Business Spotlight - Cohasset Learning Studio

Small Business Spotlight - The Cohasset Learning Studio

On this episode of the Business Spotlight on the REN Network, Jeffrey sits down to talk with Abigail Sullivan of the Cohasset Learning Studio.

Abigail discusses how she is making a difference in the community by helping kids learn how to read, write and do math. She is able to recognize any possible issues a child may have before they become an issue and work on closing the gap while it is easier and more natural for a child to learn.

Abigail offers private and semi-private tutoring, group classes and even zoom classes and tutoring.

Visit the Cohasset Learning Studio by clicking herehttps://cohassetlearningstudio.com/

Transcript of Video:

- Hi, I'm Jeff Chubb with REN Network. On this week's business spotlight We're at the Cohasset Learning Studio with Abigail Sullivan talking about everything she does to help kids in the community. So Abigail, tell me. So how did the Cohasset Learning Studio, how did it start? I mean, how did you get here today?

- Well, I'm a former public school teacher and I'm adjunct faculty at a couple of colleges in Massachusetts. So I have a lot of experience in education and the theory and best practices and actually what's happening in the public schools and what isn't happening in the schools. After my first daughter was born I started my private practice in Cohasset and Hingham and supported kids working out of the library and their houses. And then-

- Great library to work at, by the way.

- Yeah. So I love our public libraries and librarians. They were a great host to me for about four or five years while I did it that way. And then in February of 2020 I opened the studio space so we could serve more students. And so that I could create this warm safe learning space to hold our lessons.

- Which I think you nailed it from a warm perspective. This place is great.

- Thank you.

- So February, 2020, is when you did this all. So perfect timing.

- Right, right.

- Perfect timing. So February, 2000. I have to imagine from your original business plan and when you put the sign on the door and everything some things probably changed from February, 2020 to I don't know, maybe March, 2020.

- Right.

- So tell me a little bit about, you know, what was originally kind of what you were looking to do and maybe how you transitioned because of that crazy C-word, COVID.

- Sure, sure.

- And what it looks like today.

- So the original plan was to use the space during the day to provide enrichment for preschool aged children. So we have some amazing preschools in town that kids go to. And so this coming here would be sort of a supplement to that. Kids would come for a one hour class.

- And that's what enrichment is, right?

- Yeah.

- 'Cause this is my daughters my daughters or my wife's world. So enrichment is just basically you go to the school and then this is just after school programs.

- Exactly. We worked with the parents' schedules to find out, okay, you know, kids in this preschool class can walk over here and the parents would actually do a little sidewalk carpool where they'd pick up the kids there. And then one parent would walk them over here for a bonus hour that was rich in early literacy.

- Okay.

- So that's what we did here. It wasn't a mimicking a traditional preschool experience. It was providing instruction and practice with phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, early phonics and fine motor skills to support them for letter formation which is starting to emerge at the end of pre-K and getting into kindergarten.

- Right. So that's how we would spend our days pre COVID, would be doing that. Those kind of enrichment classes.

- How big is an enrichment class? Like what is your target or how many...

- We used to have up to six kids in here at a time.

- Okay.

- So, you know, three to six kids is what we consider a small group. And those numbers work really nicely. It's just it's a tiny little space in here So that's the perfect size, the perfect amount of kids. But also that allows the teacher to really know what each one of those students can handle in terms of phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, fine motor skills. So the class sizes are super small so we can tell parents exactly what their child is working on and working towards at any period in that stage.

- Great. And so six kids are here in class at one time. Are they all different ages? Are they the same age? How does that work out?

- Yeah, so just pre-K. So we're looking for that year before kindergarten. That's when we're ready to start being a little more deliberate with our early literacy instruction. So, because I was a classroom teacher and a reading specialist in public schools and then a private reading specialist, I know what the problems look like in the upper grades. And I hear those parents say, well she always had trouble learning her letters. Or it was always hard for him to hold a pencil. Or he never really could rhyme or hear sounds and words. So there were all these red flags from early childhood. and I was getting kids in third fourth and fifth grade when that window for intervention was closing shut. So the reason I wanted to do the pre-K enrichment was because I knew that there were things that we could do when kids were four turning five, that would set them up so that when they entered kindergarten and it was time to learn how to read they had the prerequisite skills and they were in love with all things literacy.

- That's great. So it's pretty much, is it all around literacy? Or do you do other things?

- It is pretty much all around literacy. That's my area of expertise and I know how to seek out other teachers with that same expertise. So I'm hiring people who I know use the structured literacy approach so that we're not just willy nilly doing any fun letter game or read aloud that is fun or pleasant for us. We have a plan in mind. We have a scope and sequence that we're following that's both age appropriate but also like directly targets these areas that we know they're going to need for kindergarten. And then in the afternoon, you know if the preschoolers are all tired out that's when we do our private tutoring. So that's the other arm of the business, would be supporting struggling readers in grades-

- So older. Grades K through eight. Okay.

