In the U.S. alone, over 8 million students miss a significant amount of schooling to the point where they are academically at risk, according to Attendance Works. This chronic absence — which is defined as missing at least 10 percent of school days — has long affected those living in poverty, many of whom unfortunately come from communities of color.
Enter Joanna Smith.
The Harvard University graduate is no stranger to the education space. In 2016, Smith was a research assistant at the Education Redesign Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She then spent two years at Excel Academy Charter Schools in Massachusetts, first as a Learning Support Fellow and modified math teacher and later as the director of family engagement.
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But Smith realized the biggest impact she could make in education was by leveraging her experience as an educator to address chronic truancy. In 2017, she founded AllHere Education, which, according to the company’s website, is an “AI-powered attendance intervention system that combines education-based strategies with automation, analytics and engagement capabilities, in an easy, all-in-one platform.” Not only does AllHere tackle student absences, it also aims to increase student participation.
“Since a student’s journey to school is not linear as it once was, I think that one of the most powerful things that we’re using AI to be able to do at AllHere is guide students through each and every task for which they may need help,” Smith explained to CBS News in a 2020 interview.
For students who are chronically absent due to a number of reasons (from health issues to food insecurity), AllHere fills a necessary gap. As Attendance Works notes, those who live in poverty are two to three times more likely “to be chronically absent” and “face the most harm” because their communities do not have the sufficient amount of resources to compensate for what schools provide. In addition to keeping chronic absenteeism low through mobile messaging, AllHere offers confidential health care referrals and troubleshoots computer problems — issues that are common in low-income areas.
AllHere’s services are even more necessary when one considers the effects of the pandemic on chronic truancy. As more students stay home, for example, they are less likely to feel motivated to attend or pay attention in class. Though Smith initially had concerns about whether her business would survive during this period, she adjusted to it by creating a complex chatbot system that keeps students in their virtual seats.
Today, AllHere serves 2,000 schools across 15 states.
“My goal over the next 12 months is a land grab,” Smith told Forbes in a 2021 interview. “We want to help students get to school every day and put them on the track to success.”
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