With over $13M in funding, here is how Black female founder Joanna Smith-Griffin is leveraging AI to combat chronic student absenteeism

BY Preta Peace Namasaba October 19, 2023 12:27 AM EDT
Joanna Smith-Griffin. Photo credit: Joanna Smith-Griffin

Joanna Smith-Griffin is the founder and CEO of AllHere, an edtech company which uses chatbot software to reduce chronic absenteeism among students. Using conversational AI and behavioral science, the platform sends messages to ensure students attend school. By leveraging a customized knowledge base, Smith-Griffin is ensuring that families and students receive personalised support.

A product of Miami’s public schools, Smith-Griffin was inspired to pursue a career in education by the way her kindergarten teacher interacted with her parents. Through grade school and college, she was looking to find teachers who appreciated the role of family as partners in a student’s education. In a bid to engage parents in their children’s education, she worked as a Data & Evaluation Assistant at DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative and a Data Analyst at Miami Children’s Initiative.

Her interest in education continued to college where she pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences. While at Harvard University, Smith-Griffin worked as a Research Assistant, Education Redesign Lab at the Graduate School of Education. Following her graduation, she worked as a Learning Support Fellow & Modified Math Teacher at Excel Academy Charter Schools in Boston. Due to attendance issues, many of her students were unable to receive the academic assistance they required.

When Smith-Griffin was promoted to Director of Family Engagement, she was confronted with the issue of chronic absenteeism among students. As an administrator, she gauged that missed attendance had an overreaching impact on children’s outcomes. Unfortunately, her attempts to leave voicemails and send letters to parents were to no avail. She began devising strategies for effectively reaching out to students’ families to curb chronic absenteeism.

“The intervention strategies that schools use can tend to not take into account family situations beyond simple awareness of attendance being an issue and that approach can leave students and families less willing to engage. Our goal was to be able to move beyond that with a way that is evidence based, and that can scale.”

Joanna Smith-Griffin in Refresh Miami

In 2016, Smith-Griffin founded AllHere, an edtech company revolutionising school-to-family communication. Initially, the company utilised traditional methods such as meetings and home visits to bridge the gap between schools and families but fully transitioned to bot-based communications upon the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a conversational AI-powered chatbot, AllHere works with customized knowledge base to create personalized and engaging experiences between families and schools. It provides a dynamic messaging experience with families in their preferred language.

In 2020, the company acquired EdNudge, a technology that improves K-12 attendance through automated text messages. The innovation was developed by Peter Bergman at Columbia University’s Teachers College who spent more than a decade studying the use of text message communication to improve student outcomes. AllHere’s interactive approach has been proven to reduce chronic absenteeism by 17%, course failures by 38%, and increase student retention. With the support of the Harvard Innovation Lab, Smith-Griffin’s AllHere has guided over three million students and families through their educational journey.

Although originally focused on boosting student attendance, the functions of AllHere have evolved. Besides mitigating chronic absenteeism, the company now provides all-around-the-clock support to students and families. From social and emotional learning, school closures, and academics, to student health, AllHere is helping families and students through the entire educational experience. Moreover, schools have adopted the platform for additional purposes such as school closure announcements and troubleshooting IT problems.

During the pandemic, AllHere experienced exponential growth with its revenue increasing by 700 percent. With the challenges of virtual learning the company’s reach expanded from 1,100 schools to over 8,000 schools across 34 states. While the chatbot keeps in touch with families, educators and administrators focus their attention exclusively on students. With over $13 million in funding, Joanna Smith-Griffin is leveraging edtech to ensure an equitable and bright future for all learners.