There are different ways to learn. There’s sitting in a classroom, listening to the teacher and learning as much as possible. There’s also developing your own line of sugar scrubs, handcrafted wooden guitars or personalized drink coasters. That’s what Real World Scholars has made possible for thousands of students around the country. The nonprofit, in its own words, has created an e-commerce platform that allows any teacher to operate a classroom-based business. Beside $1,000 grants, RWS also takes care of the banking, taxes and web support, enabling teachers and students to focus on real-world entrepreneurial opportunities.
When RWS was launched in 2015, by co-founders John Cahalin and Elyse Burden, the foundation started with 10 classrooms. Word spread so quickly that by the end of the year, they were in 40 classrooms, and by the start of the 2017-18 school year, there were more than 300 teachers across 34 states. And RWS has six full-time employees with hopes of adding more in the near future.
“We want to put money into the hands of the teachers and students and allow them to try new ideas, to take entrepreneurial chances, to get kids out of the classroom and into real-world experiences,” Burden says. “We want them problem-solving; we want them learning to have professional interactions.”
Teachers and students taking part in the program start with first-graders and run through seniors in high school. In fact, Elm Street Elementary first-graders in Ashley Greenways’ class have earned more than $30,000 in profits running Sugar Kids Beauty the past two years. They sell sugar scrubs and bath sprinkles, and most of the money has been donated to charities in the community.
“It’s also about social change in their communities,” Burden says. “We’re now dissolving the walls between the classroom and the community, allowing the students to become more interactive in their environments.”
“We want them problem-solving; we want them learning to have professional interactions.”
As RWS has grown, its founders are looking for new ways to raise money and expand, including partnerships. Another goal is becoming more involved in vocational high schools, helping students who aren’t looking to attend college.
“With this e-commerce platform, we can be in any classroom; it’s allowed us to give students another learning tool,” Burden says. “We’ve learned so much just these last few years. We’ve already changed so much of how we function as an organization. No matter how much we grow, we’re never going to lose that personal, one-on-one relationship with the teachers and students.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.