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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

How Brain Power is expanding its critical thinking curriculum to other countries – The Globe and Mail

Vanessa Iarocci became Brain Power’s chief executive officer in February, acquiring the company alongside Sage Capital.Duane Cole/The Globe and Mail
At age 11, Mark Raspopov speaks English, French and Ukrainian, is learning three other languages and knows 10 computer programming languages. He won gold at the 2021 International Junior Math Olympiad and was the 2021 Spelling Bee of Canada champion.
He is also the founder of the recently launched non-profit Kids4Kids Global, an organization that provides free mentorship and educational opportunities to kids worldwide.
Since he was five, Mr. Raspopov has been enrolled in Brain Power, an after-school enrichment program with campuses in Vaughan, Hamilton and Toronto, and a rapidly growing virtual program.
“It is one of the few places where I feel ‘normal’ – where my peers and instructors meet me at my level,” says the young prodigy from the Greater Toronto Area.
Brain Power was founded in 2005 by Karine Rashkovsky, built on an initial idea from her mathematician father, Reuven Rashkovsky, who started providing free after-school enrichment classes in the early 1990s to neighbourhood students with a passion for math and problem solving. The program has grown to more than 1,300 students and 30 instructors, most of whom have doctoral degrees.
“Our faculty is really our magic. They’re experts in their fields,” says Vanessa Iarocci, who became Brain Power’s chief executive officer in February acquiring the company alongside Sage Capital. Their aim was to expand the reach of the company, known as Brain Power Enrichment Program Ltd. Dr. Karine Rashkovsky is still an instructor at the organization.
The forced shift to virtual classes due to COVID-19 had the unexpected by-product of drawing participants to Brain Power’s online programs from across Canada and the United States, Ms. Iarocci says.
She says two families in California are working with the company, and another is participating in its programs while they’re in Costa Rica on sabbatical for the year.
“It hasn’t been a deliberate marketing strategy,” she says of the international reach. “We’ll certainly get around to that but [right now] the demand is coming to us.”
About 7 per cent of online customers are from the U.S., and the market has growth potential, she says. The program has also had inquiries from parents in India, Singapore and China.
“I think people believe in the rigour of Canadian educational standards and there’s a bit of a halo effect for us,” Ms. Iarocci says. “Canada is very trusted as being objective and that is really a differentiator if I compare us to some U.S. companies in this space. Canadians are seen as having a global view.”
Brain Power’s curriculum tackles universal skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. The content is also broad, with classes in languages, literature, public speaking, mathematics and sciences for students from Grades 1 to 12.
“Even with kids as young as Grade 7 and 8, we talk about what it means to be human. We read literature that most kids would not have exposure to in their day school,” says Ms. Iarocci, who is a program instructor. “You’d think it would be a lot for the kids, but they are so engaged.”
Brain Power alums include doctors, engineers, start-up entrepreneurs and CEOs, Ms. Iarocci says.
She notes about 80 per cent of Brain Power students are enrolled in the public school system and have gifted children who need a greater challenge, she says.
“Not every region, especially rural regions, have funding for enrichment and gifted programming,” she says. “If you have a child performing four grade levels above in math, what are you going to do with that child?”
That gap in the education market made Brain Power a good investment, says Glen Silvestri, co-founder and managing partner of the Sage Capital Group of Companies, the majority owner of Brain Power. He and Ms. Iarocci had been looking for a joint opportunity when the company came up for sale.
At that point, a family business with a few physical locations, Brain Power had great potential for growth because parents everywhere are facing the same shortage of enriched learning for advanced learners, he says.
“We’re losing a lot of programs at the gifted-student level, that includes us [Canada] and the U.S.,” he says. “When we looked at the product and looked at the market, we saw a good fit for a private enterprise to come in and take that role of what some of the schools used to do, which was providing education to kids who were really bright.”
The company will grow across Canada with physical locations but the advance of virtual learning means there is a global market for Brain Power’s unique learning model, particularly in the U.S. and Asia, he says.
The U.S. market is 10 times the size of Canada’s and the potential in Hong Kong, Singapore and China is even greater, he says. He believes there’s a lot of potential in China, in particular, despite a ban on foreign teachers last year, adding that may change or there may be exceptions to those rules.
“I would imagine if you talked to us in two to three years, we would have some sort of offering in China that we hope is fairly robust,” Mr. Silvestri says.
The company’s goal is to increase its student body five-fold over the next two or three years in North America and Asia, and exponentially from there.
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