SCHERERVILLE | While reading a magazine while waiting in her dentist’s office, educator Tiara Harris learned about a method to help students who need special help in math.
The magazine article led Harris, a former teacher and school administrator, to her collaborate with her minister, Level Kensey, and open a Mathnasium Learning Center franchise, where grammar-school through high school students are tutored in math.
“He’s all math,” Harris said. “I struggled with math. A lot of students in the U.S. lag behind in math. This seemed a good fit to change that.”
Mathnasium’s instruction uses a blend of methods and materials to teach students of all ages, according to the company, Instead of relying on traditional rote memorization and repetitive exercises, the instruction focuses on helping children build deep mathematical understanding – number sense – by honing their math instincts and getting them to think like mathematicians, the company says.
They chose to open the learning center because its curriculum is designed to take students from the level they are and, through an assessment, show the gaps in the foundation processes and build on the areas they already competent in and enrich them.
“We did a lot of research on Mathnasium,” Harris said. “We went and visited other ones and looked at the other areas where they area in terms of demographics and the number of school children.”
They chose Schererville because it fits the profile of an area where the concept is needed and would be successful, Harris said. The closest Mathnasium franchise is in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
“There are a lot of children between 5 and 17 in Schererville, which is the target age,” she said. “The area’s residents also have the medium income and the education level. They (parents) have to understand the need for it to invest in it.”
The partners borrowed about $80,000 through a Small Business Administration loan to fund the business, using $30,000 for the franchise fee and the rest for operating costs, Kensey said.
“We hope to recoup it in a year and a half,” he said. “We’re on track for that.”
Students are enrolled in the school for at least six months and should stay at least a year, Kensey said. The amount of time depends on what stage of the learning process the student is completed.
“Kids come in different stages: catch up versus those who want enrichment,” he said. “So it’s up to child and parents to see how far they want to take it. The fee is paid month by month or there is the option to pay 6 to 12 months in advance. We offer incentives for that."
There is no pressure on either the students or the parents, Kensey said.
“We know the curriculum works,” he said. “We’ve already sees the curriculum work. We’ve seen kids who walk in saying, ‘I hate math,’ to now saying they can’t wait to get here. It’s very encouraging.”
Although the business has been open a only a short time, both Harris and Kensey are pleased with its progress.
“So far been a good deal,” Kensey said. “When we first decided to do this, our plan was to keep the doors open, pay our teachers and enrich the children. If we get $1 as profit for it, that’s success. I didn’t open it as a money-making business, but to give back and enrich the lives of children.”