Since its founding in 1979, Sylvan Learning has been leading the way in value-rich supplemental education, providing students with personalized instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, study skills and homework support. As students’ needs developed in line with a developing educational landscape, Sylvan innovated to include ACT and SAT Test Prep, plus Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curricula. Today, Sylvan is the premier supplemental education franchise, with over 750 points of presence in North America and beyond.
So what makes Sylvan such an effective learning solution? Amidst myriad differentiators, four interrelated elements that position Sylvan—and Sylvan’s students—for ongoing success include: the brand’s Test Prep solutions; a SylvanSync-driven individualized learning model; Sylvan’s STEM courses; and deeply passionate franchisees.
Anthony DiGiacomo is the owner and Executive Director of three centers in New Jersey. His Sylvan Learning Center consistently sees its students earn high scores on the SAT and ACT after taking Sylvan’s Test Prep course.
“We have an amazing SAT and ACT prep program and offering for families,” DiGiacomo explained. “Ours is an individualized program that helps students get the scores they want in order to get into the colleges they want.”
DiGiacomo explained that, right off the bat, students new to Sylvan’s Test Prep program take a full-length practice ACT or SAT. At the same time, students and parents provide information about past scores, current school grades, the score the student hopes to achieve and the colleges they are most interested in attending.
“From all of that information, we build an individualized program that will help them achieve those goals, and then deliver the lessons in a one-to-one model,” DiGiacomo said.
This means that, contrary to competitors’ templated prep courses, Sylvan’s approach takes a complete and individualized picture of a given student to prepare them not only for test success, but for college success, as well.
“It’s more than just the ACT or SAT for which a student is preparing; it’s also about their success in school and beyond,” said DiGiacomo. “While a student is preparing for the ACT, say they also have a math or social studies test coming up that’s worrying them. They’re often surprised to discover that, in the course of SAT or ACT test prep, they can turn to us and can say, ‘You can help me with this in-class test?’ And we say, ‘Of course!’ That helps relieve stress, and positions them for success in school now, in school later and on the standardized test.”
In addition to being personalized to a given student's needs, Sylvan’s proprietary Test Prep curriculum leverages “a blend of proprietary technology and paper-based instruction with a Sylvan tutor,” DiGiacomo said.
And that blend of one-to-one relationship and innovative technology is important.
“So much of what students see on a daily-basis in the classroom is tech-based, but the importance of interacting with the teacher is as important as it’s ever been,” DiGiacomo said.
One of the tech offerings to which DiGiacomo refers is Sylvan’s proprietary SylvanSync, an adaptive platform, which a Sylvan instructor leverages to develop and deliver personalized lesson plans, and which then adjusts to a student’s needs in real-time.
Emily Levitt, Sylvan’s VP of Education, said that SylvanSync is a major factor driving the brand’s success.
“SylvanSync definitely sets us apart,” Levitt said. “Our program is designed to be competitive and relevant to what students are seeing and using in the classroom. SylvanSync really allows us to be adaptable in the moment of the tutoring session.”
Levitt explained that, should a student encounter a subject they already know well, SylvanSync’s adaptive technology updates the lesson plan without skipping a beat. That data-driven personalization approach gives Sylvan an advantage in the supplemental education space.
Kim Teixeira, owner of Sylvan Learning in Chesapeake, Virginia and the Sylvan system’s leading provider of STEM programs, echoed Levitt’s endorsement of SylvanSync.
“From what I understand about our competitors, they’re very focused on the lesson that’s being provided, even if a student knows the material. Our program is adaptable,” said Teixeira. “Parents like that because they want to see results. The quickest way to get results is to make sure that we’re hitting the pieces of information that are going to drive the most development.”
Teixeira continued, “I love that I can tell parents: ‘We’re only going to work on what your child needs. We’re not going to waste your time, money and child’s energy working on what they already know.’ SylvanSync allows us to be that adaptable.”
SylvanSync aligns perfectly with Teixeira’s own value system, which she summarizes as “meeting students where they are.” This same commitment drives her approach to STEM courses and camps at her Chesapeake location and surrounding school districts—with impressive results.
“After their kids come through STEM camps, we’ll have parents come back and say, ‘They got into LEGO club at school!’,” Teixeira said. “We had a little girl who did four or five camps with us before she went into middle school. She got into LEGO club and her team won a championship and her mom called to let us know. That was amazing.”
Teixeira’s passion for teaching is infectious; she continued, saying that what keeps her passionate about coming to work every day is getting to contribute to her campers’ ‘lightbulb moments.’
“I remember one STEM camp, we built these cars with shift gears and I said aloud, ‘Oh! I get it! That’s what’s going on inside an engine!’ And all the campers were like, ‘Yeah, of course Miss Kim!’ And we all laughed,” Teixeira said. “You can’t leave a lesson in STEM without some lightbulb going off; you just can’t. To me, that’s what makes STEM fun. The kids are learning something and they don’t even know it. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in their science or math class and when they encounter a concept and can say: ‘I learned this at Sylvan!’”
So has Sylvan’s approach to personalized instruction across need-to-know disciplines translated to student success? And how do two of the system’s top-performing franchisees feel about it?
“For the February ACT, we helped a student get a perfect 36 and we also helped prepare a student who got a perfect 800 in the math section of the SAT,” said DiGiacomo. “And it’s really because of our focus in this area; our goal is to continue to get better, to really listen to students and personalize our lessons to the student and to hold them accountable.”
Teixeira is equally enthusiastic.
“Sylvan has allowed me to branch into after-school programs in our community. We’re at seven or eight schools doing our after-school STEM club. And I love that because the schools love us coming in—our brand is what got us in the door because we’re not a start-up STEM education company that’s only been around for two or three years; we’ve been around for 40 years,” Teixeira said.
She concluded: “When I knock on those schools’ doors and tell them we can offer a STEM club with a minimal fee for families and we can start students on their STEM journey as early as elementary school, those schools are so excited to partner with us. And that keeps me excited."