Sylvan Learning pilots app to connect tutors to Tri-City students

The franchise owner of the Sylvan Learning Centers in Kennewick and Richland has figured out several ways to meet student needs in the Tri-City area since 2005.

There are the learning centers in Kennewick and Richland where students come for tutoring.

There are in-home visits, where Sylvan sends a tutor to the student.

And then there is online tutoring, an important outreach, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Randy Way, who also serves as the executive director of the centers, has another avenue with a new app coming soon.

The Kennewick-Richland area is one of eight sites in the country chosen to pilot Sylvan’s new app, which offers parents a new way to book a Sylvan-certified tutor.

Tri-City parents will be able to easily schedule virtual sessions with tutors who have Sylvan’s seal of approval via their smartphones and other devices.

There are an estimated 800 Sylvan Learning Centers around the world helping students of all ages.

Sylvan’s tutors can help students in kindergarten through 12th grade in the following subjects: math, reading, writing, algebra and geometry, study skills, homework and upper level science.

Sylvan also offers college support, college testing support and payment plans.

For Way, business was thriving before the Covid-19 stay-home orders.

“We were doing really well, and of course had to figure out how to pivot when the lockdown happened,” Way said. “At the time the lockdown came, I had to figure out the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan so my employees could get paid.”

He said it took him a week to get operations back up and running.

“The question was how to keep kids learning, and how to keep employees earning,” Way said.

Online became the way.

“We’ve become Zoom experts,” said Way, who employs gig workers – independent contractors who typically work eight to 10 hours a week. Tutors can use a whiteboard during Zoom meetings to help with math problems or other topics.

Some employees are putting in more hours now, thanks to the student-to-tutor ratio dropping from 3-to-1 to 1-to-1.

“Business-wise, we’re about at 60 percent at what we normally would be,” Way said.

Behind the scenes, Way has been working to launch the new app, a project that was underway before the outbreak.

“The app is a test market,” Way said. “Sylvan has been doing it for a year in the Baltimore-D.C. market, which is where corporate owns that market.”

It has shown success, he said.

The question, Way said, was now how do they make the app work with a franchise?

“If we make this grow, the Seattle market may want in,” Way said. “They have eight franchisees there, and they’d all have to agree to do it. It’s working those things out. And how do we effectively get tutors onto the app?”

Way said the app is already available locally.

“We just started recruiting teachers,” he said. “I have one in Prosser, and the rest are in Colorado. But we have five other (local) teachers in the pipeline right now.”

Way wants more time to really get the app up and running well.

“I have to get 10 to 12 tutors up live, then I can start marketing broadly,” he said. “We need more local tutors. I’ll be hosting training sessions, get-togethers. It’s a great opportunity to be able for a family to shop online for a tutor.”

Way said he is one of four franchise owners in the country who can use the app right now.

“There are two reasons the Tri-Cities comes up,” he said. “First, I was the franchise owners’ association president a couple years ago. And second, we’re the only Sylvan in the (Designated Marketing Area) here.”

Way had previously owned another Sylvan in the Yakima region, but he closed it a few years ago.

The addition of the app is just another way his tutors can reach struggling students – even though he believes the best way to is still in person.

“My gut says that when we do open back up, we could do 65 to 70 percent of our work in the center,” he said. “A student may want an in-home reading program. To doing it online, it depends on the individual or the family. Some students are responding to online.”

But it might not work for another student, he said. A child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with a parent hovering in the background may not benefit from an online session. 

Or a student who in an online session with a tutor who disappears to use the bathroom or get a snack, unbeknownst to the tutor, who keeps talking.

Success will always depend on the student, the student’s needs and what the student’s family wants, Way said.

“People can call us and talk to us, and we can determine which way to go,” he said.

The app provides an extra tool.

“It can take two weeks to get everyone on board (with the app),” Way said. “My personal goal is that I want it fully up and running by the time this area hits Phase 3 (of the governor’s recovery plan), whenever that is. In Phase 2, we will open back up in the centers.”

Sylvan Learning Centers in the Tri-Cities: 509-396-5512; sylvanlearning.com.

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