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Tutoring services offering new education options

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Malachi Temple was struggling with multiplication. He needed the basics, but he was not getting that in his fifth-grade class.

“They do math totally different now with all kinds of shortcuts; they go diagonally and in all sorts of directions,” Malachi’s mother, Monica Temple, said.

So she enrolled Malachi in a math program at Kumon Math and Reading Center, an after-school enrichment program with the slogan: “Learning for the long run.”

Owner Jennifer Zeller said Kumon is different from a tutoring service.

“Kumon is a lifestyle and cultural change,” she said. “Tutoring is more associated with a quick fix, but that’s not always good for learning. Quick fixes aren’t absorbed or retained.”

Monica said the lifestyle and cultural change has worked for Malachi. He’s more confident now, and he’s rattling off the product of 13 times 15.

“He’s still a very quiet child, but I’ll see him working on a math problem from school, and I’ll see him laughing to himself,” she said. “He’ll say, ‘Mom, I’m laughing because I get it. I really get it.’”

Kumon and other enrichment and tutoring programs in Columbus — including Sylvan Learning and Get Motivated Tutoring Service — are part of a growing trend. The services are part of a $7 billion private tutoring industry in the United States, which is expected to grow at a rate of 7 percent per year according to research by Global Industry Analysts Inc.

“Private tutoring is a key constituent of the global education industry, with growth primarily attributed to the inability of the standard education system to address the unique needs of each student,” the firm found.

And as the workforce and college admissions become more selective — Indiana University-Bloomington’s acceptance rate has dropped from 85 percent in 2005 to 73 percent in 2009 — the pressure grows for students not only to catch up and keep up but to get ahead.

Kumon Math and Reading Center

Zeller recalls being a gymnast in high school, and she would practice on the balance beam at the same time the basketball team was practicing loudly. It taught her a focus and discipline she hopes to pass along to the students enrolled at Kumon.

“We offer focused, uninterrupted study,” Zeller said.

She and 10 instructional aides are on site during the Monday and Thursday classes in case a student gets stuck, but the Kumon program stresses self-reliance and independent instruction.

“We want our kids to figure it out,” she said. “They’re actually teaching themselves. It makes them motivated and confident.”

Zeller said it prepares students for the real world, when there might not always be a teacher at the beck and call to guide the student through a problem.

But that’s not to say she doesn’t make herself available to her students if she’s needed, as Temple discovered a few weeks ago. Malachi was struggling with a concept, and Temple called Zeller for help.

“She comes back 45 minutes later with examples of how to show him, and it worked,” she said. “Who does this on a Sunday? It’s really nice because I can go in there and I can ask questions, and they’re not just trying to get me out the door and get my money.”

Sylvan Learning

Educators at Sylvan Learning like to think of a student’s brain as an engine.

When a student first comes to the tutoring service, licensed teachers develop an individualized learning plan for the child, high school student or adult learner.

“Just like a car engine, we disassemble to find out what’s missing and what might be rusty,” said Greg Moore, owner of the Sylvan Learning branches in Columbus, Seymour, Franklin and Bloomington. “Then we go back systematically and put things back together.”

It’s a process that requires time and personalized attention, Moore said — and that’s not always available in a traditional classroom.

Every Sylvan Learning Center is set up in a way to foster individualized instruction. A licensed educator — which is often a current or former public school teacher — sits in the middle of a U-shaped desk, and no more than three students sit along the outside.

Sylvan also has recently launched SylvanSync, an instructional system for the iPad that offers instant feedback for the student and for the parents checking in at home.

Shawn Sullivan, director of education at the Franklin Sylvan Learning Center, said the program is interactive and adjusts students’ personal plans so they are challenged but not frustrated.

He emphasized the iPad does not replace the teacher — instead, it assists the student.

“It was never created to replace face-to-face learning,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘Here, read this and we’ll be back.’ It’s still teacher-led instruction.”

Goals are varied at the learning center, Sullivan said. Sylvan caters to the early reader who is falling behind, the middle school student that is struggling with the jump from computational math to theories, the high school student trying to boost an SAT or ACT test score, and even the adult learner.

Get Motivated Tutoring Services

Sometimes a student really only needs help to prepare for that one calculus test — and that’s when a traditional tutoring service comes in.

Get Motivated Tutoring Services — launched full time by former Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. teacher Mike Nehring and his wife, Lindsay — offers long-term or short-term tutoring session packages with carefully selected tutors, like certified teachers, university students or stay-at-home moms with college degrees.

There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the tutoring service 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Chamber of Commerce, but there won’t be any shopfront to show off at that time.

Get Motivated tutors travel to students’ homes or visit with them in the library or Columbus Learning Center.

It keeps overhead costs low because there are no lease and utility payments, and it helps students relax, Nehring said.

He said he also has seen a boom in business when it comes to enrichment work, like test preparation. Parents are just trying to give their children some extra help, especially as they see increased competition for college spots and scholarships, he said.

The cost factor

There’s a widening achievement gap between rich and poor students, according to research from the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University; but local private services are trying to acknowledge that.

Both Sylvan and Kumon offer scholarships and flexible tuition options.

“If a child has a desire to learn, I’m not going to hold anyone back,” Zeller said.

Moore said parents generally come to Sylvan as a last-ditch effort, first finding tutors in the newspaper classifieds or downloading activities from the Internet.

“But you many times get what you pay for,” Moore said. “It’s really hard to see juniors in high school coming to us at a third-grade reading level. Just think what we could accomplish if they came here three years earlier.”

And although the sessions may be more expensive than what it would cost to spend a few hours with the math whiz down the street, Moore said the costs may balance out in the long run.

“They could be spending four or five hours there for every hour here,” he said. “The money we can always work out, the time we can never get back.”

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