This Cincinnati Startup is Giving Schools a Way Connect Amid COVID-19

How the digital-education pioneers at Abre are improving education and stepping up in a crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every organization differently. Some are struggling to stay afloat, while others are changing their businesses entirely. But across Ohio, companies are showcasing their ability to innovate on the fly and step up to a challenge. There may not be a better example of that industry and forward-thinking than Cincinnati startup Abre. The company has been pioneering digital education tech for years, and now they’re taking the biggest step yet, making their award-winning Abre Hub available free to schools and districts, helping educators and showcasing their great work.

“In a past life, I had done some work around predicting the spread of seasonal flu,” said Abre CEO Damon Ragusa. “So after seeing some of the initial data, I quickly became concerned that this was going to be a significant event and a big challenge for schools. We wanted to be able to do something to support districts who were already starting to test going virtual with their learning, and we didn’t want it to be a temporary offer — that would make it feel opportunistic. It had to be simple, free, and permanent.”

For Abre, every classroom can benefit from the company’s work. Their software offers everything from communication and school management to data visualization and community engagement, making it a fit anywhere across the country. And it’s not just a solution to the crisis — it’s a permanent improvement.

“Abre’s impact on schools can be measured in time saved,” Ragusa said. “Instead of spending time looking for the software tools and remembering login information, it’s all presented in one easy-to-access location. Providing district and school leaders a new channel to communicate directly with educators is a big benefit today, when chaos seems to be the norm. In the short-term, Abre Hub is about directing traffic. In the long-term, Abre Solutions are about saving time in everyday tasks with simple, streamlined software. Teachers didn’t choose the profession in order to spend weeks and months learning and re-learning software, and Abre provides them time back for more engagement with their students.”

Abre made its announcement in early March, and has already seen a major influx of interest and partnerships. In Ohio alone, districts like Beavercreek, Cincinnati Public, Loveland City, Mason City, Ross Local, Shaker Heights Local and Southwest Local Schools have adopted the platform. And though they’re in the midst of a major moment in the history of the company, Ragusa and his team are keeping their focus on students and educators.

“Abre was created by teachers and technology directors inside a school district and over half the team is former educators,” he said. “There is a lot of love for educators at Abre and a huge amount of empathy for what is happening today. So whether this is a big deal for us is really a side question. The primary motivation and goal is to support educators and parents in an unprecedented time.”

Laura Bubnick is the director of instructional technology at North College Hill City Schools in Cincinnati, where the district has been using Abre’s platform for two years. In the midst of the pandemic — and even before — she said Abre has become a necessity.

“We can’t imagine not having it,” Bubnick said. “As a district, we push out our curriculum to staff through Abre and share resources and tools through the announcement stream. My teachers, at all grade levels, use the Focus lessons to build guided, safe lessons for their students to access and my counselors, secretaries and teachers all use the student cards to access schedules and other important student data. Abre has condensed our clutter and given us one single point of entry. It’s our central hub for all things North College Hill related.”

From their Cincinnati home, Abre is set to change education for the better across the country, and Ragusa said his team wouldn’t be where they are today without the backing of Ohio’s leaders and innovators.

“The support for the startup community in Cincinnati, and Ohio at large, is phenomenal and we have great school leadership in this state,” he said. “Our leaders are willing to make pivots and try new things. That has helped us tremendously in growing a great roster of initial customers to build the business upon. The current situation has really highlighted Ohio’s leadership in a big way, from businesses to Governor Mike DeWine and his administration taking the lead on assuring the pandemic’s damage is minimized.”

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