As a young college graduate working for Teach for America, Louise Baigelman ’09 was struck by a prevalent problem in low-income schools: students both struggled with reading and dreaded it.
As the cofounder of “Story Shares” — a digital library that provides age appropriate reading materials to lower level students, aiming to get them excited about literature — Baigelman’s efforts have reached students in 44 states and 26 countries, according to Forbes.
Baigelman was honored in the Education category of Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, which recognizes innovative and entrepreneurial young leaders in various industries.
Baigelman taught English at Kipp Academy in Massachusetts through Teach for America after graduating Cornell, leading the English Language Learner program. When she taught reading and writing to middle school students, Baigelman said she noticed that many were only reading at a first or second grade level.
“The problem was they were reading at a lower level, so there were no books engaging for their age but readable at their reading level,” Baigelman said. “If you are 13 and reading at a first grade level, you don’t want to read Curious George.”
Baigelman said students were often embarrassed, and chose not to read the beginner “baby books” that matched their reading level. She called it a struggle to get them excited about reading — a problem that led her to create “Story Shares,” a digital hub with two sides: reading and writing.
“On the reading side, we offer a digital library with custom created books,” Baigelman said. “The content is of interest to teenagers but uses easier and more accessible language.”
The reading platform also includes features like “text to speak,” so readers can listen to the words they read, and a visual glossary, which allows readers to click on a word to see its definition.
The writing side provides both teacher and student writers with guidelines on how to create stories, design text, add covers and publish their work.
“Story Shares” has already reached middle and high school-aged students across the country and internationally. Baigelman aims to expand the platform’s reach so that teachers have a new tool to improve their students’ reading skills.
“We want to continue building the collection,” Baigelman said. “We want to provide a wide range of choices and to reach as many schools and students as we can.”
Baigelman said she believes her Cornell education helped shape her career path and goals. She double-majored in English and psychology as an undergraduate and added that both subjects facilitated the development of “Story Shares.”
“Cornell gave me time to explore a liberal arts education and gain a real sense of what I wanted to do, which was to go into education,” Baigelman said. “It led me to join Teach for America and gave me the opportunity to explore the field I am in now.”
Baigelman noted that without Teach for America, she would never have witnessed the problems prevalent within low income education. She encourages current students to be open to the different paths and follow their passion.
“Find out what excites you and then find a way to pursue that both in college and in your career,” Baigelman said. “Start with passion, and then figure it out from there.”