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Time for a Tutor?

Does your struggling student need a boost in reading or math – or could an underlying problem be to blame? Decide what sort of school help is best for your child

The ranks of tutors helping struggling students has been on the rise. Within a recent five year span, the number of tutors skyrocketed from 250,000 to 2 million, according to the Florida-based National Tutoring Association.

With so many options available, deciding which tutor or agency would be the best resource can be overwhelming. Experts say parents should check the tutor's background and meet him or her in person beforehand.

And while many kids may need an extra boost in understanding math and English concepts, for others, there may be more to consider.

Weeding out other issues

Sometimes, a student may need to be assessed to find out what exactly their needs are, says Isabelle Beaulieu, a licensed psychologist who specializes in neuropsychology. At the Center for Neuropsychology and Learning – her organization, which has locations in Ann Arbor and Bloomfield Hills – Beaulieu says psychologists test kids to find their strengths and weaknesses.

Students range from gifted students who need to be challenged, to students with disabilities who are struggling. Whatever the needs, Beulieu says her center has a list of tutors whose specialties fit the range – and have been checked and interviewed by her staff.

Stephanie Naberhaus, speech language pathologist and clinical director of Building Bridges Therapy Center in Plymouth, also says finding the underlying cause is key. In her experience, most students having trouble in school actually need speech therapy.

"Testing is usually a good place to start," she says. "But usually, if a parent is seeing that their child is having a learning issue in the first or second grade, chances are he or she has a language impairment."

Naberhaus says her organization also employs two long-time tutors, both with teaching certificates, to help some kids academically along with their speech therapy.

Electronic help

Digital tutoring can give kids a boost, too. Students being treated for speech therapy at Building Bridges, for instance, also get computerized tutoring. The center uses a program called Fast ForWord, designed to help kids improve their reading skills.

"Computers can tutor children in a way that tutors can't," Naberhaus says. "A computer can go over a sound over and over when a person can't. Children can go over an area 300 times in one session."

Beyond repetition, these programs force the student to slow down, focus, then gradually speed up and improve their reading ability.

Tutor and former teacher Tom Kroeger, director of Optimum Reading in Farmington Hills, helps kids and adults with varying learning styles improve their reading skills with a computer program called Reading Plus.

The program helps students with the physical act of reading, forcing them to focus on the words and comprehend them. "By the time a student is done, their eyes move more smoothly across the page," Kroeger says.

Focus on facts

Pamela Beck tutored for years and felt as though she wasn't able to help her students.

"It seemed like no matter how hard I tried, some students just didn't 'get it' in school," she says. "Some kids had such a big gap in learning styles that it seemed like they would always be the low man on the totem pole."

Today, Beck directs academic services at Excel Institute in Shelby Township. Beck, also a vision therapy administrator, believes some kids who seem to have a learning disability may not need tutoring at all. Instead, an underlying issue may be to blame.

For instance, Excel tests patients for vision disorders that affect overall learning ability, Beck says. If a vision disorder is detected, the institute offers academic retraining vs. tutoring as part of a patient's vision therapy.

In the end, whether it's through tutoring or some other treatment, the goal is to help the student overcome whatever hurdles are preventing them from realizing their full academic potential.

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