VOL. 127 | NO. 191 | Monday, October 1, 2012
SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT
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SPECIAL EMPHASIS: Education
FAcademics Brings Out Best for Wide Range of Students
By JONATHAN DEVIN
Students with bad grades aren’t the only ones who need a little help in school, say the owners of FAcademics, a tutoring service in Germantown.
For some, tutoring is the difference between F’s and A’s, for others it’s an increase in potential not reflected by grades.
Afiya Armstrong, left, and Tamecca Fitzpatrick are partners in FAcademics which reteaches, enriches and advances students academically from pre-kindergarten through college.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
“You can get content assistance anywhere,” said Tamecca Fitzpatrick, who along with her sister Afiya Armstrong, owns FAcademics. “All you need is someone whose skills are slightly higher than your student’s. But our mission is overall student development. We’re talking about organization, critical thinking, study skills and parental support.”
Fitzpatrick and Armstrong, both originally from Long Beach, Calif., opened FAcademics (pronounced “FACK-ademics”) two years ago in Cordova. In January they moved into a more visible location at 2182 West St. in Germantown, across the street from several children’s stores.
The F and A in FAcademics stand for Fitzpatrick and Armstrong.
The sisters serve as managers, phone-answerers, schedulers and, of course, tutors, to 15 to 20 students a week, most of whom come in after 3 p.m. or on weekends for help with anything from basic reading and math to college entrance test prep. The minimum age for students is 3.
Both are former elementary and middle school teachers. Armstrong teaches at the college level now through Ashford University online. Fitzpatrick teaches at Southwest Tennessee Community College and as an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis.
The range of needs they see on a daily basis is as vast as the grades they serve.
In the fall, before the first report card, proactive parents bring A and B students in for extra support. Later in the semester after a few report cards have come out, they see a rise in students who are struggling to pass.
Most public schools have volunteer-based tutoring programs, but Armstrong pointed out that much of it is aimed at getting a student through one night of homework. Then the lesson is over.
“Seeing where those deficits are with students, understanding that not everybody across the board is not learning the same material and that students are learning at different speeds, there was still a need for this external tutoring,” Fitzpatrick said.
But then FAcademics’ parents get a few lessons too. Tutoring is done one-on-one between Fitzpatrick or Armstrong and the student, but parents agree to support the tutoring with active participation at home.
“It does require outside additional work,” Armstrong said. “It’s not just saying, ‘I’m going to see a tutor, so now I’ll make an A.’”
The tricky part is attaining measurable results, which to most parents means better grades on report cards, while balancing the parents’ ability and willingness to pay and to contribute to the process.
“A lot of people ask is it cost-effective,” Fitzpatrick said. “You want to arm parents with skills they need to assist the student, because you’re only going to come in here a certain number of times, but a parent is home all the time.
“If you’re talking about the next report card going from an F to an A, let’s talk about what’s realistic. If you’re planning on coming one time a week, we probably won’t see as much growth as if you came more.”
Elementary school students can come four times a month for $150. Fifth graders and above pay $60 an hour. Most students come twice a week.
That’s one of the reasons that Fitzpatrick and Armstrong prefer teaching one-on-one –students get their full attention, have no peer pressure and nowhere to hide from questions.
Often, Armstrong said, the individual time reveals issues with particular learning styles and strategies that were already being used like using flash cards with a student who is not visually oriented.
Sometimes they find that students have unaddressed hearing or vision problems that slow them down in class. Others have been told by family members or their teachers that they are dyslexic, though the condition was never officially diagnosed. The stigma of a learning disability can be as detrimental to in-class performance as actually having one, Fitzpatrick said.
To that end, Fitzpatrick and Armstrong ask to see any Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) or 504 plans that qualify students for special education classes. They also attend parent-teacher meetings if requested by the parents.
Armstrong holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, a master’s degree in education from Brenau University, another master’s degree in public health from Walden University and is currently writing her dissertation.
Fitzpatrick also has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s in education, both from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She also has an Ed.D. in early childhood education from the University of North Texas at Denton. She is a grader for teachers and institutions seeking accreditation through AdvancED SACS/CASI.
Most clients learn about FAcademics through word-of-mouth referrals, which Fitzpatrick said is integral in education as parents do not want just anybody working with their children.
“In this industry,” Fitzpatrick said, “people want a referral before they put a check on the counter.”