Tutoring firm catches young students before they fall too far behind


If they learned one thing the first time around as parents, said Ben and Patricia Crowl, it was that when children start slipping in school, they need help right away.

Parents of two grown children, the Crowls are now raising their granddaughter, Lynsey, and taking her to a private tutor to supplement her schooling at Robert Moton Elementary School.

"I think they're doing a great job at school, but if you need the extra help, they can't do it," said Mrs. Crowl.

Lynsey is in second grade and improving, her grandparents said. Since kindergarten, she had been slower to catch up with classmates who had been to preschool, Mrs. Crowl said.

It's been a long time since the Crowls were in school, and it was hard for them to help her with homework, Mr. Crowl said.

"We just wanted her to get a good start," he said. "If they can get it the first, second and third years of school, that's better. Don't let them fall behind."

Mrs. Crowl heard about Sylvan Learning Center, a national tutoring chain, through the phone book, television ads and friends.

Although Sylvan is the only firm in Carroll County offering tutoring, parents also can call the Carroll County Education Association.

As a service to its teacher members and to parents, the union serves as a clearinghouse to match students with teachers who are willing to tutor after school.

The price is negotiated between private tutors and the student. Sylvan has rates that range from $180 to $330 a month, depending on the program and child, said Barry Willen, executive director of the Westminster center at Main Street Exchange.

Several parents who use Sylvan said last week that they didn't feel the public and private schools their children attend had let them down. Only a private tutor could provide the individual attention they wanted for their children, they said.

For one father, Sylvan was an alternative to sending his daughter to a private school.

Tyrone Price of Hanover, Pa., has brought one of his daughters, Laura, to the Sylvan Center in Westminster for about a year. He estimated he has spent $800 to $1,000 on the tutoring, and feels it was worth it.

He believes Laura has gotten as much as she can from tutoring, however, and plans to have her finish this month.

"It's hard to tell sometimes when it stops becoming a necessity and it starts becoming a hobby," he said.

Joshua Sallow, 10, at first did not want any of his classmates at Sandymount Elementary School to know he was getting extra help in reading from Sylvan.

But now, he knows other children go to private tutors too, so he doesn't mind.

His mother, Lisa Sallow of Finksburg, said she had been concerned about Joshua's reading comprehension after talking with his teachers. She said she doesn't resent having to get private tutoring.

"There are too many children in the class. I feel bad for the teachers," she said.

First-grade teacher Laura Cleveland of Robert Moton said teachers don't mind when their students get private tutoring. "I wish I could do it all, but to be honest, I can't," she said. "I have 27 kids in my class, and that's a lot. [Tutoring] gives the children extra help that we can't always give them."

For parents who can't afford Sylvan or other private tutors, she said, the teachers do try to take a few minutes here and there -- before or after school, or while other children are working on something in class.

Public school children aren't the only ones seeking help.

Steven Piazza of Woodbine is a sophomore at Mount St. Joseph High School in Catonsville, a Catholic, college preparatory boys school.

He attended Eldersburg Elementary School and Mount Airy Middle School, and has always had trouble with math, he said.

His mother, Doris Piazza, said she believes Steven could have gotten better math instruction in his earlier years. He has had tutorssince his elementary grades. By now, she said, he needs the extra help that even a prep school can't give.

"It helps," she said. "His grades improved. That was our main concern."

Steven said tutoring helps him apply what he learns.

The teachers he works with at Sylvan, for example, show him different mnemonics, or tricks to help him remember how to solve algebraic equations.

His math grades have gone from C's to A's, although part of that has been because he has an easier time with geometry this year than he did with algebra last year, he said.

When he first went to Sylvan, he took a test that showed his weaknesses. The gaps in his math skills are where the tutors focused their energy, he said.

Getting his grades up at Mount St. Joseph is very important to Steven, who would like to go to an FBI academy, the U.S. Naval Academy or another service-related college.

"I want to get my [grade] average up. I've been looking through the [college] catalogs, and that's all they're looking for now," Steven said.

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