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Real World Scholars
EdCorps by Real World Scholars: Using Business as a Force for Learning
Elyse Burden, Co-Founder
The EdCorps Platform
In an educational landscape that aims to prepare students for meaningful experiences one day, we propose a different strategy, one where they have the opportunity to do important work today. Our platform allows any classroom (kindergarten through high school) to explore the entrepreneurial process through a student-run business. We take care of the scary stuff – banking, taxes, and startup funds – so students can engage in work that matters. We do this by providing seed funding for business expenses, an e-commerce dashboard to build an online store, resources to guide their business development, support through a dedicated account manager, community connections, and events.
The experience of running an Education Corporation, EdCorp for short, combines two critical learning experiences: (1) the opportunity to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and employability skills, and (2) the chance to develop and practice the technical skills needed to run a business. We believe that learning is best when it’s relevant and experiential, and this experience of running a business is a way for students to build their employability skills for career readiness.
EdCorps within the Classroom
Through the course of building the EdCorp, students can complete a series of toolkits designed to activate their learning for each area of the business. The toolkits involve resources and activities that encourage independent thinking, small group discussion, and whole team involvement. Students do everything from project management and collaborative problem solving to customer service and social media marketing. While building an EdCorp looks different in every classroom, students regularly engage in ideation and iterative design, project management and leadership, and professional communication and networking. Each of these necessary components of running a business serves as powerful learning opportunities for students, allowing them to engage in strategic risk-taking, initiative, critical thinking, collaboration, and decision-making.
Because students are tasked with making the business work, they often break into teams or departments to handle the various needs of the business. This allows the conversation of skills and strengths to not only occur but to prove that passion and talent mean something. For example, the students interested in art and design may be in the marketing department, using tools like Canva and Photoshop to create promotional materials. This process gives students the opportunity to develop professional communication skills, conversational confidence, and customer service skills with people who can help them improve individually and grow their business. At its most basic, running the business gives students the opportunities to purposefully connect their work to people beyond the classroom, be they customers, partners, or mentors.
EdCorps Outside of the Classroom
The EdCorps experience as a learning opportunity is different than others because it allows students to create purposeful collaborations with people outside of the classroom that can help them grow as individuals and professionals. Students learn the ropes from each other, community mentors, and professionals who can help them gain a tactical and actionable understanding of the tasks at hand. This could mean students spending time on the phone with suppliers, troubleshooting or finding ways to overcome their production snags. Other times, it means recruiting a board of advisors consisting of parents, community members, local businesses, to guide the business building process. Not only are students developing the technical skills that they need for the task at hand but also they’re cultivating the resourcefulness and growth mindset they need to get the job -- and future jobs -- done.
What began in 2015 with ten classrooms, grew to more than 250 classrooms with over 10,000 students nationwide in 34 states. The rapid rate of adoption made it clear that K-12 teachers saw the experience as one that would be highly beneficial for their students to gain the skills they needed. In 2018, 96% of teachers reported that their students gained more confidence over the course of the year, while 95% of teachers reported an overall improvement in students’ communication skills. 68% of students reported having some meaningful connection with a community mentor as part of building their EdCorp. These skills have been reinforced by teamwork, professional relationships, and an emphasis on storytelling about their successful collaborations.
To be clear, sales are not the primary goal of the learning experience, however, they do show a certain level of engagement and success. By September 2018, overall EdCorps revenue passed a quarter million dollars, with over $100K of that revenue coming from students’ in-person selling events. Additionally, more than 3,469 e-commerce orders have been fulfilled by student-run businesses since the fall of 2015. Each order represents a student-made product/service and the required organizational and logistical management to ensure that the product was shipped to a real customer. The fact that young students are managing the flow of real products to real people and at a reasonable scale speaks both to the viability and learning potential of the EdCorps experience.
As much as the EdCorps experience positively impacts students, we often hear from educators about the effect on their teaching. Through the process of seeing students build a business, using their voices to speak up about business decisions, using their choices to decide the path of the business developing, the educators experience the passion and the can-do engagement of the students. Educators let go of the control and let students show what they are capable of, guiding from the side to provide wisdom in those teachable moments.
Scaling Our Mission
Though we started Real World Scholars with an eye on student entrepreneurship, our work has offered a plethora of learnings about what is possible for student learning and for education innovation. While we would like every classroom to build an EdCorp, we know that isn’t possible. It takes the right combination of partnerships, rock star educators, empowered students, and a community of support to make an EdCorp grow, and we are on a mission to find those to increase our impact nationwide, while also working to build stronger community partnerships that will allow us to grow and add depth to our impact for students in the classrooms.