Across from the DAC and next to the URBN Center, the Innovation Center at 3401 Market Street houses various startups and businesses planting their headquarters in the heart of our very own campus. One is an education company called MicroSociety, which has been preparing children for more than 30 years to control their own society inside schools.
The program model is that, for an hour a day, kids in more than 250 schools worldwide — including public, private and charter schools — take control of their own world by simulating real-life jobs. These include anything from being an attorney, to a police officer, to a tax accountant, a banker and more. This program also works in schools from kindergarten to 12th grade to stress the importance of teaching students useful skills for life after high school, like how to file taxes or begin a start-up.
MicroSociety has been the recipient of multiple awards due to the uniqueness and effectiveness of its program, including the 2019 Greater Philadelphia Innovation Award in the After School Program category given by the Social Innovations Journal. This company also began offering co-op opportunities for Drexel students in fall 2018. Even though it has been located in University City for almost three years, very few Drexel students know about it.
George H. Richmond, a New York City teacher whose students skipped classes, scorned homework and slept through lectures concieved the idea that became MicroSociety.
“[He] was truly a pacifist at heart, and he did not want to become a tyrant at his classroom. Most of all, he didn’t want these kids who were in tough economic circumstances to stay poor, and he knew that education was the way out of poverty,”said Carolynn King-Richmond, the current CEO and President of Microsociety, explaining why her late husband created MicroSociety.
Richmond started to create a technique where he could make kids interested in the content he was teaching by applying it to real-life issues. More specifically, the issue of money. Even though it was almost sacrilegious to talk about money in education, Richmond proved the system wrong. His students started to pay attention and attend classes by relating what they were learning in class to their lives and putting it into practice.
After that, he attended graduate school at Harvard University and he was asked by the university to write his dissertation on MicroSociety. King-Richmond pointed out that a lot of people were moved, explaining that “It was so successful that journalists started writing stories about it because it was unusual, and that’s when George discovered he was onto something.”
In 1981, the nation’s first school-wide MicroSociety was held in Lowell, MassachusettsThe media decided to make a documentary about it due to the singularity of the program and the story of the town of Lowell — a primarily industrial town where education wasn’t the largest priority. From there, the story grew by word of mouth and more educators started to contact them. By the 1990s, they had hundreds of schools in diverse places all over the country — from a coal-mining town in Virginia, to Chicago, and eventually Detroit.
Richmond discovered that the schools were helping students with other skills like learning english as a second language, while supporting local entrepreneurship and business development.
MicroSociety’s Director of School Partnerships and Community Relations, Chris Bozzone, was able to note that in all these years, they found out that the hour of MicroSociety is the time kids looked forward to the most in schools and gained their gaurdians’ support after they saw the impact the program had on their kids.
After moving their headquarters from Old City to University City, they have realized how helpful this area has been to them with all the projects happening in the Innovation Center and the connections with Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania. Bozzone also mentioned that one of the most helpful additions they had since coming to University City has been the co-op students who have worked for MicroSociety, helping with writing, designing, branding and multimedia editing for the startup.
They had been able to get these co-op opportunities since former CoAS Dean Donna Murasko started a program where Drexel would fund four non-profits in the Greater Philadelphia Area that were missing out the opportunity to hire full-time co-op employees because they could not afford it. Among MicroSociety’s future goals are to join schools in West Philadelphia, and to work with more talent from Drexel.