Mission and Impact

Reach the World (RTW) cultivates relationships between young students and volunteer world travelers through an innovative program of online journalism and face-to-face interactions. To date, RTW has directly served 15,000 students and 600 teachers, primarily in the New York City public schools, but also nationwide. The National Geographic Society Education Foundation named RTW a Model Program in Geography Education.


Reach the World was founded in 1998 by Heather Halstead and Marc Gustafson. The program began by serving five classrooms in Harlem through a partnership with the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College, Columbia University. Since then, RTW has directly served 15,000 students and 600 teachers at school, afterschool and summer school sites in under-served communities.

Reach the World was created to solve two major problems faced by youth in under-served communities:

  • The narrowing of the curriculum in U.S. public education, which has cut out subjects such as global competence that are necessary for success in today’s global community. (Read more about the case for geography education.)
  • Unequal access to technology tools and the Internet.


Reach the World’s mission is to help elementary and secondary school students and teachers to develop the knowledge, attitudes, values and thinking skills needed for responsible citizenship in a complex, culturally diverse and rapidly changing world.  Through its interactive website, RTW enriches the curriculum by connecting classrooms to volunteer world travelers who are studying or exploring around the globe.  RTW identifies and trains volunteer travelers, manages web-based journalistic content posted weekly by these travelers, and delivers training and support to the schools in its programs.  Most of RTW’s travelers are college students on study abroad programs around the world, while others are independent explorers.

Reach the World provides two levels of service. For sites located in New York City, the RTW Full Program includes traveler:classroom matching, classroom visits by the travelers, video conferencing, on-site support from graduate students of Education, and teacher professional development. For sites located outside of New York City, the RTW Online Program includes traveler:classroom matching and video conferencing.

Reach the World’s website also hosts GeoGames, a set of interactive games that teach core geographic literacy. GeoGames is based on a multi-year geography research study by RTW and researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University. GeoGames won the Travelocity GENIP Award for Excellence in Geography Education, a national honor. GeoGames is currrently co-hosted by National Geographic Education.


In 2009, RTW began partnering with the Institute of International Education’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program and Fulbright Program to engage a select group of its scholars as volunteer correspondents for the RTW website.  The Gilman Program offers awards for study abroad for U.S. undergraduate students who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding.  The Fulbright Program offers prestigious awards for graduate study and teaching. In the future, RTW envisions working not only with these programs, but also with other college and university partners that share RTW’s commitment to community service and international exchange.

In 2012, Reach the World began partnering with the BELL program and Citizen Schools to provide afterschool enrichment programming in global competence.


Reach the World measures its impact on both teachers and students in a variety of ways. RTW administers pre- and post-program global competence and geographic literacy surveys. Through participation in RTW, all students correspond with someone in another country, compared to 11 percent nationwide – a key factor in advancing geography proficiency. All RTW teachers deliver weekly instruction in foreign countries and cultures, compared to 23 percent nationwide.

Have you traveled? Has anyone shared their travel stories with you? Has this affected your worldview? If you can answer “Yes” to any of these questions, then you understand the mission of Reach the World. RTW is capitalizing upon an existing energy in our society – travelers – and turning it into an educational resource for all children and teachers. Through Reach the World, the age-old tradition of traveling and sharing stories makes the leap into the digital age – and for once, disadvantaged students are along for the ride.

14 Years of Global Connections!

Reach the World is celebrating its 14th year of making global connections for youth! Please view a short video, below, that brings our program to you from the perspective of our college-age travel correspondents.


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