The global spread of COVID-19 caused in the suspension of classes for more than 850 million students internationally and disturbed the traditional way of teaching. Reviewing the situation, many countries started to oﬀer online teaching in order to promote online education and re-establish the normal teaching order.
Prior to COVID-19, 40-60% of students were chronically disengaged in school and the pandemic has the potential to exacerbate this unless there is a new pathway for learning. The top reason students cite for disengaging and dropping out of high school is lack of interest because school is not relevant to their lives and career aspirations. Fortunately, a large body of research documents that real-world learning and community connections can heighten learner engagement, academic success and social mobility.
To address these challenges, CommunityShare, a company which developed an online platform that matches PK-12 and out-of-school educators and learners with community partners who serve as mentors, project collaborators, content-area consultants, guest speakers, field trip hosts and more. Some think of the platform as a “human library” that empowers educators and learners to tap into local “human books” of wisdom and experience in their community.
Story Behind the Inception
The idea for CommunityShare arose out of Josh Schachter’s own experiences as both a student and an educator. As an educator, he searched for ways to bring “real-world” relevance to his students. In 2006, Josh and his colleague Julie Kasper founded Finding Voice to support the literacy development, youth voice, and civic agency of refugee and immigrant high school students in Tucson, Arizona. “During the first year, we asked our students to write and photograph what “home” meant to them. Nearly every single image taken by the students illustrated a feeling of deep isolation and disconnection from the larger Tucson community,” states Josh. In light of this reality, Julie and Josh decided to work toward building bridges between the students and the community.
Equity is at the core of CommunityShare’s work, as it was founded to ensure that all students, regardless of zipcode and socioeconomic background, have equitable access to the social, intellectual, cultural and creative capital in their community. Josh asserts “The reality is that who you know shape one’s future, as much as what you know, in today’s network-based world.”
More than an Online Education Platform
CommunityShare was developed by educators for educators, so the solution is directly informed by those closest to the work and education challenges. CommunityShare is unique in several ways. The online platform is designed to support both in-person and virtual connections between community partners, educators and students. The vision is to fulfil the need for solutions to be adaptable according to changing conditions; particularly critical in light of COVID-19. CommunityShare serves both educators in formal PK-12 schools and out-of-school learning spaces, like afterschool programs. Many platforms focus on specific content areas, like STEM or the arts, but the organization’s community partners come from all fields and occupations.
CommunityShare is also unique in that the team not only ask community partners to share their professional “expertise “areas with students and educators, but also to consider sharing parts of their life experience, such as their cultural heritage or being the first to go to college in their family. Beyond its tech solution, the platform provides customized coaching and tools to help regional customers implement CommunityShare in their community. For example, it supports customers in developing a community partner engagement strategy, establishing a teacher fellowship around real-world learning, developing evaluation tools, and many other areas.
Here are some of the outcomes the team has seen through CommunityShare:
- 88% of learners indicated CommunityShare increased their understanding of the real-world application of content they are learning in school
- 77% of learners reported their CommunityShare experience increased their understanding of careers in a “significant” or “life-changing” way
- 97% of educators indicated that CommunityShare increased learner engagement and ownership of their own learning
- 100% of educators increased their social capital – community connections & relationships
A Solution Oriented Mind
Josh Schachter is the founder and director of CommunityShare. He is an educator, photographer, social entrepreneur, and social ecologist. He earned a master’s degree in environmental management from Yale University. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated community-based media projects with youth and nonprofits globally. He co-founded VOICES, a nonprofit that hired low-income youth as community journalists. Josh co-founded Finding Voice, a program supporting refugee/immigrant students. Josh oversees and manages CommunityShare’s operations, partnerships and fund development.
CommunityShare, under the leadership of Josh and his team, has received national and global attention. In 2017, CommunityShare was selected from over 200 applicants as one of 12 civic ventures to participate in the national Points of Light Foundation’s CivicX Accelerator. In 2019 and 2020, the Finnish nonprofit HundrED selected CommunityShare as one of the top 100 global education innovations and the staff presented at HundrED’s global summit in Helsinki. In 2020, Josh was selected as a fellow within the global Edmund Hillary Fellowship. He is a recognized thought leader in education, as he has presented at dozens of conferences across the globe from Finland to New Zealand to SXSWedu.
Visioning to Improve Learning Ecosystem
As a result of CommunityShare’s work and impact, educators and education organizations across the U.S. and globe – from New Mexico to New Zealand – have expressed an interest in bringing CommunityShare to their community. Over the past eight year, COVID-19 has only increased the demand for adaptive solutions that can support both remote and in-person learning in schools and out-of-school contexts.
Due to this growing interest, the company expanding CommunityShare beyond its home base in Tucson, Arizona and is implementing its work in cities and schools in Arizona and New Mexico. It is licensing the platform to regional partners and providing virtual coaching to support implementation. Josh opines “Our goal is to bring CommunityShare to as many students, educators and communities across the country as possible to ensure that all young people have the support and resources to reach their potential. In order to realize this goal, we are exploring partnerships with regional and national customers across the country and look forward to connecting with others looking to weave their own learning ecosystem.”