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Mission Possible

At newly opened Imagine Tomorrow computer learning center, children learn PC skills in the role of computer detective.

The first time that Alexandra Bennett-Bitler set foot in an "Imagine Tomorrow" computer classroom, she knew instantly that she wanted to open one of her own. She also knew exactly where she wanted it to be located. So after attending an Imagine Tomorrow franchise seminar, the McLean resident promptly placed her name on the waiting

list for a space in the Great Falls Village Center.

"I bought my actual license in March of 2005," said Bennett-Bitler, who is also a former resident of Great Falls. "I've just been waiting for a good location to open up, and I knew that I wanted to be here in the Village Center."

In October of 2005, former Great Falls Village Center property manager Kelly Rafko called Bennett-Bitler to inform her that a space would finally be opening up, and Bennett-Bitler was ecstatic. It had been almost two years since she had accompanied her relative to the Imagine Tomorrow location where she was a student, and she was anxious to

begin her own venture in Great Falls. For the past six months,

Bennett-Bitler has worked to set up shop in her long-awaited Village Center space and, on April 9, she will begin her first eight-week session.

Founded in 1991 by former New Jersey schoolteacher Judy Patterson, the Imagine Tomorrow learning model encourages children to utilize a positive "can-do" attitude to learn basic computer skills. Imagine Tomorrow students take on the role of "computer detectives" and are given a new "mission" at the start of each one-hour class. Each child works at their own individual laptop station, and they receive a reward once they have successfully completed their assigned lesson. In

addition, each Imagine Tomorrow student is given a lesson that is appropriate to their age.

"At the end they get a crown and a reward, so it gets them all pumped up," said Bennett-Bitler. "And we can give parents a log-in slip so they can get on the computer, go to our Web site and see exactly what their children learned that day."

THE IMAGINE Tomorrow course follows a quarter system schedule, with four eight-week sessions in total. The program is open to children ages two to seven, and the weekly one-hour class has a maximum enrollment of six to 10 students, per two teachers. The program also offers special summer camp classes and an individual birthday module that can accommodate up to 15 children.

Bennett-Bitler's husband Don Bitler has been supportive of his wife's business venture from the moment she first brought it up to him. Having earned her master's degree in nursing and previously run her own medical logistics company, Bitler said Imagine Tomorrow is the perfect fit for his wife's skill set. But most of all, Bitler said his wife simply has a natural rapport with children.

"I told her she would be amazing at it because she has such a way with children," said Bitler. "She's an excellent teacher because she really knows how to relate to them and help them learn."

Bitler was also impressed with the Imagine Tomorrow learning module.

"I mean, you can have two-year-old and a three-year-old sitting next to each other, operating a mouse and learning their way around the keyboard — it's incredible," said Bitler.

Mary Hadeed-Zaboli, one of Bennett-Bitler's employees at the new Imagine Tomorrow Great Falls location, said that she believes the program provides a good technology launching point for young children.

"It's a jumpstart for kids into their future, and a jumpstart into

technology," she said.

Imagine Tomorrow students learn how to navigate their computer, but are not permitted to use the Internet.

Bennett-Bitler's Great Falls classroom is the first Imagine Tomorrow franchise in Fairfax County, and if all goes well, she may open additional locations in the area. Several students have already registered for her first 8-week session, and Bennett-Bitler said she recently confirmed that her program will be included in the Village Green Day Care Enrichment program. In addition, she plans to participate in the upcoming Great Falls Village Center Easter celebration.