Entrepreneur equips teachers as advocates for undocumented students

Alas wins first place and $7,500 at Propeller education pitch

18 April 2019

Alas has won first place and $7,500 at the Education Challenge presented by Capital One, Propeller’s annual pitch competition for entrepreneurs with ideas to ensure every New Orleanian has equitable access to an excellent education and fulfilling career.

First place winner Alas, or “wings” in Spanish, equips educators to advocate for students who are undocumented or have contact with the criminal justice system. Founded by Lisa María Rhodes, a fifteen year educator whose experience includes social work and national immigration policy, Alas trains teachers to connect undocumented students with free or low-cost legal representation for permanent residents and write letters to judges so that students can be in school instead of in jail as they await trial.

2400 students in Orleans Parish are currently English language learners and over 1100 are arrested each year. Those who cannot pay bail miss school for a minimum of two months and a maximum of two years before trail, increasing dropout rates, trauma, and recidivism. Alas has impacted over 500 students on a budget of $0. With funding from PitchNOLA, Alas will expand from a program to an organization, doubling its impact to 1,000 students over the next year.

The second place prize of $2,500 was awarded to Geaux Ready, a project of Knowing Your Destiny, that helps students in poverty to develop financial literacy while earning funding for their college tuition. Unable to afford her dream university Clark Atlanta, founder Niesha Freeman developed a program designed to serve the 37% of New Orleans youth who live in poverty. In Geaux Ready, participants enroll in financial literacy and begin work through Centerplate, which includes venues like the Superdome and Smoothie King Center. As students earn, half of their income is deposited into an education savings account and matched up to 14% per year. Geaux Ready has experienced rapid growth, from 27 participants earning $29,000 in 2018, to 60 participants earning $452,000 in 2019. In 2020, Geaux Ready anticipates 110 participants earning over $1.5 million.

On May 1st, Propeller will conclude its PitchNOLA Series with the Health & Food Challenge presented by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Louisiana. Tickets are free and open to the public.