ODWIN Learning Center suspends classes, confronts closure

By 
Alex Owens, Special to the Reporter
Aug. 5, 2010

The Board of Directors for the ODWIN Learning Center, located in Peabody Square, voted in June to indefinitely suspend the school’s programming due to a drastic funding shortfall that threatens to shutter the adult education outpost permanently.

Board members who spoke to the Reporter this week remain hopeful that they will be able to rekindle the school’s mission—hence the emphasis on “suspending” programs rather than shutting ODWIN down completely.

Two ODWIN teachers will continue to hold consulting hours at the center for the rest of the summer, while the building is being cleaned out. The learning center’s headquarters across from the Carruth Building at Ashmont Station, is poised to enter the real estate market in the fall. Board members hope a sale of the building could give them leverage to negotiate a possible merger with another nonprofit, or to continue the school in a new space.

“Sometimes, we might find that being a free-standing organization may not be possible,” said President of the Board Diane McKenna-Yasek. “But I think that many people feel that the closing of the center is a loss because there was no one like us.”

The decision is the unfortunate outcome of a slow decline in the organization’s finances, which began in 2001, ODWIN officials say. By the time of the 2008 economic crisis, funds had been already been cut back so far that the ODWIN board decided to take out a mortgage on their building to continue operations.

Founded in 1964, the ODWIN (Opening the Doors Wider in Nursing) Learning Center is an adult education program which targeted working individuals seeking to earn or finish college degrees. The programs have centered on career and academic skills, college preparation, and tutoring. The center initially worked with medical and nursing professionals exclusively but has broadened its range to include students in several professions. The school serves about 300-400 students annually.

“I can honestly say that the best career advice I got was at ODWIN,” said Jamaica-born alumnus Leslie Bahadosingh, who went on to become the board’s treasurer. “It’s one of the only programs that literally guarantees success,” he continued.

Like several of the ODWIN alumni and staff, Bahadosingh points to the center’s unorthodox classroom structure as its strength. The curricula would be tailored to each individual student’s needs via a series of diagnostic tests. The custom programs would, in turn, result in widely varying time frames for each individual student’s needs.

“When we started, there were no real bridge programs for adults,” said ODWIN academic coordinator Penny Penniman. “Even today, there are not really any programs that are quite the same or that can cover the same range - to get students college-ready.”

This open-ended approach has made it difficult for the center to qualify for federal and state education grants, which require a more definite method of measuring the program’s success. The majority of the organization’s funding came from benefactors, other non-profit organizations and donations from the community.

According to ODWIN staff, tuition only covers about 22 percent of the cost for educating a student.
“We think that our approach to teaching is absolutely crucial,” said ODWIN board secretary Larry O’Toole. “So, we sometimes had to walk away from funding that required us to change our methods to a time table that we felt would not work well for the population we were serving.”