MelissaHWith an instructional team that’s all smiles, it comes as no surprise that students at Mathnasium of Arcadia, AZ are equally excited to attend their sessions and amp up their math skills. However, customer satisfaction begins with clearly defined expectations of what parents and students can look forward to at Mathnasium. Center owner Melissa Hardison shows us how she helps parents and students understand our program’s objectives from the start and follows through on these goals, paving the way for meaningful communication and progress and ultimately, happy parents and students.

Melissa knows that assessing all students is the first step to crafting the Mathnasium program that’s right for them, and she makes this clear when informing parents of what they can expect when they sign their kids up. “Sometimes, parents do come in here with preconceived ideas of what we can do. For example, they’ll bring in a student who is in Algebra II and doesn’t know his multiplication facts and think that we can magically transform their grades from an F to an A! I tell them, ‘Generally speaking, if they’re struggling in Algebra II, it’s because they’ve missed something along the way. We test them because they want to find out what that is, so we can go back and address those remedial concepts. Otherwise they’ll continue to struggle. We’re not just here to help them with their homework.’ If a parent comes to me interested in just homework help, I tell them up front that if that’s what they’re looking for, they’re not going to find it here!”

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Melissa also wants all staff members to understand how important it is for students to complete the appropriate amount of Mathnasium work before moving onto games or homework help. “We made the mistake before of letting a few kids get away with doing a lot of homework during some of their sessions,” she explains. “It’s hard to change the habit once students are used to it, so we put the kibosh on that really fast.” To ensure her Instructors are on the same page, she includes a homework policy in her Employee Handbook—all Instructors are required to read it and sign it. “It eliminates confusion and miscommunication. I do tell them that if a particular student has a lot of homework and it’s really hard and they don’t understand it, it’s ok to spend a little more time that day. But we never allow them to sit there and do homework only.” Melissa keeps a close watch on the teaching floor and is always quick to correct an Instructor (discreetly and tactfully) whenever she notices that students are working on homework or playing games too early in the session.

From there, Melissa and her staff do their best to manage students’ expectations, especially when they’re first starting out. “My Instructors tell the students that if a certain topic is in their binder, it’s because they had trouble with it on the assessment. We want to go back and review these concepts so they don’t struggle anymore,” Melissa tells us. “It can be challenging—sometimes kids come in and they’ll just want to do their homework. In those situations, we’ll say something like, ‘Why don’t you hand me the homework packet for tonight and let me have a look at it so I can become familiar with what you have to do? While I’m doing that, you can get started on the Mathnasium work in your binder.’” From there, students quickly get into the routine of completing Mathnasium work prior to tackling the day’s homework assignment.

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As students progress through their personalized programs, the Mathnasium of Arcadia team keeps a close eye on how they’re handling the material in their binders day-to-day. Before students start their session, Melissa and her Instructors sit with them to solidify and write down session goals on their session game plans. Every student has a session tracker sheet in front of their binders and they know to take it out and hand it to an Instructor before they begin. Instructors take notes on the sheet throughout the student’s Mathnasium hour, indicating areas of difficulty and success. “If, for example, we see a student really struggling with long division and they’re just sick of it, we try to keep them on task with rewards and punches on their cards,” Melissa says. She closely supervises the teaching floor and intervenes if students seem burned out on a topic, switching them over to their Workout Book or giving something new to work on. In some cases, she prints out some new material appropriate for the student, teaching new problem solving strategies. “They enjoy learning easier ways of doing things—they feel successful and it gets them more excited [about their progress at Mathnasium],” Melissa explains. When students demonstrate proficiency in a given topic while working on a PK, Instructors understand when it’s ok to let them skip pages and move on to the Mastery Check. These practices keep students engaged and motivated.

Meanwhile, parents benefit from regular communication and updates from Melissa. “I’m very involved with parent communication,” she says. “If I receive an email from a parent, even at night, I’ll respond right then and there.” She also sends out regular progress reports. During center hours, Melissa always finds time to greet and speak with parents. Her genuine care and concern for her students is evident throughout these interactions. “I remember one parent in particular… her son rode his bicycle here, because they live really close. He was just going to leave it outside unlocked but I told him to keep it in the center because it could get stolen. When she came to pick him up, we were rolling the bike out, and I told her that he shouldn’t come to the center on his bike without a bike lock. And she said, ‘Oh you have such a good heart!’ That showed her that I cared about more than just teaching math. And of course, his grade went from a C to an A—that definitely caught her attention too!”

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As a result of these efforts, parents and students at Mathnasium of Arcadia are well aware of what sets Mathnasium apart from the competition from the minute students start the program—and they like what they see. In addition to benefiting from an engaging and rewarding math education program (that works!), “Kids respond well to the one-on-one attention they receive from their Instructors, because it’s truly personalized for them and their learning style,” Melissa says. “It’s the atmosphere—having all these other kids around, a curriculum that fits you and where you are, the art on the walls, and the rewards cabinet. I look out into the room and I see my students and Instructors laughing and having a good time while learning, which I’m sure parents notice too. You can’t duplicate these things in the classroom or with a private tutor.”