Angie Wieck, Published June 27 2013
Mother-daughter duo open Sylvan Learning Center in Fargo, find meaning in helping students meet goals
Business: Sylvan Learning Center
Address: 4610 Amber Valley Parkway, Fargo
Phone: (701) 499-4300
FARGO – Kari Weigel has had a passion for teaching since she was a student herself. She was in high school when she helped her mother, Ellen Jacobson, open a Sylvan Learning Center in Bismarck in 1995.
After taking a break to attend college and get some real-life experience, Weigel returned to Bismarck in 2004 to invest in and operate the center with Jacobson.
Weigel was recently approached by Sylvan officials to operate a center in Fargo when the franchise became available in May. She quickly secured classroom space; tutoring sessions are expected to begin in early July.
The current location is only temporary until a new center is constructed in south Fargo next year.
The women now operate the only licensed Sylvan Learning Centers in the state and have plans to open new satellite locations in Williston, Dickinson and Minot.
Sylvan Learning Centers offer personalized tutoring on a number of subjects, as well as study skills and ACT prep courses, to students in grades K-12 and beyond. Instruction is meant to supplement classroom education.
Thanks to new digital technology called SylvanSync, some of Sylvan’s courses can now be delivered via iPad rather than through textbooks, pencil and paper.
This technology makes it possible to deliver Sylvan curriculum to rural communities where it is needed, such as in the Oil Patch.
Because of the oil boom, school districts in western North Dakota face challenges in hiring and retaining teachers, and are dealing with a rapid increase in student numbers, Weigel said. Both have contributed to a skill level gap between students in a given class.
This is where Jacobson says Sylvan’s personalized tutoring can really benefit schools.
“Where a teacher has to get through the curriculum that’s set in front of them and they have to be able to teach to the class, our goal is different,” Jacobson said. “We don’t have to worry about all the subjects and the curriculum. Our goal is simply to help this one student identify the gaps, fill them in and move on. If we work together, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Weigel added that programs are individualized to each student with respect to funding, scheduling, curriculum and goals.
“The student doesn’t have to fit into Sylvan,” Weigel said. “Sylvan wraps itself around the student.”
Satellite locations will operate as partnerships with schools, libraries or other entities that can offer students a safe environment in which to study.
In Williston, a satellite site will be located in office space provided by the Greater Northwest Educational Cooperative, a consortium of school districts in northwestern North Dakota.
Jacobson said she and Weigel hope to complete hiring and training by the time school starts in the fall.
While Jacobson does think about retirement, she will likely continue to be involved in the business for some time while they expand Sylvan’s reach in North Dakota.
She does not seem to mind. “We always call it the ‘goosebump business’ because there is not a day that goes by you don’t get the goosebumps because somebody met their goal or just got it.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501