignited us with their passion for education equity

Dr. Sheryl Lee Ralph at the DonorsChoose Community Homecoming Reception next to her quote, "It's something the whole country needs to hear: every child in the United States of America deserves the best education that they can get."

Emmy-award winner, recent doctorate, and beloved Abbott Elementary teacher Dr. Sheryl Lee Ralph surprised teachers and funders (and DonorsChoose founder Charles Best!) when she showed up to our Community Homecoming and shared her fire for supporting educators.

Another one of America’s favorite teachers, LaVar Burton, welcomed partners to the second day of our summit, emphasizing the importance of literacy for students today.

Teachers and students got vulnerable about the challenges and triumphs they face — and how DonorsChoose helps

Yvette Nicole Brown, Joy Hines, Franshesca Chaterpaul, and Erick Odom at Partner Summit above the quote, "I just want [my students] to have the best of everything." —Joy Hines, preK–5th grade teacher

DonorsChoose Board Vice Chair and actress Yvette Nicole Brown interviewed teachers Joy Hines, Franshesca Chaterpaul, and Erick Odom (photographed left to right above). These incredible educators made us laugh and cry in equal measure, sharing stories of the students they’ve supported, the unmet needs their classrooms still face, and how far they’ll go to give the most to their students.

Student drawings and shelves of supplies. Many supplies are labeled as being funded by DonorsChoose.

Students from the High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice blew us away with their poise and professionalism while giving partners a tour of their school. Students pointed out which resources had been funded through DonorsChoose and opened up about how those resources helped them recover from the social and emotional challenges caused by the pandemic.

Industry experts sparked new ideas and connections

Sharif El-Mekki at Partner Summit next to his quote, "A Black child with a single Black teacher is up to 39% less likely to drop out of school."

Sharif El-Mekki, founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development and DonorsChoose collaborator, spoke with Kristina Joye Lyles, DonorsChoose VP, Equity & Impact, about the importance of getting more Black male teachers in the classroom. In addition to telling us about the impact Black teachers have on students, he shared ways that we can invite them into the profession earlier.

Explore our collaboration with El-Mekki to understand the Black male teacher experience. 

Author Adam Alter, another longtime DonorsChoose collaborator, showed us how to navigate stuckness to reach new ideas and innovations through friction audits, and shared ways we can make it easier for people to do good. Partners walked away with a copy of his just-released book Anatomy of a Breakthrough.

Partners built new connections with the DonorsChoose mission and each other

Partner Summit attendees talking with each other

Our partners also had the chance to learn from and connect with each other. We heard insights from CSR and philanthropy experts at College Football Playoff Foundation, Google.org, and Oklahoma City Public School Foundation, and education leaders from the State of Nevada Department of Education and Utah State Board of Education shared how their departments have leveraged DonorsChoose to empower teachers in the wake of COVID-19.

To close out our event, design agency Hyperakt teamed up with Women’s Brain Trust to facilitate an interactive, creative session for attendees, inviting us to think about our goals in new ways and build resonance in communication.


Thank you to all of our attendees, speakers, and hosts for making this Partner Summit one to remember! We’re already excited for next year.

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