Mid-pandemic is hardly an ideal time to become a business owner, but a few Western New Yorkers are part of a trend nationwide trying to meet the needs of students who have been displaced from school for most of a year. Sabrina and Vick Ghotra opened a Sylvan Learning franchise in Lancaster. A few months prior, Kristen Maines took over the Sylvan location in Amherst. Both are part of
a surge by the tutoring-services provider, which operates 750 locations nationwide and has been opening one location per week through late fall. A classroom teacher for several years in Ontario, Sabrina Ghotra recently obtained her master’s in education and considered now the time to pursue her passion to help others.
She said parents have steadily come to seek homework help and to reinforce concepts that teachers may not be able to address over a computer chat.
“How can I create a bigger change in students’ and families’ lives?” she said. “We reallynoticed that students are struggling a lot with some of those foundational ideas. How do we put sounds and letters together to form words? How do we complete basic mathfacts?”
Maines, a former tennis player and current coach at the University at Buffalo, also saw students struggling amid months of remote instruction. That cast aside any doubts she had about diving in during Covid-19.
“I had been looking at a couple different businesses for a while,” she said. “What these kids are going through right now and what parents and educators are facing, this was a great time. “Maureen Eichholz, Sylvan’s director of franchise development, said demand for services through the Maryland-based company have been high since March but have reallypicked up this academic year.
“It’s at the forefront of everybody’s minds that our kids are missing out on their education,” she said. “We’re going into 2021 with kids still doing a combination of distance learning and sometimes going into the classroom.” Research into the subject seems to reinforce that. The Brookings Institution, for one,found that more than four-fifths of the tutoring programs that were examined since the pandemic started resulted in “statistically significant” improvements for the students involved.
That would suggest, according to the study, that tutoring is a major factor in ensuring students remain at grade level once they return to school full time. Some businesses, such as TeacherPod — which connects students with tutors — have been born from this shortfall. In Sylvan’s case, that realization has led to the need for more franchises. The initial investment ranges from $70,000 to $160,000 with corporate resources available.
That initial cost is already paying off, Ghotra and Maines said. Ghotra has upwards of a dozen students enrolled with assessment requests (to gauge what level of tutoring is needed) continually coming in, keeping her and three part-time teachers busy in her few weeks of operation. Maines’ inherited operation has a director and seven teachers working with about five dozen students at all grade levels.
Both expect their workloads to increase in the year ahead. With schools appearing to be nowhere close to fully reopening, they see the need for tutoring as being a valuable resource for some time, even after the pandemic ends.
“Kids are really, really struggling right now, especially grades one through three. Thosefoundations are not being strengthened or built as they should be,” Ghotra said. “There is a need. I think the need and the gaps are going to grow because students are disengaged virtually.”
“It’s a tough situation. They’re in school sometimes. Then they’re not. Stuff is all over the place,” Maines said. “Younger kids, their foundations got cut short. They missed a lot of spring last year. The phonics in reading and those math facts — they missed those bricks. I know they’re lacking. Let’s get them up to speed. We’re doing a lot of backpedaling and making sure those foundations are there.”