Firefly Tutoring, the brainchild of lower Wallingford resident Paul Schurr, is slated to open on Wednesday, not coincidentally the first day of school for those who attend Seattle Public Schools. Paul, who teaches computer programming at the UW, has joined forces with seasoned middle school science and art teacher Lori Bellamy and veteran reading specialist Roy Matieson to create this neighborhood tutoring and study skills center. Firefly is offering a range of services including: tutoring for students who are struggling; enrichment for students who need an extra challenge; afterschool care that includes help with homework; study skills classes; and MAP/MSP and PSAT/SAT test prep.
Paul happens to be my next door neighbor. Two school years ago, I often walked to and from John Stanford International School with my kindergartener and Paul’s daughter, then a fourth grader. After school, she would sometimes sit alongside my son for “homework club,” which sparked conversations about which subjects she liked and which ones she found tricky. Math came up a lot.
Paul picked up on this loud and clear, and enrolled his daughter in a tutoring program so that she could build a more solid foundation of math skills and increase her math confidence. However, his experience in bringing his daughter to the national tutoring center left him wanting. He has spent the last nine months refining his vision for a local, customizable tutoring center, building his team, and developing a curriculum that will be responsive to the needs of neighborhood students.
“A major goal of Firefly Tutoring is to fill in the gaps created by ‘local conditions,’” Paul told me. “These local conditions include textbook choices from the school district, subjects taught in immersion languages and Washington State Standards. In a nationally-based tutoring chain, you can’t adapt your program to reflect the student population very easily. At Firefly, we will be taking all of these things into account and customizing our tutoring to address these conditions.”
Additionally, Firefly will be incorporating a multi-sensory approach to teaching. The learning style of each student will be evaluated to help both instructors and students themselves understand the approach that will work best for each student. Many senses will be employed in learning, and students will be taught skills for using their strongest senses in the classroom.
“If you are not an auditory learner, but a tactile learner, we will teach you how to take notes. To write down what you are hearing so that your brain can process it. If you need to visualize what you are learning, we will help you figure out how to find or create visual representations of the material,” Paul said.
And if what your child needs is to learn math in English, instead of Japanese or Spanish, Firefly’s instructors will cover that too.
“Often, the kids know the concepts in Japanese or in Spanish,” Paul told me, “But they are tested on the MAP and MSP in English. We help them connect those concepts with the English terms.”
Application to real life situations is also important to the Firefly team, for math, language and study skills. Their goal is to work with students of all abilities. If students have mastered the basics, they want to help them move forward into translating those basic skills to real life problems. For reading and writing, this will involve tasks like reading for fluency and understanding, writing for clarity and reading works of literature for fun and understanding.
“The problem with math in the United States,” said Paul, “Is that it doesn’t teach students how to formulate the questions that can be solves with math skills. It doesn’t teach them how to apply their math to science, which is the main reason that math matters! Math is a tool for understanding your world.”
What about that transition to middle school, which Paul’s daughter will be making this year?
“Middle school can be really hard for students to adjust to,” said Paul whose older daughter struggled with her transition. “There is a lot less hand holding. There are multiple teachers. There are long term projects. It’s easy to get lost.”
For both elementary and junior high students, Firefly will be open for afterschool educational care. Students can spend the afternoon at Firefly, with teachers present to support them in completing both short term and long term projects. For middle schoolers, there will also be a study skills class, which will teach some of the bigger picture concepts like organization, note taking, prioritization and project planning.
Starting September 5th, Firefly will offer pick-up service at John Stanford International School and Hamilton Middle School. Students that attend other area schools can be dropped-off for afterschool educational care ($10/hour), tutoring and enrichment ($15/hour for small group, $50/hour for private), and study skills ($10/hour). Firefly will provide snacks and offer educational games and art projects to those who complete their homework. Firefly will be open early on early release days and will offer special sessions on furlough days and other non-federal school holidays.
Paul’s venture sounds like a novel approach to tutoring and afterschool care to me. This school year, I may find that my son is again sitting at the table with Paul’s daughter, talking about math. With a lot more confidence, I hope!