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Posted: November 02, 2012

Top Company winner: OpenWorld Learning

Nora Caley

NONPROFIT

OpenWorld Learning

There are plenty of after-school
programs available for elementary and middle school students, but OpenWorld Learning tries to offer something different. The Denver-based company uses digital technology to provide Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs to students in seven Denver Public Schools. The programs take place from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., when the schools’ computer labs would otherwise sit empty.

"Mom and dad can work a few more hours, while we liven up those computer labs in low-income areas," says Dean Abrams, CEO of OpenWorld Learning.

The curriculum received the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Seal of Alignment for Proficiency with the National Educational Technology Standards for Students, which means students can demonstrate certain skills when they complete each curriculum. The key, Abrams says, is to teach kids in a way that engages them, with fun computer graphics and animation. "They learn through discovery," he says. "They don’t learn by the teacher saying, ‘You’re wrong, the answer is four.’"

OpenWorld Learning is funded by donations and grants. Abrams became CEO two years ago, after selling his software company. He was offered a job at the nonprofit, he says, because it wanted someone from the business world who knew how to grow a company. "I’d never been in the nonprofit world," Abrams says. "I wondered if it was like business."

It turned out the nonprofit world is indeed like business, including one area in particular: measuring outcomes. OpenWorld Learning, which launched in 2000, has recently begun to examine the impact of the curriculum on students’ attendance, behavior and academic achievements.

Abrams says donors, especially institutional donors, want to know these important metrics. "For a number of years there wasn’t a lot of interest or desire to measure results," he says. "Anyone can say you served 500 kids, but that’s not outcome. That’s output."

OpenWorld Learning has five full-time employees at the headquarters in Denver, plus 28 part-time staffers who work at the schools. "We think if kids love to learn they will be in school more," Abrams says.

Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics. She can be reached at noracaley@comcast.net.

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