Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Most people would throw up their hands when confronted with the problems of illiteracy in America. But not Evelyn Peter-Lawsh . She set out to do something about it. After spending a number of years tutoring students out of her own home, Peter-Lawsh realized that the demand for reading skills was great enough to support an education business.
In 1991, she opened her first Reading and Language Arts Centers (R-LAC) with the help of two tutors whom she had trained in the phonics-based Orton-Gillingham method. Every year since, revenues have increased by 110 percent as word spread of her students' success in learning to read. Today, the company operates three learning centers in suburban Detroit, and serves over 800 clients annually.
"The student is our first priority," says Director Laurel Wagner. "Some of them come to us so frustrated by repeated educational failures. Our method of teaching is designed to make them successful. Each lesson plan is individualized, and tutoring is always one-to-one (at the Centers), with the student seeing the same tutor every week. Together a rapport is developed and a trust established that creates an ideal learning environment. Parents realize that this kind of personalized attention is just not possible in the classroom setting."
Peter-Lawsh also credits the training she gives her tutors. For a fee, Peter-Lawsh provides 40 hours of training to all her tutors, a requirement of employment at the Centers. Although Peter-Lawsh does not require her tutors to be certified teachers, the training she offers is recognized by the State Board of Education and may be used by certified teachers to earn continuing education units.
In fact, her training programs are so highly regarded that the Birmingham Public Schools have contracted with Peter-Lawsh to provide training to 30 of its teachers. Several other schools and districts throughout the state are contracting teacher training services.
Says Peter-Lawsh , "I have a strong commitment to helping break the cycle of illiteracy." To help meet the needs of children from low-income families, who have great difficulty affording private tutoring services, Peter-Lawsh established the non-profit Reading and Language Arts Institute. "We had been donating services worth several hundred dollars every week," says Peter-Lawsh . "Business-wise, it was running us into the ground, so we started the Institute." The Detroit Public Schools' Empowerment Zone Committee plans to use the Institute to offer after-school tutoring to its students.
Tutor Bronwyn Hain, an independent contractor with the R-LAC, says she has more freedom working with a private education company. "The R-LAC has given me the tools and the clientele, and especially the freedom to teach the best way I know. I find great satisfaction in helping my students succeed," say Hain.
With revenues topping $375,000, the R-LAC is seeking investors to help grow the business. Already, Peter-Lawsh has found a private investor to help establish a new Center in the Chicago area. Eventually, she hopes to operate franchise learning centers around the nation. To promote her company, Peter-Lawsh relies on word-of-mouth and the Yellow Pages, her only advertising. She also markets her services directly, speaking before meetings of local PTAs, libraries, business organizations, and newspaper editorial boards.
In addition to one-on-one tutoring, the R-LAC offers a small-group program called Phonics First(TM). The program is offered through community education and parks and recreation programs in 15 suburban Detroit communities. These classes, with a maximum of six students, make phonics instruction more affordable for all students.
Says Peter-Lawsh, "We are happy to be part of the process that is moving education forward in Michigan. This process will benefit all educators, and will especially benefit all students."