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Home-based Tutor Expands Business

Ex-teacher now runs tutoring service with more than 100 employees.

When Ann Dolin began tutoring students with learning disabilities out of her home in her spare time, she never imagined that six years later it would replace her full-time teaching job.

"I started out with one student in 1998," said Dolin, founder of Educational Connections, Inc. based out of Herndon. "Now we have probably about 110 active tutors."

Dolin, who taught learning disabled students with Fairfax County Public Schools for four years and then general education for two years, said she stopped her full-time teaching job when her first son was born because she wanted to spend time with him.

But with her love for teaching it was hard for Dolin to give it up completely, so she began tutoring students out of her home.

"I just thought that I would stay home with my child, tutor a few kids in my home," said Dolin of her initial plans. "But I just saw an unaccountable need for special services for kids that are struggling."

Before she realized it, Dolin said she was tutoring students with learning disabilities seven days a week.

"It just got to be too much," she said. "I hired people as independent contractors and did that for a while and built a tutor base where all the tutors went to the student's homes."

From that Dolin said she created her formal company, Educational Connections, Inc. to initially handle the needs of students with learning disabilities.

Now, Dolin operates out of an office off of Worldgate Drive in Herndon, where her company has expanded from tutoring students with special needs to helping students with everything from organization, time management and lack of motivation to foreign languages and SAT preparation.

"I still tutor now, just because I like doing it," she said, adding after the birth of her second son she spends more time at home and only works with a handful of students.

IN FOUR YEARS Dolin was able to launch her company — with a customer base that increased primarily through word of mouth and doctor referrals — demonstrating the need for tutors who focus on special services.

"We try to really work with the needs of a student," she said. "Everything is 100 percent individualized, we try to fit the program to the child, not the child to the program."

Dolin, who now has more than 13 years of teaching experience, said she enjoys tutoring more than teaching because of the one-on-one atmosphere.

"As a teacher I had 30 kids in one classroom," she said. "I had kids that were struggling but I never had the time to address their issues."

She added because her interest is geared toward students with learning disabilities, her company focuses on evaluating each student to decipher which problems need to be addressed — something she said public schools can't always do.

"A lot of times students are struggling and the county system won't test them because they are not in a low enough percentile," she said. "Outside testers can conduct psychological tests and fax it to us so we can look at it all."

From there Dolin said they are able to asses the needs of each child and match an appropriate tutor.

"They have been wonderful to work with, they're very professional but also easy going," said Elizabeth Keating, an Alexandria resident who's son and daughter use the tutoring service. "They're very flexible and they set us up right away with a tutor who actually teaches and does this after school."

Keating said she was referred to Educational Connections, Inc. through her children's doctor regarding her 8-year old daughter and 11-year old son.

Although her children attend St. Mary's Catholic school in Old Town Alexandria, she said her daughter needed enrichment help because the school does not have a gifted and talented program and her son needed reading assistance.

"The tutor brings over some sheets that are mind twisters and she's just excited to have the challenge," she said about her daughter, adding her son enjoys the one-on-one environment. "With four children it's hard to give him some of the extra help he needs."

Dr. Barry Ekdom, a child neuro-psychologist based out of Fairfax, said he has been working with Dolin since the birth of her second son.

"I don't do any treatment so I am always looking for the best person in the area," he said. "She has a very intricate approach to addressing a child's needs."

Ekdom said he has a diagnostic practice where he tests the strengths and weaknesses in a child's learning process. After determining the learning problems each child faces — with the parent's permission — he sends the information to Dolin to assess and devise a tutoring plan to assist in the child's learning.

"She utilizes the needs of a child and family and matches that to the person she chooses to work with them," he said of her practice. "There may be others out there doing the same thing, but I haven't seen any that have done it as well as her."

DOLIN ADMITTED if she had been told when she first began that her services would generate a high enough demand to prompt the creation of a business she would not have believed it.

"I am not a business person," she said about her success of helping 300 students in 2003 alone, "I am an educator."

In the upcoming months Dolin said she will continue to run her in-home tutoring business that caters to individual students' needs, but that she also hopes to open a learning center by January 2005 in Reston or Herndon for children to receive additional help.

Through the center she explained students can be dropped off after school to work individually with tutors or in a study group environment to meet their learning needs.

Dolin said this will provide students with any extra help they could need in addition to their one-hour personal tutor time.

"You can't really meet the needs of the child until you know what their issues are," she said, adding those issues are addressed it is rewarding to watch the children's response.

"I really enjoy talking to parents," she said about hearing various success stories. "When I started tutoring I thought this is really amazing and I guess that's what propelled me."