20 years ago, our founder, Sharon Duke Estroff, was at the height of her Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde phase. By day, she was a cool-as-a-cucumber second grade teacher with a classroom full of happy, thriving students (she was even voted Best Teacher in Atlanta by a major Atlanta newspaper). But by night (and most definitely by weekends), Sharon was a stressed-out mom who could barely muster the energy to help her four young children with their homework.
Sharon knew it was time for a career change, but as an educator born into a family of educators, she couldn’t imagine straying too far from the schoolyard. So, she took Challenge Island®, a STEAM program she’d created for her second graders, and began offering it as an afterschool enrichment class in nearby schools. Challenge Island was a hometown hit and before long, Sharon had created a successful business that she could run around her family’s busy schedule.
Sharon Duke Estroff had a hunch that there would be a demand for Challenge Island in other markets too. Her hunch was right. Today, Challenge Island is the #1 STEAM Franchise in the world! We have nearly 150 locations worldwide and partner with 10,000 schools and community organizations across the globe. We even have a bestselling Challenge Island STEAM book series. Most importantly, Challenge Island has touched and enriched the lives over nearly 5 million children.
The very first island, Sharon Duke Estroff created for Challenge Island was Sharktooth Island – and the first book in the Challenge Island book series is the Bridge to Sharktooth Island where the characters take on some of one of Sharktooth Island’s most popular challenges: Great White Bridges.
A year before STEM was officially rolled out as an acronym by the National Science Foundation, Mrs. Estroff’s second grade had “arrived” on Challenge Island where the students divided into teams and tackled challenges using only the materials in their treasure chests and their endless imaginations. Mrs. Estroff’s class begged to do Challenge Island every day at school.
Based on her students’ avid enthusiasm about Challenge Island, Estroff begins running the program as an afterschool class in multiple schools in Marietta, GA. Challenge Island is a hometown hit and before long Estroff has turned her second graders’ favorite activity into a fulltime business.
Determined to bring the magic of Challenge Island to as many children as possible, Sharon begins franchising. Kids can now experience Challenge Island in Houma Louisiana, Reno, Nevada, Greenville, South Carolina, and other locations across the USA. In 2018, Challenge Island receives its first Franchise 500 Ranking.
At the urging of her literary agents at Liza Dawson Associates, Sharon joins forces with co-author Joel Ross and illustrator Monica De Rivas to create the Challenge Island STEAM book series. Book 1, The Bridge to Sharktooth Island, is praised as “a great STEAM-infused addition to every elementary and middle school library” by the School Library Journal. The books fly off the shelves and enter a second printing at record speed as kids eagerly await the release of Books 2 and 3.
Challenge Island’s astronomical growth continues to defy all odds as The Little Program That Could STEAMs forward as an international sensation. In 2022 Challenge Island is ranked on the Franchise 500 for the fifth year running, having also ranked consistently on numerous other lists (including Top Global Franchises, Fastest Growing Franchises, Top Low Cost Franchises, and Top Mobile Franchises) as well as receiving multiple Parents Picks Awards and other industry recognitions. While the road to success has been rife with stumbles, bumps, and bruises, Challenge Island takes on every new challenge with the grace, gusto and unwavering determination of a Challenge Island kid. And so we proceed, full STEAM ahead into the future!
Our Challenge Island founder and CEO is an award-winning educator, critically-acclaimed author and mom of four former Challenge Island kids.