Helping Students Climb the Learning Curve:
From Base Camp to Summit with Kaplan’s Tutoring Company,
By Emily Sherwood, Ph.D.
You’ve made it to the top of SCORE! Mountain,” exclaims the cartoon
mountaineering figure at the end of SCORE!’s newest workbook series for
students from Kindergarten to Grade 6, aptly titled Mountain Challenge.. “You deserve a fun
break from studying. Go visit a friend and have some fun!”
With a succession of carefully selected, age appropriate
learning assignments followed by immediate positive reinforcement as each
imaginary base camp is reached, SCORE! is rolling out the latest in its arsenal
of tutoring tools, a sequence of motivational workbooks that hits book store
shelves this May. The workbooks are the newest product in a plethora of rapidly
growing educational services that SCORE! has become famous for since the
company was started in 1992 by Stanford Business School graduate Alan Tripp,
who began the fledgling operation by opening storefront tutoring centers in
California. Tripp was guided by a vision and a passion to create “a place where
students of all abilities could come and get education without any shame…where
education was delivered in a very positive environment…and where kids could
come to re-equate education with fun and really develop a love of learning,”
explains SCORE!’s Executive Vice-President of Operations, Beth Hollenberg.
Success breeds success, and in 1996 the international test prep
giant Kaplan, Inc. acquired SCORE! in an effort to “develop a tutoring arm and
do something for younger children,” describes Hollenberg, who joined the
company in 2000 after obtaining a law degree from Stanford University and
serving as an attorney for the 2000 Democratic National Convention Committee.
Tripp’s seminal vision was clearly prophetic: in just 15 years, SCORE! has
grown exponentially to embrace 160 locations in 11 states, 26 of them in New
York City (they’re in all five boroughs), 14 in New Jersey and two in
Connecticut. Central to SCORE!’s mission is its accessibility and affordability
to all socioeconomic groups: “We serve kids in the Bronx and in Beverly Hills,”
says Hollenberg proudly.
Parents bring their children to SCORE! for both enrichment and
remedial help, depending on their needs. Some parents are more concerned about
college; others are just focused on getting their children into high school.
Sometimes there is pressure around high stakes testing, but almost universally
parents are “looking for a partner to help them navigate the educational
system…to make sure that they are on top of their child’s education,” notes
Following careful student assessments and a discussion of goals
with the family, SCORE! offers a choice of two instructional models for
children from pre-kindergarten through tenth grade. The Advantage Program
provides a computer-based reading and math curriculum for students called
SuccessMaker; students work at their computers on an individualized curriculum,
supplemented with direct instruction by academic coaches. The staff-to-student
ratio is about one instructor for every five or seven students, at a cost of
$20 per session: “You can get a month [of the Advantage Program] for about what
it would cost to go out to dinner, a movie and have a babysitter,” says Hollenberg.
SCORE!’s second instructional model, the more intensive, Personal Academic
Tutoring Program, is a pen and pencil-based curriculum, taught with a more
intensive teacher-student ratio (usually 1:3 or less). Typically focused on one
academic subject only, this option costs about $40-$50 per session.
Fundamental to SCORE!’s educational philosophy is “a very rich
motivation and reward system,” says Hollenberg. Upon mastering various skills,
students earn score cards which can be redeemed for gift certificates and
books. There’s also a goal program that rewards completion, helping students to
set and pursue academic goals: students attain bronze, silver, gold, and even
“top of the mountain” goals when they complete a certain number of sessions,
advancing them up a wooden mountain to the summit. Goal attainment is not taken
lightly at SCORE!: “There’s a goal celebration. Children bring their parents,
family members, friends, and everybody has cameras. All activity in the center
is stopped. The students look up from their computers. We introduce the student
and we say what his or her goal was, and everybody claps,” explains Hollenberg.
The student gets a token reward, often a T-shirt, but most importantly, s/he
gets to give everybody in the center a score card of their own.
For a lot of students, it’s
the score cards and goals that keep them coming back to SCORE! But for others,
according to Hollenberg, “it’s about going somewhere where someone knows your name. They know what subjects
you like, what subjects you don’t like, they know if you had a soccer game,
they know your friends…We become a big part of a family’s life.” Not bad for a
company that started out with a dream and a storefront.#