By Matt Wiley
Recent FCAT scores have educators and parents alike worried about how much Florida students are actually learning in the state’s public schools. Luckily, there are places like Daksha Jadeja’s Wesley Chapel North Kumon Learning Center franchise (on S.R. 54, next to Sweetbay), where students as young as preschoolers to graduating high school seniors can get extra help in both reading and mathematics.
“Kumon is an international program,” says Jadeja. “We are the world’s oldest and largest after-school supplemental/enrichment-program. I’ve had a Kumon center in the Lutz/Land O’ Lakes area for about 10 years now.” In November 2011, Jadeja opened her second Kumon Center on Wesley Chapel Blvd. in the Towne Centre shopping plaza, just a few miles north of the Hillsborough County line — and from much of New Tampa.
“One of the reasons we (opened the new center) was because our Lutz/Land O’ Lakes center already was drawing so many students from the Wesley Chapel/New Tampa area,” she explains. “It made sense to open a center there to accommodate some of the existing students we had and to keep them from having to come all the way out to Land O’ Lakes.”
One of the ways Jadeja commemorated the new center was by hosting her annual “Read-a-thon” there, an event that she had previously held for her students at the Land O’ Lakes location for the past 10 years.
Jadeja says that the “Read-a-thon” is an event for her students to practice reading out loud to develop fluency, as well as showcase their reading talents in an intimate atmosphere surrounded by a small, supportive group of parents and fellow students. This year’s “Read-a-thon” was the first to be held at her new Wesley Chapel center, but it will likely not be the last.
“Our goal was to help the kids overcome their fear of reading in public,” says Jadeja. “We had about 20 kids from pre-k through seventh grade participate (this year).”
The students each chose a book at their reading level from Kumon’s recommended reading list and read in front of the group of parents and students for about three minutes each.
Jadeja says that part of the way Kumon helps students improve their reading (and math) skills is through the use of an “individual curriculum” that is different for each student.
“We have a curriculum,” Jadeja says, “and essentially what that curriculum has done is pull the core principles that children need to learn in order to be successful in their academic pursuits, and that’s what we focus on. What’s individualized is how they pace themselves through the program and how they progress.”
According to the Kumon website, the program is not just a place for remedial math and reading help.
Kumon does focus on early learning, remedial learning and enrichment, hoping to build confidence in each student’s learning abilities that the student will be able to take beyond the classroom. And, the Kumon classroom is where it all begins.
“We always want each child to be working above and beyond their grade level and exceeding all expectations,” Jadeja says.
Parents take their kids to Kumon because the program has consistently produced results. Jadeja’s goal is to have students who are enrolled in her Kumon Centers to be working at their grade level within twelve months of beginning at the center — no matter which level they were at when they started — and continue on to finish the program. She currently has more than 300 students enrolled in the math and/or reading programs at her two Kumon centers, of which 70 percent are working above their grade level.
A Tried & True Method
To achieve the success parents and students seek, Jadeja’s centers use the “Kumon Method” of learning which, according to the company’s website, is built in levels. To determine where each student stands when they begin the program, they have to take a placement test. Then, based on the results of the test, students’ learning levels are established and they begin the program at a “comfortable starting point.”
The Kumon site says that it’s O.K. for this level to be below the student’s current grade level, which allows each student to build confidence and stronger study skills. Students complete worksheets in whichever program they are enrolled that focus on the fundamentals of each subject, whether it is math or reading. As the students master concepts, they progress to the next level of exercises at their own pace or, as Kumon describes it, the “Just Right” level.
As students progress through the different levels of the two programs, they are recognized for their accomplishments. This helps to keep the kids interested, she says. One way that they are recognized is through Kumon’s use of a “rewards system,” in which students earn points that they can save up and redeem for prizes. The more assignments and levels students complete, the more points they earn.
Jadeja says that one of her students recently redeemed his points for a Microsoft X-Box 360 gaming system, which is in the top level of prizes. Different prize levels feature different types of prizes, which can vary from gaming systems to a guitar or telescope.
She says that she also holds an annual awards ceremony for the students at her two Kumon Centers, in which every child is recognized. This, she says, is a huge motivation for the kids. No matter how big or small, attention is shown to each student’s accomplishments. There is also an honor roll assessed after each quarter for all of the students working above their grade level
“I like to honor all of the kids,” she says. “Each student has made some achievement.”
The Meaning Of ‘G By 5’
One of the milestone achievements students enrolled in the Kumon math program can earn is called the “G by 5” award, for which they earn a trophy in the shape of a golden star. Students who earn this recognition have completed level “F,” or pre-algebra, by the end of fifth grade, or before they enter middle school. One student in Jadeja’s program, 10-year-old Nikita Patel, has even exceeded the “G by 5” award, as she is about to finish the “F” level before entering the fifth grade.
“The biggest reward of the system is helping students feel empowered,” she explains. “They find that they have become independent, self-learners and really enjoy not having difficulty at school. Self-esteem and self-confidence really go up with the program.”
Jadeja explains that most parents who enroll their child have heard about her two Kumon Centers through word of mouth for the results her programs have produced and the level of personal service she provides.
“I am very accessible,” she explains. “I also know these kids. I know all of their names and know where they are in the program.”
Before opening her first center, Jadeja was a Kumon parent. Her daughter Noorie, now a 23-year-old law school student at the University of Miami, was a Kumon student throughout middle and high school.
“Kumon definitely helped boost her self confidence and enabled her to handle advanced classes in middle and high school, she says. “ It helped her earn high academic honors and boosted her SAT scores.”
Jadeja says that she saw the Kumon program available in other parts of the country, but not as many in our area, a gap she decided to fill by opening the Land O’ Lakes center in 2002.
To open her first center, Jadeja underwent a “rigorous training and certification” process through Kumon University, the company’s training program for Kumon Center instructors. Jadeja says that there is ongoing certification required and that teachers even have to complete some of the same worksheets as their students to stay fresh on their subjects. Jadeja says that she personally trains each of her staff members in the Kumon method of teaching.
There are now 15 Kumon centers in the Tampa Bay area, all part of the Kumon family that, according to the company’s website, has centers in 47 countries. The first location in the U.S. was opened in New York City in 1974. Kumon now boasts more than 2,000 centers across North America.
The Wesley Chapel North Kumon Center is located at 27311 Wesley Chapel Blvd. (S.R. 54) in the Towne Centre Plaza. For more info about her new Kumon Learning Center, call Daksha at 973-2266, or send an email to DakshaJadeja@IKumon.com.