- So they're in school, well, they should be in school all day. And then they would be able to come here for extra support and receive that one-on-one or sometimes we do it a semi-private lesson, two kids, and one teacher. And that's for children who are experiencing a struggle with reading, spelling, fluency, writing any of those areas.

- So you mentioned other teachers. So it's not just you. How many teachers do you have?

- Well, right now we have about 20, 25 or 26 teachers on staff. So when pre COVID, we had just a handful. About five or six. And then we pivoted and opened up our zoom lessons.

- Right. And that's something specifically with COVID.

- Yes.

- I mean, so to that point, so what have been some of the things that you've done and you've changed because of COVID? How have you, as a business owner, a very new business owner that this just got hit, right when you really started right. How have you had to adapt? Or what have you been doing to adapt? Because it's all about the kids, right? How have you been .

- Exactly. It was, you know, in March I had a decision like, well I can just take a deep breath and pack it up and wait this thing out, or we can do something about it. Because there's a lot of kids who are going to be left hanging for potentially a long time. Although I didn't know how long when this all started.

- I don't think any of us did. Just for the record.

- I had my binders up for sure. But I'm really glad we didn't back off this challenge.

- Right.

- Because I trained reading specialists myself I have a whole army of reading specialists around the state who I've trained and I trust and they have their masters in reading. They are trained in Orton-Gillingham which is a structured literacy approach. So I knew exactly who to call on when we were starting our Zoom lessons. So they're spread out around the state and some have even left the state and are around the country. We have one tutor in Scotland who's amazing. And I know them personally so I can trust them with the kids in this community. And that makes me feel really good. They're not random internet teachers.

- Right.

- I've groomed them myself. I trust them. I'm in communication with them. So when people call on me and in March and April and May and it was not safe enough to venture out I could match them with a tutor. They could do their lessons online. And they parents knew they were getting high quality instruction from someone with all the right credentials and someone who had already been vetted by a local teacher in town.

- And so that's also probably a service you don't have to be in Cohasset or Scituate or Hull in order, or Hingham to do that. Right?

- Right.

- You could be anywhere.

- And we've had friends from the South shore tell their friends who live in other parts of the state about us and they could access our services as well because our tutors meet on Zoom.

- That's great.

- And somebody moved to California and kept their tutor with them.

- Yeah. It's going to be interesting to see how all these businesses, they've adapted because of COVID. And you know there are some things, for example, Pat's Barbershop, right? I love now you have to make an appointment in order to go in and get your hair cut rather than standing in that long line. So it's been interesting to see. And some things will never go back, I guess, if you will.

- Well, some families have said that it actually suits them to do it this way, especially if they're working from home and they're full-time working parents. It's a little bit harder to drive downtown, drop someone off for 45 to 60 minutes, go back home, then go right back down. So they said it's easier for them to log their child on. And so for some families, Zoom works and we're going to keep that as an offering going forward even when you know, things repair themselves and we're back in the world full time. But we've also been able to open up the studio with some safety precautions.

- Great. So actually two questions. The first one is, have you noticed the need for what you're offering a little bit more since we've done so much Zoom schooling, I guess. Yeah. I mean, it kills me. These kids, a lot of them haven't really been in class that often. So I guess that's my first part. And then second part is definitely, I mean cause I think safety is a concern of a lot of people. So what are some of the things that you're doing for those, you know, safety precautions?

- Absolutely. So for safety precautions where I've been following Cohasset public schools of their decision-making process. So we wear masks at all times. We have our desks with plexiglass in between to just provide a little extra barrier. And when we do circle time I put out the chairs on the floor. So the kids are automatically spaced and know how to stay in their zone.

- Right.

- So that's not how I would like my student. I would like them to have more freedom but right now this is the safest way to do it. And the children are doing an excellent job because they're used to doing it in school and preschool and they're able to do it here.

- Yeah. Well, I mean, Reagan, my five-year-old, I think she's actually better at following the rules than I am, because it's almost as if she's grown up with them at this point, unfortunately. It's sad to say.

- No, they're just very matter of fact about it. And they all have their own materials kit. So we minimize the sharing with pencils, crayons, dry erase markers. And of course children love having their own anything. So everybody loves their material it and that feels special.

- Oh, that's great. So do they get decorate their material kit?

- Yeah, they get to a lot of decorating decorating.

- Again. Five-year-old. I know what's important. So it's going to happen soon. Sooner hopefully rather than later, we're going to go back to I'm so sick and tired of hearing this new normal stuff. We're going to go back to normal, right? At some point. So what is your business look like when you are normal? I mean, how's everything going to be? Well, actually for you, I guess this has only been normal.

- Right.

- So what will it be for you for your normal?

