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Real World Scholars
EdCorps by Real World Scholars: Using Entrepreneurship as a Force for Learning
Elyse Burden, Co-Founder
The EdCorps Platform
In a world that often focuses on preparing students for meaningful experiences one day, we propose a different strategy, one where students have the opportunity to do important work today. The EdCorps 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 credit card processing – so students can engage in work that matters. We support classrooms with funding for expenses, a classroom-friendly e-commerce dashboard, resources to help them grow the business, personalized support, and community collaboration.
The experience of running an EdCorp combines two critical learning experiences: (1) the opportunity to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and 21st-century skills and (2) the chance to operate a real business and gain valuable experience. Learning is most powerful when relevant, experiential, and connective and entrepreneurship can serve as a flexible vehicle for making that happen.
EdCorps within the Classroom
Through the course of building the EdCorp, students can complete toolkits designed to activate the entrepreneurial mindset and engage them in real-world activities that help them build their business. The toolkits encourage independent thinking, small group collaboration, and connection to an authentic audience. Students are responsible for everything from project management and collaborative problem solving to customer service and social media marketing. While building an EdCorp may look different in every classroom, students regularly engage in ideation and iterative design, leadership and community service, and professional communication and networking. Each of these components serves as a powerful learning opportunity for students, allowing them to practice strategic risk-taking, 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 students to explore their skills, strengths, and interests, and gain exposure to experiences that will hone their skills and passions. 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 opportunity to purposefully connect their work to people beyond the classroom, be they customers, partners, or mentors.
EdCorps Outside of the Classroom
The EdCorp experience is a unique learning opportunity that allows students to build purposeful and mutually empowering relationships with community members outside of the classroom. Students learn the ropes from each other, community mentors, and professionals allowing them to gain a tactical and actionable understanding of what it takes to bring a project to life. Connecting with the community might look like students spending time on the phone with suppliers, working with local retailers to develop new products, or recruiting a board of advisors to help steer the business building process. Not only are students developing the technical skills needed for the task at hand they’re also cultivating the resourcefulness and growth mindset they need to get the job - and future jobs - done.
An Education Corporation can be built in any classroom, no matter what subject, state or grade. What began in 2015 with ten classrooms, has grown to over 400 classrooms with over 31,000 students in 34 states that have built student-run businesses. The rapid rate of grassroots adoption made it apparent that K-12 teachers saw the experience as 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. Additionally, 68% of students report 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.
While sales can excite the students and keep them engaged, they are not the primary goal of the learning experience. As of 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 4,000 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 entrepreneurial hustle required to ensure that the product was shipped to a real customer.
As much as the EdCorps experience positively impacts students, educators also report a noticeable impact on their teaching. The entrepreneurial process changes the classroom dynamics and the role of the teacher, from sage on the stage to facilitator and co-learner. As educators cultivate these entrepreneurial learning experiences in their classrooms, their own pedagogical approach becomes more empowering. As a result, teachers are not just better postured to guide students through the entrepreneurial process, they can also better model the entrepreneurial mindset.
Scaling Our Mission
Though we started Real World Scholars with an eye on student entrepreneurship, our work has offered insights into what is possible for student learning – and also, what kind of hindrances stand in the way. Today, we work to connect students to authentic learning experiences and we’re always on the hunt for educators passionate about doing the same and partners who want to support youth entrepreneurship in their region. If you are interested in learning more about how you can partner with RWS as an educator or supporting partner, contact us at https://www.realworldscholars.org/contact/.