Facebook Twitter

For students who want to attend pricey programs, a site to help

Watley, a ninth-grader at a city high school, is hoping to attend a technology camp at New York University. Adrian wants to attend a youth leadership conference. And Sheridan thinks a physics program at the University of Pennsylvania would help her move towards her goal of studying aerospace engineering.

But all of the opportunities cost money that the students don’t have. That’s why their schools directed them towards Wishbone, an organization developed by a former teacher to help students independently raise money for out-of-school and summer programs.

Wishbone, which launched its website yesterday, follows in the tradition of DonorsChoose and GrayMatter, which allow donors to earmark funds to specific school and student needs. Like those groups, Wishbone depends on the graciousness of strangers to fulfill the wishes of those fundraising, but Wishbone’s innovation is to focus on the non-academic side of the student experience.

Already, 15 city students are raising funds. One student’s campaign — Sheridan’s — is marked urgent because she has just 16 days to raise nearly $2,000 to pay for the physics summer program. (A video featuring Sheridan is below.)

Reed Matheny, Wishbone’s outreach coordinator, said the organization sees itself as supplementing more established groups.

“We’re putting that same philanthropic energy that’s out there in the country towards supporting individual students in out-of-school opportunities,” Matheny said.

In 2008, Wishbone founder Beth Schmidt was a first-year Teach for America teacher at Locke High School in Los Angeles, completely disheartened by her student’s disengagement from school. In an effort to motivate them in her classroom, she held an essay contest for students to research and propose programs they wanted to pursue outside of the classroom. Then, after running the Los Angeles marathon to raise $12,000, Schmidt sent the seven winners to their program of choice.

Feedback from the seven students made it clear to Schmidt that the programs were “life-changing,” seeding the idea behind Wishbone. The program targets promising students in high-needs schools and coaches them to find out-of-school and summer programs that they are passionate about. The site then allows students to explain their passion project and seek funding.

The students’ interests are broken down by category in fields such as athletics, leadership, and fine arts. Wishbone mentors nudge students towards programs, giving them advice that they might not find on their own.

“If you’re a high school student on your own trying to Google these things you don’t always find the greatest volume of results,” Matheny said.

He said that the organization is aiming to help both high- and low-performing students figure out their own answers to one question: What do I want to be doing with my time?

“Maybe they’re a kid who is really high-achieving and motivated but their school just doesn’t have the resources to let them do what they want to do outside of their core subjects,” Mattheny said of one type of Wishbone student. “Or maybe they’re a kid who has become disenchanted with school because he feels like it has no relevance and he feels like there are other things in the world he’d rather be doing.”

During this inaugural year, Wishbone has reached out to city charter schools including Uncommon Charter High School and KIPP NYC College Prep as a way of connecting with promising students. Eventually, the plan is to move away from the school-partnership model and open up to all students in high-needs schools.