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North Hills Monthly

Tutoring Can Improve Classwork, Add Confidence

Jul 31, 2016 08:17PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen

Last-minute tantrums about major tests. Projects due yesterday. Four-hour long homework sessions. If your child is struggling in school, he or she may need the help of a tutor. Even children who are not struggling—such as those hoping to master SAT exams for scholarship money—can use a tutor’s help. 

“Whether a child is struggling, a middle learner or even an advanced learner, every student could benefit from tutoring,” said Neil Haley, CEO of the Total Education Network and host of the Total Education Hour on WRCT 88.3 FM. “Tutoring increases confidence, helps alleviate anxiety and helps with attention and focus. This helps your child stay a step ahead in the classroom.” 

A former elementary school teacher, Haley, of Gibsonia, acknowledges that parents and kids often have a bad reaction to the notion of hiring a tutor. “We have been given this terrible representation of tutoring that's embarrassing; the kids will never enjoy it, it's a waste of money, and it's time consuming. These fallacies need to be addressed,” he said. “It's important to have a tutor for every one of your children; you’ll see better grades, less stress at parent/teacher conferences, and better relationships between parents and kids. These results will affect the whole family.”

“All of us had one or more subjects we probably had difficulty with in school,” explained Sandy Niekum, tutoring program manager for Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry. “Wouldn’t it be great to sit one-on-one and have someone really explain it to us until we understood it? The kids who struggle in school think they're the only ones who don't get it, and some fall so far behind that it’s nearly impossible to catch up without a lot of help.”

Niekum explained that today’s curriculum moves very quickly. “Kindergarteners are no longer playing in the sand; they’re learning sight words,” she said, noting that all parents should take advantage of the ability to go online and see their children's grades. “Parents must check their children’s progress, so that when grades start to go down or homework is missed, they will be able to address the situation quickly.” She advised that parents should first see what the school offers in the way of tutoring, and then seek outside help as necessary.

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” Huntington Learning Center’s Executive Director Peg Holmes said, quoting Ann Landers. “It's an absolute truth. Education isn't free, yet the whole public school model is based around economic efficiency. It's easier to pay for one teacher to work with 30 kids.” 

Holmes explains that when students come to Huntington, they’re first tested to identify issues, and then a targeted curriculum is hand-picked for every student. “The difference in terms of progress is astounding,” she added.

“We're not here to replace the classroom; we're here to help facilitate what the classroom teachers are trying to do, because it's almost impossible for them,” Holmes continued, acknowledging that teachers with large classes simply aren’t able to reach every student. “We want to help every student get the best possible education, but there unfortunately is a cost associated with that. Huntington's model is not as economically efficient because we work with each student on an individual basis, but it's a totally different end result.”

Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry uses a sliding scale based on family size and income to determine the cost of their service. “We want to make tutoring affordable to everyone,” said Niekum, noting that more than 60 percent of the ministry’s tutoring students come from single-parent homes.

Terry Anderson, owner of College Nannies and Tutors of North Pittsburgh, said that while some children do ask for tutoring, most children need to be coerced into the process. “We can try to make it not drudgery, but they have to be willing and want to improve,” she noted, adding that there are benefits they may not realize, including college scholarship money. 

“Maybe they don't realize the burden that student loans will have on them five years after school, but you have to find a way to get to them,” she added. “One of my tutors told a student, ‘Bottom line: This will get mom off your back.’” 

“Tutoring is also a good way to give one-on-one reinforcement. The teachers in a large classroom don’t have the time to dole that out,” said Anderson, noting that tutoring is not as much of an expense as it is an investment in your child.

Holmes said that another consideration is commitment and the ability to keep to a regular schedule. “One of the more frequent complaints we hear from parents is that they hired a tutor, and the sessions kept getting cancelled. You need a regular schedule and that goes for the parents, too. If you want to see any sort of progress, it has to be a priority.”