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Unlocking the Doors to Learning
By: Elisabeth Guyon
January 17, 2012
Susan Preator believes in the infinite worth of every individual. And as the CEO and co-founder of Imagine Learning, she feels a huge responsibility to prepare students for academic success. “I’ve always been passionate about education for everyone,” she says. “I remember having a discussion as a senior in high school with my English teacher, saying, ‘I think that if you find the key to a person’s learning, you can unlock that and everyone could be a successful student.’” Imagine Learning was conceived with the idea of teaching English to children around the world. And here in the United States, Preator sees non-English speaking children as “our largest wasted national resource.” She explains, “There are five and a half million of them in our schools, and they don’t stand a chance if they can’t become proficient very quickly. They represent the largest percentage of dropouts in the nation and our state.” While observing her husband’s work as director of LDS Philanthropies, Preator developed fresh ideas about educating non-English speakers. She was particularly struck by Brigham Young University Hawaii’s model, which has the goal of “returnability,” or giving students from Pacific Rim nations a great education and encouraging them to return to their homelands with the tools to make them successful local contributors. Her involvement in education took a new turn when she began volunteering at the Waterford Institute when her last child entered school there. Preator eventually developed expertise in creating computer-based educational programs through her involvement with the Waterford Institute. Once she had been working with the Waterford Institute for a few years, Preator was offered the opportunity to work with the founder of the Institute, Dr. Dustin Heuston. “Dr. Heuston said to me, ‘We need to build a reading program for kindergarten kids that will keep them on grade level from day one.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ I had no idea how to do that, but if he thought I could, I knew it must be possible. So I gave it my all, building a great team that did all the work and created a wonderful literacy program still selling today.” Preator directed the development of this reading program for 11 years, becoming a vice president in the process. She says that her experience taught her first-hand “how [computer-based education] can help, how it can really provide effective and engaging instruction and how it can magnify a teacher’s ability to reach every student individually.” In 2000, Susan retired from the Waterford Institute to continue her own education at BYU. As she was finishing, several of her former Waterford employees approached her about starting a new company to continue building educational software. Around the same time, a Chinese-American associate from Waterford informed Susan there was a huge need and market for a program that could teach English to children in China and other countries. These two suggestions set off a chain reaction that had been long in the making and were the impetus behind the creation of Imagine Learning. “A light bulb went on. I thought about ‘returnability.’ I thought about all the foreign countries wanting their citizens to learn English. I thought about the third-world countries. And I thought maybe I could play a small part in that. Maybe I have a team of people who are uniquely prepared to do this work.” In June 2004, Imagine Learning opened its doors. The software, Imagine Learning English, is now used in public schools in 41 states and 13 countries by more than 100,000 students. Not only does Preator enjoy helping students, but she is just as pleased to be helping teachers teach those students.