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Joanna Smith: Supporting School Attendance through AI Virtual Advisors

Joanna Smith: Supporting School Attendance through AI Virtual Advisors

Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! Today I’m excited to cruise around with Joanna Smith, the founder and CEO of AllHere. Joanna is passionate about helping students succeed in school. Are you ready to be enlightened?

Spiffy: Welcome Joanna! I’m really excited to learn about your work and the challenges you are addressing. Can you tell me about it? 

Joanna: Thanks so much for having me, Spiffy! Did you know that more than eight million students in America don't attend school regularly? These numbers have skyrocketed to 36 million with the impact of COVID-19. Innovative, novel and evidence-based solutions for addressing the issue of attendance are almost nonexistent, despite the fact that this leads to learning loss, school dropout, and social inequality. AllHere is fostering student success and attendance using mobile messaging powered by artificial intelligence. We develop AI-Powered Virtual Advisors (AVA) that support students and families on the path to and through school and provide 24/7 impactful support that is proven to help K12 students get—and stay—on a path to graduation.

Spiffy: This sounds incredibly promising! What motivated you to do tackle this issue?

Joanna: I started AllHere to address a problem I faced while I was a middle school math teacher: chronic absenteeism. Students consistently missed up to 10% of class days, and the strategies used to support them—letters, postcards, phone calls, visits home, and mentors—were expensive and difficult to scale. AllHere has taken our expertise and proprietary research connecting the right student with the right support at the right time. We scale a conversational AI-powered platform that boosts attendance, persistence, and graduation for students at thousands of schools in the U.S. I am motivated to make sure AllHere continues to grow its impact and improve the world’s capacity to ensure that each student has an equitable opportunity to learn, each and every day.

Spiffy: Wow, Joanna, what a stellar goal and service. How would you say that AllHere is working towards a more equitable world? 

Joanna: AllHere understands that every student, each day, has the opportunity to be on track for success. Each family and student may experience unique challenges on their K-12 path, and it is the responsibility of our education system to put systems in place to ensure that every child has an equal chance for success. We promote equity by using our technology to understand the unique challenges and barriers faced by individual students, or by populations of students, and providing individualized and personalized support to help them overcome those barriers, no matter the kind or type.

Spiffy: Could you tell me about a recent milestone that AllHere achieved?

Joanna: We began this year laser-focused on ensuring we could play a role in helping school systems catch kids up, reopen as soon as possible, and rebuild in ways that address underlying inequities. We launched thousands of AVAs that are guiding students and families at each stage of their journey—from enrollment through graduation. Enabling impactful 24/7 student and family advising, using AI, is showing how public education can emerge from this pandemic more equitable, just, and resilient. We are actively creating a world where the education system’s response to the pandemic is not “return to normal” because “normal” led to the widespread failures in supporting the most vulnerable students, which exacerbated already-staggering inequities.

Spiffy: One more question for you, Joanna. Can you share about a time when you have faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn?

Joanna: I don't hide the fact that I have stuttered since childhood. By speaking—not only even, but especially when I am not as fluent as I'd like—I've learned to never take someone's way of being different as a sign of their intellectual capacity; to be persistent; to not rush; to never apologize for being different; and, ultimately, to find confidence and strength in something others might deem to be a failure. Perhaps it's that sense of confidence that allows me to be myself, wherever I am and whoever I'm in front of, that has been my biggest lesson of all. 

Spiffy: Your story and work are an inspiration to us all! I can’t wait to see where you go, Joanna. Thanks so much for talking with me, it’s been an honor!


Joanna Smith is founder and CEO of AllHere, an ed-tech company increasing student attendance and success with AI-powered texting. She has been featured in Forbes, EdSurge, CBS, District Administration, and SXSWEDU for combining research and innovative tech to improve outcomes at scale. Before AllHere, Joanna taught middle school math and graduated from Harvard University. (Nominated by Impellent Ventures)

© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog