By Nick Monzi, Co-Founder/COO of Learn Fresh

Photos by Daniela Hichak Photography

Ten seconds left and the championship on the line. Coach calls on his star point guard to hit a game-winning three-pointer. Three, two, one … he shoots! And drains it!

Countless kids have played out this scenario on the blacktop, striving for Game 7 and NBA glory. From the outdoor courts of NYC to the lone hoop in a suburban Kentucky driveway, the dream of basketball stardom is as universal as it gets. But how often does it lead students to greatness in the classroom? This is the question that drives my work at Learn Fresh.

When I was a kid in New York, the Yankees were at the heart of my existence. As the only child in the house, I spent countless hours on the floor of my room, combing through the back of baseball cards. I memorized them all - Tino Martinez’s 44 home runs in 1997, Derek Jeter’s .349 batting average in 1999, and Mariano Rivera’s remarkable 1.66 ERA in 2003. Math tied me to my heroes in a way that shaped my understanding of the subject throughout my childhood.

Today, with my eccentric background as a Syracuse-trained business major turned Harvard-trained music educator, Learn Fresh is my perfect outlet for creative impact in the education sector. At Learn Fresh, we believe learning should be fun, purposeful, and grounded in students’ passions. To fulfill this mission, we designed an engaging education program that integrates math, a subject that takes root in all of our daily lives, in the context of a sport that our kids adore - basketball.

Our first product is NBA Math Hoops, a board game, mobile app, and curriculum that creates an NBA season-like experience in the classroom, engaging students in the statistics of their favorite NBA and WNBA players. In 2016, we saw our students’ fundamental math scores improve by 36.7% and in 2015, full program participants outperformed a control group by 2.8x. This is just the beginning of our impact at Learn Fresh, with plans in motion to build academic experiences grounded in football, soccer, music, and other student passion points.

Each year, the radiant enthusiasm and deep commitment of our stakeholders continue to validate our belief that learning is best experienced in the context of something personally relevant. We are fortunate to work with over 20,000 young people and 1,200 educators every week during the school year and are even luckier to see the impact take shape in our company’s hometown of Denver, CO. Take the story of one of our own Denver “Math Champs” as a striking proof of the impact.

This All-Star student arrived at our program partner’s site from a single-parent household in which English is not spoken, exhibiting tremendous mathematical deficiency. Without strong support, he was clearly at risk of becoming part of the very statistic we are fighting: 82% of low-income 8th graders are not proficient in math.

But this Math Champ instantly connected with NBA Math Hoops, so much so that he obtained special permission to attend additional sessions outside of his regular program. Today, he has an “A” in math, has competed in the NBA Math Hoops Regional Championship on the Denver Nuggets’ practice court, and has been selected as one of the top 16 Math Champs in the country by the Learn Fresh staff. He’ll be taking his first plane ride to compete in the 2017 NBA Math Hoops National Championship at Stanford University in June.

This brilliant student’s story wholly embodies our mission at Learn Fresh and is also indicative of the incredible work being done every day by peers in the tech nonprofit sector.

Accelerate Good Global, and the incredible work of Fast Forward, provides the space for stories like this to take shape across the world. As tech nonprofits become increasingly viable drivers of social impact, the need for collaboration and convening is only heightened. Through our participation at Accelerate Good Global, we have been able to foster meaningful relationships with sector leaders that will drive our impact for years to come.