Wishbone.org says that 7,000 kids drop out of school every day but 5,600 would have stayed in school if it were relevant to their lives.
“Low-income students face huge disadvantages in finding relevance in school insofar as they are systemically prohibited from participation in out-of-school experiences,” says Beth Schmidt, the creator of Wishbone.org and a Ridgefield native.
“Wishbone.org is dedicated to solving this problem by removing the systemic barriers to participation, closing the opportunity gap between low-income students and their wealthier peers.”
When Ms. Schmidt moved to Los Angeles to participate in Teach for America, she was surprised by all of the disadvantages she saw placed in front of her students. The young teacher was assigned 10th graders at Locke High School in the violence-prone and impoverished area of South Central Watts. She saw in her students the motivation to achieve, but also their lack of opportunity, which she sought to change.
“They have dreams, aspirations, and pride just like a student from a wealthier community,” said Ms. Schmidt. Yet, when Ms. Schmidt showed up for her first year with Teach for America, it was clear to her that her students had zero accountability. “I was blown away by the low expectations the school community had set for their students,” said Ms. Schmidt. “Students didn’t know why to care because no one had given them any relevance as to why education mattered.”
Ms. Schmidt decided to reshape her entire curriculum so that her students had more exposure to relevant opportunities that would show them how one step leads to the next.
“My students were all passionate, but unfortunately that passion can die quickly when opportunities aren’t available for students to explore and dream of something greater than their immediate, negative environments,” she said.
Ms. Schmidt assigned a research paper, asking her students to find any out-of-school program within the area. She said that the paper must present a position of why they should attend the program.
“Seventy-five percent of students turned the paper in, as opposed to the usual 10%. This showed me that my students absolutely do have passions,” Ms. Schmidt said. “They wrote about Stem Cell Science programs, Mock Trial Institutions, film academies, leadership programs, and music and art programs.”
Seeing the passion the students possessed for their programs of choice, Ms. Schmidt decided to run a marathon that raised $12,000 to send seven of her students to the programs they researched and wished to attend. She came up with the idea of Wishbone.org soon after she saw the success of those seven.
In 2010, Wishbone.org was incorporated as a tax-exempt organization. “Starting Wishbone began by finding seed funders to back my idea,” said Ms. Schmidt.
Wishbone.org officially launched on March 12, in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. Partnered with 14 schools, seven in each region, Ms. Schmidt has grown from serving seven students to creating an organization that served 100 students in just its first year.
Ms. Schmidt was inspired by the name Wishbone from a childhood memory. “When I was young, I always used to make wishes on wishbones,” she said. “I love the symbolism of what they represent- hope for something greater, which is what Wishbone is giving the students it serves.”
Wishbone.org, as an education-based non-profit organization, relies largely on technology as the engine of its impact. Wishbone.org is an online platform that connects low-income high school students to qualified out-of-school program opportunities. The organization offers eight categories of programs for its students: Athletics, Fine Arts, Leadership, Environmental, Liberal Arts, Design, Music, and Science and Technology.
“Our organization works to guide students through introspective processes to unearth deep personal passions, which are used to identity relevant out-of-school experiences,” explained Ms. Schmidt.
Every student connected with the organization must have a sponsor teacher. Wishbone provides those teachers with interactive curriculum to assist their students in accessing opportunities.
“It takes two people to break a wishbone when wishing on it, which to me represents the student and the sponsor teacher or adult in his/ her life helping the wish come true,” said Ms. Schmidt.
Students in the program are exposed to the organization’s network of partner providers and its direct-to-student donor base. The student is then linked to donors online and offline; they help raise the funds a student needs to attend a program. Online donors may choose to fund the student’s wish they are most inspired by.
Wishbone students send updates to their donors through the organization’s online platform while they are attending their programs. The donors and supporters of the student are also updated when the student starts and ends the program to communicate the progress he or she has made.
End to end
“Unlike any other organization in the out-of-school time space, Wishbone removes all barriers for out-of-school time players by sourcing students, appropriate program providers, and individual and institutional donors,” said Ms. Schmidt. “Our goal is to be the end-to-end service in the out-of-school time space, allowing low-income students to discover their passions, find a program fit, and ultimately attend that program.”
In the U.S., “we are facing a massive opportunity gap,” she said. “We always talk about the achievement gap, but what we don’t realize is that two-thirds of the achievement gap facing low-income youth can be explained by unequal access to out-of-school learning opportunities.
“When a low-income student is systemically prohibited from confidence-building, passion-finding activities, then we wonder why they have lost that grit in school,” said said.
“Wishbone is focused on removing the critical barriers: confidence and discoverability, application, affordability, and fulfillment,” said Ms. Schmidt. “Students, classrooms, schools, program partners, and donors will benefit from a developed, unified out-of-school ecosystem.
“We don’t believe progress will come if we expect individual schools and classrooms to solve this issue by themselves. One-off solutions like bake sales and single program scholarships are, by definition, not scalable. Wishbone is a unique organizing tool, making access to meaningful out-of-school experiences personal, scalable, low-cost, and democratized. No other platform like Wishbone in the out-of-school time space currently exists.”
Being a Ridgefield native, Ms. Schmidt said that Connecticut is a region where Wishbone is considering expansion. “We have plans to expand to more regions in the next three years,” she said.
“Dare your courage,” the slogan of the organization, doesn’t apply to only the high school students who dare themselves to break through barriers and become a Wishbone student. The sponsor teachers dare their courage when they decide to support and place their faith in one high school student, Ms. Schmidt said.
For more information, visit www.wishbone.org.