Imagine a website for teens where they get personalized empowering “Keys To Success” from DJ Khaled, SAT text message prep, and tons of free goodies just for being engaged in their education and technology. Actually, there’s no need to image at all.
Get Schooled was founded five years ago through a partnership with Viacom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. To date, they’ve reached 5 million young people in the United States with the mission to empower and engage them through gamification to give them the tools to get the education they need to succeed. Nourisha Wells, Senior Director of Digital Strategy and Technology at Get Schooled, shares why its necessary, how families can get involved and more.
EBONY.com: Tell us a little bit about Get Schooled and what it offers to young people?
Nourisha Wells: Get Schooled is a digital gamified platform that uses technology, pop culture, social media, celebrity, and just general fun to get students engaged in their education. Our goal is to improve attendance, graduation and FAFSA completion rates in schools across the country and we primarily target low-income inner city young people of color so most of our kids are in that category.
EBONY.com: A study on Get Schooled‘s site found that more than 80% of high school students report having the desire to attend a 4-year-college. What do you think makes some of them nervous about that process?
Nourisha Wells: A lot of them don’t know what to expect. The students that we tend to serve are most likely first generation college students and they just don’t have any knowledge of the process, so they mentally check out. They also go to schools where they don’t have access to guidance counselors. We found that the majority of my students only receive 19 minutes of guidance counseling throughout their four years of high school, which of course is not going to prepare them for college. I think the biggest thing that they worry about is being able to pay for it. Most students just see the price tag and don’t understand how FAFSAs and financial aid works.
EBONY.com: How do you reach the students?
Nourisha Wells: It’s a mix of individual student and school engagement. We do these things called “challenges” where we get schools to sign up based on what their goals are so it can be an attendance challenge, a FAFSA challenge, or a graduation challenge. So whatever the needs of the school are they sign up for these challenges and the goal is to get as many of their students signed up on the site as possible to earn points so that they win the challenge.
EBONY.com: What can the students do with the points that they earn?
Nourisha Wells: The gamification process award points, status and power. And so when the students create their account they get points and then when they start doing things on the site they can use those points in our reward store. Our reward store is stocked with all kinds of things. We partner with organizations that donate popular items—we recently had a bunch of Play Station 4’s and you can imagine that’s a pretty hot ticket. We have Get Schooled branded things and it’s free to the students, even the shipping is free as long as they have the points.
EBONY.com: How did DJ Khaled end up being a national spokesperson?
Nourisha Wells: He was a celebrity principal, the masters of grants and rewards for challenges at a school, at a middle school in Miami. We always try to get someone that will connect and resonate with the student body. He had such a great time that he wanted to continue working with us so we came up with the idea to have him as our spokesperson for the year in connection to his Khaled’s Keys. He’s always talking about his keys to success and it just really worked with our mission to help students define the best path for their prosperity.
EBONY.com: Despite working in tech, your bio says that education in in your blood. How so?
Nourisha Wells: I’m not a first-generation college student but I am a first-generation to go right after high school. My grandmother was a teacher for a while and a school librarian, my mom was a special-ed teacher and she kept trying to push me to go into teaching. Every job that I have had since I’ve graduated from college for the most part has been in the education sector in different ways. I’ve worked at two universities and an ad agency that specialized in education so it’s this thing that stalks me. When I started here I was look like “oh my gosh, this is a merger of all the things that I obsess over—pop culture, technology, and education I can’t believe this is happening.”
EBONY.com: How can people get involved and help your mission?
Nourisha Wells: Getting students to sign up in one of the biggest ways to get involved. We also have a text hotline where students can sign up to get text messages around a number of different topics. We have a SAT/ACT text of the day that prepares students to take those tests because we have found that a lot of our students actually don’t prepare for it adequately. We also do a text hotline for students to ask questions about college and so we’re always looking for people, particularly in the college access space, to volunteer to answer some of those inquiries. We get questions across the board from funding to choosing the right school to figuring out how to balance working while in college. We our students to be successful and know that college is possible. We also know college is not for everyone so we promote trade schools as well. We simply want them to know that they are talented and can find success in whatever field they desire.