#THEPEOPLE - Homeschool and Hustle
Toni Williams is the CEO of Prodigy of America and creator of the Homeschool and Hustle program that seeks to provide academic and business education to K-8 children and their families. We reached out to Toni to provide some details on the program and how the community can assist her mission.
TPVTAP: First off, tell us a little about yourself and your company, Prodigy of America and then let us know all about the Homeschool and Hustle program including your motivation and/or inspiration behind it.
TONI: I am Toni Williams, a creative entrepreneur from Athens, GA. I started Prodigy of America (officially) in 2016 as a response to an experience at work. A coworker presented my ideas as her own, and I realized it was time for me to be the one to control the narrative of my professional development. I had written the business plan for Prodigy in 2012. In that version of the vision, it was a school for talented creatives of color. Since then, it’s evolved into an all-encompassing creative entrepreneurship support service. Prodigy of America provides marketing resources (graphic design and website development), branding consultation, and youth Entrepreneurship services. Our latest service is Homeschool and Hustle. H&H provides academic content for grades K-8, with an added bonus of a virtual entrepreneurship class for the whole family. Because I’ve worked in the school system, as soon as schools shut down in response to the pandemic, I knew parents would need help! At the core of my being, I love to serve. H&H is my way of taking some stress off of families in this time. Currently, I am both CEO and the only employee of Prodigy of America! I look forward to expanding and I wouldn’t trade the transformational experience of business ownership for the world!
TPVTAP: Adding to that, why did you find it important for you to step up in this moment?
TONI: I’m blessed. I believe in a higher power. Whether you refer to it as God/ Source/ Love/ or your higher self, we all have that energy that protects us. When the pandemic began, I knew I’d be ok. I knew it was going to get rough. So I knew that I had to drop any worries about my own well-being and use my skills to benefit whomever I can.
TPVTAP: You mentioned being a first grade school teacher in the DC area. What has your interaction been like with the children since schools shut down? What feedback have you received from your students or their parents regarding how they are coping with the current circumstances?
TONI: I LOVE my students!!! Unfortunately, I was employed as a long-term substitute so I haven’t had any contact with my students since the shut down began. I miss them SO much and I ask their lead teacher about how they’re doing often. I began with the 1st grade module for Homeschool and Hustle so that my class would be the first to receive the service! I’m excited to see how they engage in the program.
TPVTAP: Without compromising your employment, what thoughts do you have regarding the response of your school system and the larger education system as a whole in this moment? What can we learn moving forward about the education of our children?
TONI: Admittedly, I am disappointed in my agency’s response to the crisis. I had quit my other job to be full-time there and there have been no solutions explored as to how to best financially support employees of the agency. We have essentially lost our jobs without much effective follow up. Great educators (in any capacity) give their ALL to children. I’m so glad students have been able to learn online, but in assisting in putting packets together, I know the work they’ve been given will not suffice as an adequate substitution for classroom learning. Educators who have been in the trenches know that the system has been broken for a while. I see this as a BEAUTIFUL opportunity for passionate educators to develop their own curriculum and serve in their community. We are more than capable of educating our children without this current system. The lesson here for educators and parents is to take charge of the responsibility of developing young minds.
TPVTAP: I find it interesting and timely that you included a "Hustle" component to the program. Why is teaching business to children and learning business as a family unit so important?
TONI: Hustle was actually the name of a past project that I did in Brooklyn, NY. My amazing students there at Eagle Academy taught me rather quickly that our children do not need fluff lessons. They need education in real-world issues. So, in 2017, I redirected my after school class of 60 black and brown middle school boys to learn entrepreneurship through Hip Hop. We studied the paths of artists like Jay-Z and Nas who are not only talented creatives, but business men as well. The kids created businesses (selling bowties, T-shirts, milkshakes, art, and more), designed logos, made budgets, chose a target audience, handmade their products, sold them in the schools, kept all the profit, and gave an investors pitch in a 9 week program. I saw that the program not only was fun, but kept them wanting to learn and wanting to be disciplined every day for class. Homeschool and Hustle is a chance for me to bring that experience to everyone. Entrepreneurship is important to me because, as we now know, we cannot depend on the current economic system. Additionally, exploring your ability to provide a product or service for other people is a journey I feel everyone should have the privilege of taking. It reminds you just how valuable you are.
TPVTAP: If you have not already done so, tell us the launch date of the program, where The People can find it and how we can support you.
TONI: Homeschool and Hustle will be available this May (exact date TBD)! We will release the academic content for 1st Grade on Vimeo first, and build until we have academic content for grades K-8. The “Hustle” portion will be held for families via Zoom. If you’d like to support, I am holding a campaign to recruit 1300 people to commit to donating $1/month to support the continuation of this program AND insure that parents can receive it free of charge. All donations can be made via CashApp to $heyyytoni OR here: paypal.me/prodigyofamerica. If folks are interested in being monthly $1 donors, they can reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For updates, follow us on IG at @prodigyofamerica.
TPVTAP: Please share any additional thoughts, projects or plans you want The People to know.
TONI: Thank you to The People vs. The Anti-People for providing this amazing and thoughtful platform! It’s always a blessing to have the opportunity to share your passion with the public. For those of you in good spirits or under duress during this time, keep your hearts open to each other, first and foremost. The only way we get through this thing is together. Much love from Prodigy of America!!