BALTIMORE — At the age of 28, Saad Alam approached his friend Lee Jokl and shared his idea for a new business. Alam had a family member who was struggling with writing research papers. The relative was even contemplating dropping out of college. The situation inspired Saad to start an education technology company that would offer students a comprehensive research and writing platform. Alam left his lucrative job, while Jokl also left his job to pursue the ambitious business venture.
Today, Citelighter, a company the young men started in 2011 with funds raised from an innovative Kickstarter campaign, is being used in nearly 3,000 schools in over 50 countries. Citelighter provides students with writing tools and gives teachers and administrators the ability to assign, monitor, and improve students’ work.
“Citelighter makes the writing process easy for teachers and administrators so they can help students cultivate their ideas and communicate them on paper with purpose,” said Alam who is CEO of the company. “By using the writing platform, students as early as elementary school, are writing at advanced levels.”
He added, “For teachers, Citelighter gives them the ability to assign, monitor and grade every student’s work. And for administrators, it saves time and money, because instead of paying for the use of several technology resources, Citelighter combines most— if not all— capabilities onto one platform.”
The Citelighter platform is available on its official website as a free set of student tools or premium teacher and administrator service. At Norwood Elementary School in Dundalk, Citelighter is being used to teach third grade students how to write academic level research papers. Pat Goldys is principal of Norwood Elementary.
“I have nine-year-old students in third grade doing research papers,” said Goldys. “Who says these young kids can’t do this? Not Norwood. We say they can!”
Darrielle Sarnovsky is a teacher at Norwood Elementary.
“They just really took leadership with it, and that was awesome,” said Sarnovsky. “That’s exactly what we want in our classrooms. Citelighter changed everything for them.”
The students agreed.
“It helps me to make sure I stay on task,” said one student. “I think I am a good writer now, because I am better at organizing than I was before,” said another.
According to Alam, who is now 31, Citelighter also accelerates students’ ability to perform in accordance with Common Core Standards by breaking down writing concepts into manageable pieces.
“Citelighter allows students to think about each component individually and then assemble them together to see how they can create a much larger picture,” he said.
The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were originally adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. Common Core supporters say it sets high standards in education.
However, Common Core opponents argue they should be replaced with locally written versions, while other critics feel the standardized tests and the high stakes associated with them, including teacher performance reviews are unfair.
“Under Common Core, students are expected to read and write at a faster pace than ever before,” said Alam. “This puts a great amount of weight on the shoulders of students, teachers and administrators. Citelighter reduces the burden of the Common Core curriculum by bringing everyone in the classroom up to speed for a more successful learning environment.”
Citelighter relocated from New York City to Baltimore, and is based out of the Betamore incubator in Federal Hill. Saad’s educational background includes a bachelors degree from SUNY Albany, and an MBA in Marketing and Strategy from the University of Rochester.
Citelighter has grown from a handful of employees to 30, and Alam says they will reach at least 50 by March. The company has also received over a million dollars from several venture firms and investors.
“We are growing very rapidly,” said Alam. “I always thought the company would take off. But our ambitions are far greater than what we have accomplished. However, there are few words to describe seeing an eight-year-old kid who feel you made them more intelligent.”
The company has won six national awards from some of the most prestigious educational organizations, such as Milken Penn, and the New Media Consortium.
For more information about Citelighter, visit www.citelighter.com.