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Career Journalist Pivots to Become Co-Owner of Sylvan Learning Centers

Becoming a small business owner was always a goal for April Samp, and despite COVID-19, that dream became a reality last year.

By Carley ChanaContributor
SPONSORED 2:14PM 03/26/21

Prior to taking on a new role last summer as co-owner of Sylvan Learning of Iowa, April Samp worked in broadcast journalism for nearly two decades.

Samp had an opportunity to join Sylvan years ago, but realized the time wasn’t right as a single mother raising a then 7-year-old son. Instead, she was offered the news director role at Channel 5 where she built an award-winning news team and helped create the “We Are Iowa” brand.

After leaving Channel 5 in December 2019, and with her son now a teen, Samp felt she was able to take the risk and look into ownership of a Sylvan location. She works with an existing owner and silent partner to oversee Sylvan Learning centers in Ames, Coralville, Hiawatha and Johnston. Currently there are about 200 students enrolled and about 50 certified teachers on payroll, but those numbers are expected to increase as enrollment ramps up in the summer, which is Sylvan’s busiest season in Iowa. 

During the pandemic, operations have been split between in-person learning for those families who feel comfortable coming in, and online learning for those who don’t. For those who choose to come in person, the centers instituted safety protocols including face masks, disinfecting surfaces and social distancing. 

“Just like every small business owner, we felt the effects [of the pandemic]. Although the centers never shut down from in-person learning, many families decided they would no longer come into the centers. So we started using Zoom to teach kids and tutor at home,” she stated. 

Although Samp has plans for possible growth at each of the four centers, the Ames center appears the most likely to expand this year into additional adjacent space. Currently, the center accommodates about 40 students, a number that likely will increase this summer. 

From Samp’s perspective, the opportunity to improve upon a child’s education has been much like the fulfillment she got from community journalism. 

“It’s a meaningful business — we help families,” she said. “That was important to me to be a part of something that I feel really, really good about that is meaningful and helps the community. And I love hearing from the parents. We make a big difference in these children’s lives.”

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