Tutoring business helps kids succeed

Anyone who has sat staring helplessly at their paper during the SATs, CMTs, or any other standardized test knows how nice a little help would be.

So does anyone who has ever sat through a math, science or Spanish class, and wondered how they would ever make it through.

That's why it's nice when a little extra help is available.

Darien residents Fred and Shannon Converse knew about 10 years ago that the competitive Fairfield County area would see a rising demand in the need for private tutors and decided to dip their toes in the market.

Today, the owners of My Tutor and Me are one of the most sought-after and successful tutoring services in the area, and have helped at least 1,000 students succeed in the classroom since they started the business in 2002.

"Parents are looking for that edge, to get their children in the best colleges," Shannon Converse said. "A lot of parents want to spend the money to make sure their kids will succeed."

My Tutor and Me is the brainchild of Shannon, a lifelong educator and special education teacher in the Darien public schools and her husband, Fred, a former professional musician and dot-com executive who was drawn to the world of education and life as an entrepreneur when he was able to spend time home with his kids after the dot-com implosion of the early 2000s.

"I had a taste of being home on my own, and home with my kids," he said, adding that he was offered a lucrative job working in Manhattan for Bloomberg at the time. "I didn't look back."

Both Shannon and Fred said they had always thought about opening a tutoring service, and did lots of market research, studying tutoring franchises. They decided they didn't want to pay fees and decided to go it alone. In August 2002, the business was officially launched in the basement of their home on Hollow Tree Ridge Road and conducted their first tutor interviews in the conference room of the First Congregational Church.

"We were naturally drawn to anything that was related to kids and education related," Shannon said. "We happen to be in the perfect community for it in terms of needing tutoring and people being able to afford it."

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Business started slowly, but about 18 months later, she said that she realized that everyone used Google to search for tutors, and when they got a Web site working, business poured in. Today, the business has about 175 clients at any one point and 120 tutors on call in subjects such as math and sciences, foreign languages. There are also tutors who specialize in special education needs to work on remedial reading and organization. And, oh yes, tutors for the dreaded SAT and CMT preparation skills.

"The bottom line is that no matter how good the school district is, you're still talking about 25 kids in a classroom with one teacher," Shannon said. "There will always be a need to meet with a tutor to help them take off."

What sets them apart, she says, is the extensive process the company goes through to match both client and tutor to each other. When a new client is accepted, an interview is conducted to determine needs, availability, personality, and information about the child's situation at school and relationship to the teacher.

From there, they are matched to tutors who have already been pre-screened for their own personalities and availability.

"The only opportunity they may have to meet with a tutor is Thursday nights at 8 p.m.," she said. "We try to work those kinks out ahead of time."

My Tutor and Me can be reached by calling 203-655-8626, or check out their website at www.mytutorandme.com.