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Learning Centers and CMS

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

July 4,2005

They’re everywhere. Learning centers are quickly spreading throughout the greater Charlotte area. Television commercials for Huntington Learning Center and Sylvan Learning Center regularly interrupt prime time television. People receive discounts on testing, consultations, and trial sessions through the mail. Learning centers of all kinds continue to expand. This recent and steady expansion of learning-center popularity is a direct response to academic shifts in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.

As of 2005, all students in grades three through eight are required to take end-of-year exams as part of President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law, passed in 2002. The pending exams change the atmosphere within the classrooms during the school year. Teachers have a stringent timeline, and a tailored curriculum. They have a set amount of material that must be covered by the end of the year, and must be covered in a way conducive to the test. Some students find themselves struggling to keep up with the fast-paced, “no-nonsense” teaching, and end up falling behind. And, over the last decade, the requirements and expectations placed on students as young as kindergarten have increased substantially.

Nate Rogers directs the Math program at the Huntington Learning Center in Huntersville. He meets with several students who, at one time, were at the top of their class, but are now falling behind. He explains, “in a classroom, a teacher is dealing with multiple students and the pressures of getting through a certain amount of curriculum. So if a student falls behind, it is hard to catch them up because they need to move on. A learning center can help a student get caught up with everything.”

Tutoring is another element of the “No Child Left Behind” plan. Schools must designate funds to provide free tutoring to students, particularly in schools that are evaluated as sub-par. But for many students, the tutoring offered (if any), is not enough. Mr. Rogers says, “we have a lot of students that have done the free tutoring, but have found that it isn’t enough. That’s not to say it doesn’t work for some students.” The benefit of a learning center program is that the help each child receives is as individual as the student.

Although Huntington does not teach material specifically for success on the EOG, the center does teach their students skills in reading, math, and study that are needed for success in all academic areas. The learning center atmosphere is different from a tutoring program in its approach. Becky Schelling, former managing director for Huntington, explains that “while a tutor may teach a specific subject such as Biology, Huntington works to build a foundation of skills that will help a student succeed in all areas.” Huntington does offer high school students preparation specifically for the SAT. Many high schoolers have increased anxieties about the writing section of the new SAT (to mix with the general pressures to succeed for college admittance).

Mr. Rogers has also worked with many high school students on various math subjects - ranging from basic concepts that were never properly understood to more advanced subjects like pre-calculus. He suggests one factor that may be leading to more math students in the center is a lack of continuity in their classroom. He remembers, “I had an algebra 1 student who had four different long-term substitutes for the year, and never ended up having an actual permanent teacher.” The repercussions of that sort of educational experience are clear. “Basically, every time a new teacher comes in, it is as if they are starting fresh. They don’t know the students or what their different abilities are. And, every teacher has a different teaching style, so having four teachers may mean that you learn the same thing four different ways.” It is easy for student to fall through the cracks when they lack an extended relationship with a teacher.

While the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system can boast many successes, such as increased test scores and higher ratings for teacher qualifications, there are areas that need improvement. Learning centers such as Huntington, Sylvan, and their affiliates offer wonderful services to children with many levels of learning needs. But they should not exist as a replacement for public school education.

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