How Franchisee Amber Castillo Built Upon Her Mother’s Tenacity and Her Own Rich Leadership Experience To Find Fulfillment with Sylvan Learning
How Franchisee Amber Castillo Built Upon Her Mother’s Tenacity and Her Own Rich Leadership Experience To Find Fulfillment with Sylvan Learning

The US Air Force veteran and former South Los Angeles teacher knows how to turn challenge into reward.

Back down from a challenge? Sylvan Learning’s new franchisee Amber Castillo doesn’t know the meaning of the words.

With a background rich in experience across leadership roles—from five years of service in the U.S. Air Force; to a competitive management role with Home Depot; to over a decade teaching in and around southern Los Angeles, Gardena and San Pedro amidst a national recession—Castillo knows how to not only persevere, but to flourish.

Never one to pass up an opportunity, Castillo is now preparing for the grand opening of her Hermosa Beach, California-based Sylvan Learning center this summer.

Castillo expressed that she’s more than excited to bring Sylvan Learning’s unparalleled, technology-driven offering and individualized learning plans to students in her territory, which stretches along the coast of South Bay Los Angeles from El Segundo, west to Hawthorne, and then south to Redondo Beach, just west of where Castillo and her three children presently live in Torrance.

“I have a lot of passion, experience and expertise that make Sylvan a perfect fit,” Castillo said. “I love teaching but after 12 years I could see that the system [in which I worked] wasn’t making sense for students or for teachers. I knew I needed a change.”

Castillo turned to supplemental education franchises to fill that need.

“I wanted the support and infrastructure of a successful business model so I didn’t have to figure it out on my own,” Castillo said. “I wanted to position myself for the best chance of success so that I could support myself and my family.”

Castillo looked into Kumon, Mathnasium and Sylvan Learning. Knowing the need for attentive, tailored teaching, she was turned off by Kumon’s worksheet-focused model, feeling it didn’t individualize sufficiently to meet students’ needs. Mathnasium’s math-centered curriculum caught Castillo’s interest at first—she shared that math is her favorite subject—but ultimately felt too stagnant for the experienced teacher and businesswoman.

“Then I had my discovery call with Sylvan and it was the most natural fit—it was fate,” Castillo said. “On the call, I spoke with one of Sylvan’s literacy professionals and everything they shared was consistent with the researched-based pedagogy for teaching that I already knew and believed in. I respect Sylvan’s model; I wanted to only buy into something I believe in and that applies what I know about education. And that’s Sylvan.”

After deciding to sign on, Sylvan’s franchise development sales team connected Castillo with existing Sylvan franchisees including multi-unit owner Todd Crabtree, who provided her with valuable insight into all things related to Sylvan ownership.

Next, Castillo went to Discovery Day—and later, training—at Sylvan’s corporate office in Hunt Valley, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. For Castillo, the visit to the Baltimore area felt like yet another instance of fate.

“The Sylvan headquarters is 45 minutes away from where my mom lived before she passed away,” Castillo said. “I’m brave and I credit my mom with that. She was also a single mom and got her degree after she had kids. I got my degree beforehand because I knew my mom had struggled with that. Later in life, my mom got her CPA and ended up being pretty successful in her 40s and 50s, around my age  now. So in a lot of ways, even though I didn’t consciously choose to follow her path, I did.”

After Discovery Day and training, it came time for Castillo to decide if she wanted to purchase a center from an existing franchisee who was preparing to enter retirement, or if she wanted to open her own.

Challenge-ready Castillo opted for the latter.

“I decided to start my own center in Hermosa Beach because it was closer to my home and community,” Castillo said. “I have friends in every city in my territory; I go there with my kids for their extracurricular activities. I wanted to serve my community, because it has served as home for me and my family for the last 16 years.”

Unsurprisingly, Castillo is now full-steam-ahead as she prepares for her center’s grand opening this July or August. She shared that she’s in the process of working closely with municipal professionals to procure all the permits she needs for operation and is in the process of scheduling a ribbon-cutting ceremony with her local Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, Castillo said that she’s excited to open toward the end of summer so that she can offer refresher programs to kids in her community, providing a valuable head start as they head into a new school year.

Asked if Castillo plans on teaching while she grows her staff, the new owner was emphatic.

“Definitely; I love working with kids!” she said. “That’s another reason I love Sylvan. I love their 3-to-1 tutoring model because it allows me the individualized instruction that really helps and supports kids. That was hard to do with 30 kids in a classroom and just one teacher.”

Castillo shared that her children—two high school-aged boys and a 5-year-old daughter—will also attend the center.

Castillo also shared that she plans to focus on ACT/SAT Test Prep...at least, at her first center.

“I plan to open a second location in El Segundo, which is still inside my territory, in about two years,” Castillo said. “And as my daughter gets more independent, I would like to have one or two more territories on top of that. I’m excited to keep growing.”

Like mother, like daughter.

Startup costs for a Sylvan Learning franchise range from $68,680 to $159,085, including a franchise fee is $24,000. For more information about franchising with Sylvan Learning, please click here.