- We had about six weeks of doing it pre COVID before that was on our mind. And the thing will change is there'll be a lot more, the kids will be allowed to touch a lot more and to move a lot more. So one of the perks of opening a studio space instead of working out of libraries and homes as a private tutor was to design this environment. So I had sensory bends where kids were pulling out letters or sight words or writing in the rice to spell their words. And that that kind of multisensory instruction goes along with our philosophy of structured literacy. So that piece we've had to back away from a little bit temporarily and I know the kids will love when that comes back. We also have wobble boards that we let kids, so that part can stay cause you can still wobble even if you're in a mask. But a lot more flexible movement. The kids like to be on the floor learning close with their teacher and we've had to keep ourselves further apart than we'd like to be.

- I'd have to imagine that's been...as a teacher, I mean, by trade a nurturer.

- Yeah. Right. I'd have to imagine it's been kind of tough for you just to, you know, like you said it's easy for the kids to adapt, but for the nurturers out there-

- Exactly.

- You can't touch, can't hug.

- We know how we want to teach and we know what early learners need from us. So it is hard to be back here pointing

- Move that lever.

- And telling them what to do when we just want to zoom in. Exactly. So they do a pretty good job and they think it's really funny when we reach around the plexiglass or reach over and drop little things in there on their side. So they have a pretty good sense of humor about it all. But I do look forward to when it's safe to lift some of those restrictions and just get back to teaching in the warm way that we like to do it.

- Yeah. You want me both. You and me both. So what else? I mean, so I think we've talked about a lot in regards to, you know, what you offer and how you're offering. So, you know, is there a next step for you? Or what are your thoughts for what's on tomorrow's agenda, if you will?

- That's a good question. So I think the next area that I'd like to move into would be supporting parents as they understand literacy development and do a little bit more parent outreach. I'm speaking with Cohasset SeaPak. So that is the special ed advisory committee. So the parents have a committee. If you have a student in special education or that struggles with learning in one way or another you're part of this group. So I'm speaking to them and I'd like to keep spreading the word to inform parents so they know how to advocate for their child. They know how to ask questions in school and that they also know how to look for red flags. So for example, with these pre-K kids, I could tell after working with a child for a few months in pre-K and watching how they respond or don't respond to our instruction, I can see the red flags for dyslexia and I can give the parent that info before they go into kindergarten. So they know if there's the slightest struggle, don't just wait and see. Don't just give it a year, two years. Cause then that intervention window has closed.

- Be proactive. Yeah, absolutely.

- Yeah. So by telling them what typical reading development looks like I can help them support their child and not to scare anybody but just so that they can do the right thing when the child is really little and the gap is really small because the older the child gets that gap between them and their peers gets larger and it gets harder to close.

- Right. No, that's great. So in regards to timeline, right. So, you know, Reagan should be pre-K. So how long...are they courses? Or how long is the course or how does it work?

- That's a good question. So it's pretty flexible. Well, because this is our first year, if this is just all happening now, but what what has been working is for families to join a class at a specific time. You know, in a group of three to six. And if they like that, they just stick with that the whole school year. And they're in and that's that. There's no signing up for session one or two. I bill families monthly. So families can dip out of the schedule at any time if it's not working anymore. So you just say, we're all set at the end of January or February and that's fine.

- Right. So you're not like holding people to the fire.

- No, it's pretty flexible coming in and out. And it occurs to people at different times, you know? So every month there's a flurry of inquiries. And so our schedule changes cause kids are adding groups. We're adding things to the schedule constantly based on what people need.

- So how do you deal with waiting lists?

- Yeah. Well I try to just keep finding more teachers. This is a small room, so we do fill up. But I just try to keep finding more teachers so that we don't have to have a waiting list. Cohasset is a small town and so serving a lot of people who want to be here. People get in and Hingham families, Scituate, Hull. Families within that 15 minute radius have enjoyed our classes. And then anyone outside of that we can offer Zoom lessons. And so for the private tutoring there have been wait lists and families have opted to do Zoom tutors while they wait to be matched with a local tutor. But often they get in such a good groove with their Zoom tutor and they realized how effective those lessons can be that they choose to just stay with their Zoom tutor. And don't make the shift to come in.

- That's great.

- So yeah, that's a testament to the quality of our teachers and how effective one-on-one instruction can be online.

- Great. Well, Abigail, I have to say thank you so very much. I really appreciate it. This is a really great little business that you have here and what you're doing for the community as well as the kids in the community. So thank you so very much for being on our business spotlight for this week.

- Thank you.

- And should you live in the area or not in the area and need some tutoring or Zoom tutoring, please reach out to Abigail Sullivan of the Cohasset Learning Studio. She's here in Cohasset. 21 South Main Street. A beautiful little storefront. So thanks for watching and we look forward to hearing from you.

- I'm Jeff Chubb with REN network. I need your help. We're looking for our next business to spotlight. Are you a business owner? Or can you introduce me to other businesses that might be interested? We send this out to over 25,000 people on a personal database and actually target more than a hundred thousand people on Facebook. It's great exposure for the business and it's at no cost. So if you know of any businesses please have them reach out. They can reach me at 480-2600 or by email at [email protected] Thanks for watching this business. I hope you learned a lot and more than anything. I appreciate you supporting me.

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