Q&A with Scott Rancourt

of Sylvan Learning in Essex Junction

Devin Collins and Scott Rancourt of the Sylvan Learning Center stand in front of the “Motivation Station,” at the Sylvan Learning Center’s new location at the Essex Towne Marketplace in Essex Junction. OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

Devin Collins and Scott Rancourt of the Sylvan Learning Center stand in front of the “Motivation Station,” at the Sylvan Learning Center’s new location at the Essex Towne Marketplace in Essex Junction.
OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

“I’m not a great math person.’ That’s what I told myself once,’” recalled Scott Rancourt, owner of the new Sylvan Learning Center that opened on April 1 in the Essex Towne Marketplace. “It all snowballs from there.”

Rancourt grew up in a divorced family with two homes and “all the stuff that goes with that,” he explained. “I never thought I’d go to college.” But his life took a turn for the better when he went to live with his grandmother in Montpelier. He graduated Montpelier high school, joined the army and began looking at colleges. As a member of the National Guard, he attended Norwich University and earned his bachelor’s degree in education in 1996.

After graduation, he went to Korea to teach English. “I thought I was going to be there for a year,” he joked. Four years later, he was married to his Korean wife, Cindy, and had earned his Master of Science in education leadership through Troy State University courses offered at the U.S. Army base in Korea.

The newlyweds wanted to move back to the States before they had their two children, and landed in Massachusetts. Rancourt said he stumbled across Sylvan there and took a job as the Director of Education – a position filled by Devin Collins at Sylvan in Essex.

“I fell in love with Sylvan and teaching,” Rancourt mused. “I knew it was what I wanted to do…It’s about finding the obstacle that threw the student off. Once we identify each student’s individual needs and remove all the obstacles, we start building.

“From the first day I stared working at Sylvan I wondered: Is there one in Vermont? No, Vermont was the only state not to have a Sylvan Learning Center.”

Jayne Methot-Walker, center, works with Sophie Deagman, right, and Allen Ploof.  OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

Jayne Methot-Walker, center, works with Sophie Deagman, right, and Allen Ploof.
OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

The Rancourts moved to Vermont, bought their Essex home in 2006 and opened a Sylvan in the Blue Mall in South Burlington.

When Noonie’s Deli went out of business last year, it opened the opportunity for Rancourt to move Sylvan to Essex. However, due to leasing agreements in South Burlington, Rancourt needed to wait to make the move until this spring.

“We wanted to be in Essex,” Rancourt said, adding that his wife and family are active in the Korean Methodist Church on Maple Street and the local Korean community. “We love this space and it gives us the opportunity to own the property.”

Sylvan students come from Essex, Colchester, Milton, South Burlington, Shelburne and other surrounding towns. Depending on the location, Sylvan sets up satellite programs to help ease the commute for students.

“I’m enjoying every second,” Rancourt added. “I’m thankful to serve this community.”

Recently Rancourt elaborated on Sylvan Learning and his experience with individualized learning.

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Q: Who instructs the students?

A: We have actual certified schoolteachers who teach here. This is their second job; they teach during the school day at other schools in the area. Most of their sessions are held on Saturdays and evenings, so their schedules don’t conflict.

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Q: What is the ratio of students to teachers?

A: We have between two and three students per teacher.

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Q: Do students follow a set curriculum?

A: There is a set process, but the lessons are completely individualized. The lessons are aligned with Common Core.

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Q: What is Sylvan Sync?

A: About two years ago we switched from using binders and a lot of paper to iPads for lessons. Each student has an iPad to use here. The iPad is not teaching the student; it’s a digital tool. All the programs are preloaded for the students depending on their learning plan. The MySylvan website allows parents to view the lessons their student is working on so they can follow along.

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Q: How are tokens used at Sylvan Learning Center?

A: Students can earn tokens based on their learning progress. We try to use tokens to reinforce knowledge. I like to call it “catching students doing good.”

We compliment the student and pair it with something tangible [tokens]. Those tokens can be used to purchase items “for sale” before they leave for the day. But, most students are more interested in earning the tokens than what they can buy with them.

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Q: Why are compliments and rewards important?

A: You never know, that one comment at the right time could make the positive change in the right direction for a student. I try to always remember this. That’s what keeps me going; that little shift in the trajectory that can make all the difference in a student’s education. I look at every moment as that opportunity.

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Q: How do you encourage students to face academic challenges?

A: We try to help everyone build independence, confidence, and reach their full potential. It’s important to remember, the harder the challenge, the more growth opportunity.

Don’t shy away from the challenge.

At Sylvan we adapt, adjust and accept challenges because the higher the climb the better the view.

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Q: How often do students come to Sylvan?

A: Usually students are here two times a week for one to two hours, depending on the program. That’s on top of their normal school and athletic schedules.

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Q: How much does it cost to be a student at Sylvan?

A: Between $27-$55 per hour depending on the program and payment plan. It’s $49-$55 for a standard session. We have financing and discounts available. The bottom line is that we are always willing to work with families who have a student that wants to come here. We will find a way to make it happen.

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Q: Do you worry that this extra schooling is overburdening students?

A: That’s a very real concern. We look for our scheduling to be sustainable. Usually we’re second or third in the list. For example: first it’s school, then hockey, then Girl Scouts, then Sylvan is considered. That’s why we do whatever we need to do to accommodate our students’ schedules because time is precious.

If students were kicking and screaming they wouldn’t come. But they know that when they leave here, they’ll be stronger in math, or English, or whatever they are working on. It’s all about confidence.

The goal is to relieve stress not add to it.

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Q: What new classes are you offering?

A: The STEM program is moving with the times. We have a new coding class starting in July where students will build games and apps. These types of programs help us broaden the students we serve.

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— Elsie Lynn Parini