Local Tutoring News in Sioux Falls

Is your child struggling to keep up at school? This service can help

Sep 23, 2020

When sisters Colleen Halbur and Michelle McGuckin considered becoming business owners, a common bond led them to the answer: kids.
Between them, they have 17 children, “so obviously, we care about kids,” McGuckin said. “And we came from a family of 10 with parents who really cared about education.”
They’re from Milbank, and while Halbur stayed in South Dakota, McGuckin moved back from New Jersey a few years ago. Looking to become business owners and invest in the Sioux Falls community, they bought the Sylvan Learning franchise in late 2018. It also serves Brookings and Mitchell.
“We went through all the corporate training and saw all the results for how the program helps students, but we wanted to see it for ourselves,” McGuckin said.
“So we enrolled our kids in Sylvan.”
Her fifth-grade daughter had struggled with reading. In June 2019, Sylvan tests revealed her skill level was that of a third-grader in the sixth month.
“That’s part of the strength of Sylvan – there’s a comprehensive initial assessment followed by progress tests along the way.”
And those tests revealed progress. By February, her daughter tested at the sixth grade in the first month.
“And then COIVD happened, and like so many kids, she experienced some learning loss,” McGuckin said. “So this summer, she tested in the fifth grade, third month, but then after a little more time in the Sylvan program, she was back up to the sixth grade, second month, and she continues to make great progress.”
Just as key, “she loves Sylvan, and she’s actually confident in her reading,” McGuckin said. “And my son, who is in kindergarten, loves it too. With COVID, he wasn’t getting his ABCs at all.”
If this sounds familiar, Sylvan can help. Students who go through the program achieve up to three times more growth in their math and reading scores than peers. View the results here.
With COVID disruption, typical summer learning loss and the students’ ongoing individual learning needs, Sylvan is uniquely positioned to offer individualized solutions, McGuckin said.
“I don’t know any parent who doesn’t agree learning loss is a real thing,” she said.
“Teachers have done an amazing job when all of a sudden school was canceled and students needed a learning environment, but we know that we have students who still need to catch up, and that can happen thanks to this really powerful learning progression that is customized for every student.”
The Sylvan approach
Sylvan, which is located at 4816 S. Technopolis Drive, is a bright, welcoming classroom set up to serve kids from pre-kindergarten through high school.
When students arrive for the first time, a Sylvan teacher conducts a 90-minute assessment for $95 that focuses on reading and math.
“There’s no commitment to work with Sylvan after that, but it’s a great tool to show parents where students are at, which is where the program starts,” McGuckin said. “We determine their key learning needs, and the program adapts to their learning. It learns at their pace.”
Students aren’t being held back, but they aren’t being pushed to new concepts too soon, either. That’s where academic problems tend to start, she said.
“For instance, some students struggle with math and maybe don’t understand fractions. But then the class moves on, and the student doesn’t understand other concepts that are hinged on fractions. The Sylvan approach sticks with the concept until students master it, which allows them to build on their learning and master additional concepts.”
Students are taught their personalized curriculum from a Sylvan-certified teacher, who also might be assisting one or two other students. Each child has his or her own learning plan that blends guided instruction and independent practice.
After the child receives instructions, he or she completes assigned exercises on an iPad to apply the lessons. Unlike completing worksheets, the interactive exercises adapt to the child’s pace, making learning fun instead of frustrating.
And there’s a kid-friendly incentive offered too. Students earn virtual tokens based on their behavior, effort and progress that can be redeemed at the Sylvan Store for prizes. Older students can redeem them for gift cards.
“They have to take turns going, so they can’t crowd around it, but students really enjoy being able to earn something fun, and it definitely helps with motivation,” McGuckin said.
To ensure health and safety, Sylvan also now offers virtual learning options in addition to time in an adjusted classroom.
“We’ve spaced out the tables to make sure students aren’t sitting right next to each other, and everyone has to wear a face mask when you enter until you sit down at the table. When you sit down at the table, we have sneeze guards so you can take off the mask during tutoring,” McGuckin said.
“A lot of our teachers wear them the whole time. And if you get up to leave the table, you have to put your face mask back on.”
Other learning enhancement
While personalized learning is the hallmark of the Sylvan program, it also offers services that might surprise area parents.
“We’re seeing a significant amount of interest in coming to Sylvan for homework help, which can be done in person and virtually,” McGuckin said.
“That doesn’t require an assessment, and these aren’t necessarily kids struggling in school, but they might be in quarantine or not in a classroom where they’re able to ask the teacher as much as they might like. In some cases, they might have fallen behind or just need some support with homework – and that can either be because they’re striving to make the honor roll or because they could be in danger of not passing a grade – we serve the entire spectrum.”
Kids looking to push themselves academically also can come to Sylvan for support in accelerated subjects, including Advanced Placement classes and advanced math, college-readiness skills and ACT/SAT test prep.
“Sylvan is a 40-year-old service, so these are proven methods, but they also have stayed on the cutting edge of technology and data-driven approaches,” McGuckin said. “All the programs are on the cloud, you do lessons on an iPad, and every lesson is tracked so we have data to support our approach to personalized learning.”
As a business owner, watching that learning progress has been priceless, she said.
“I just think it’s great watching kids come in who can’t read who all of a sudden have a whole world open up to them,” McGuckin said. “When you pick up a book, you can go into a million worlds, so for me, helping people understand those things – how to read, how to do your math, how to have confidence in school – it’s just really fun and makes me feel like I’m making a difference.”
Ready to learn how Sylvan can help your family? Call 605-362-4885 or click here.