How Can We Help You?
Tell us about your child and we'll tell you how we can help!
In May of 2013,Tony Mauro and his wife, Michelle, made Birmingham home to one of the first GradePower Learning® centers in the United States. Now families in Jefferson, Shelby and St. Clair County can discover that GradePower is way beyond tutoring. “When evaluating the various options for supplemental learning, we asked ourselves, ‘which model would we be most comfortable with enrolling our own kids?’” said Mr. Mauro, ”It was clear to us that basic academic tutoring, simply doesn’t work. The GradePower model was the only one that truly made a lasting difference in how children learn. Its methods are well aligned with the family values of our community.”
Active vs. passive thinking: Learning to fish vs. giving the fishAs the only learning center of its kind in America, GradePower knows that learning is not a standardized process that can be approached passively; it’s a dynamic process that is best fulfilled when students are able to actively engage their entire cognitive potential. Rather than treat the brain like a database for storing information, we recognize it for what it truly is; a vital organ that needs nurturing, exercise and care. GradePower coaches students on “how to fish” for knowledge, versus simply “giving them the fish” through memorization.
GradePower vs. "tutoring": Whole learning vs. partial memorization“Tutoring” simply focuses on helping students memorize academic information for purposes of passing a test. GradePower’s unique curriculum and cognitive approach offers families much more value than a typical tutoring experience. GradePower helps learners of all ages access their complete array of cognitive resources to retain and apply what they learn. Our students build the skills and awareness to learn, regardless of who’s teaching, where they’re learning, or how the subject is being taught. We value the idea of building an active mind that is self-sufficient enough to catch up, get ahead, and stay ahead in any learning environment, GradePower is the only place where you can make this happen!
Our mission is to help our students achieve their highest potential. Likewise, we extend that philosophy to our role as a corporate citizen. We help our community achieve its highest potential by supporting its education system. We help our staff achieve their highest potential through fostering a quality work environment, continuous improvement and full engagement in the GradePower process.
1. Dynamic Learning AssessmentsLearning cannot be standardized. Learning assessments shouldn’t be, either. Our assessments uniquely evaluate eight cognitive components (including visual processing, auditory processing and critical thinking skills) along with nine core academic skills.
2. Customized curriculum
Once a student’s current skill base is established, GradePower builds an individualized curriculum that reinforces the student’s foundational knowledge in reading, writing and math. This ensures they are prepared to receive more advanced material. Tutors are simply not equipped to do this and, instead, attempt to force the advanced material before the foundational skills are fluent. Our approach ensures that the learning lasts by refining the skills our students need to connect to more advanced concepts. This is the only way to accelerate sustainable progress.
3. Reading, writing and mathA student’s ability to learn anything, especially math, is dependent on their ability to comprehend, act and think critically about what they read. Through coaching critical reading strategies that help them process, retain and actively think about what they read, we accelerate our students’ reading skills. If they can master the skill of comprehending and actively thinking about what they’re reading in school, they can accelerate their learning in any subject. Lasting improvement in math begins with recognizing that root cause of most math struggles is a reading comprehension deficit. Tutoring methods that ignore this reality are at best temporary and, at worst, futile. Our math curriculum is extensive, thorough and rooted in active learning methods. From simple addition to calculus, your student will learn math the right way, the first time.
4. ACT and SAT prep
These tests measure academic preparedness for college. However, the college dropout rate is over 50% because students haven’t learned the values of planning vs. cramming. In turn, they don’t develop the critical thinking and preparation skills to handle the day-to-day rigor of college. So help your college-bound student learn how to plan vs. cram. Enroll them in a test prep program that truly prepares them for college. In just 2-4 hours a week, your student will not only have time to deepen their understanding of the academic material on the exam, but will realize the value of planning ahead prepare the right way. Plus, they’ll still have time to meet other obligations (homework, extracurricular activities, etc.) without becoming overwhelmed.
5. Progress reviews
We conduct periodic reviews with parents and school administrators to assess progress made and set milestones for continued success. We’ve met with many schools in the area, who are excited to work with us. We strive to strengthen the family/school partnership through supporting our families and supplementing the great work of our school teachers.
We support all of the schools in our area as proud sponsors of fundraisers and events throughout the year. The following are just some of the schools we actively support: Inverness Elementary, Mt. Laurel Elementary, Oak Mountain Middle School, Oak Mountain High School, Spain Park High School.If you’d like our help with supporting an education initiative, please email us: Hwy280AL@gradepowerlearning.com or give us a call today at 205-980-5745.
“Only Learning Center of its kind in North America”
Opening May 4 in Birmingham
About GradePowerFounded in London, Ontario, Canada in 1984 by Dr. Nick Whitehead, Oxford Learning has become the leading supplemental education business in Canada. In 2011, Oxford began expansion into the United States under the “GradePower” name. Combined, there are now over 100 Oxford and GradePower centers across North America. GradePower’s cognitive approach to learning, designed by educational experts, is based on proven scientific research into how children actually learn. Learning is not about memorizing facts, It’s about understanding how to integrate and retain new information. GradePower goes beyond tutoring to help ignite a child’s interest in learning, not just for one school year, but for a lifetime.
About Tony MauroFor nearly 20 years, Tony Mauro has worked on high-profile business initiatives in the public and private sector. Prior to opening GradePower Birmingham, he was vice president of retail bank marketing for a Birmingham-based bank and southeast regional director of marketing and operations for a national restaurant chain. Recently he was named to the Birmingham Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40.” Mr. Mauro holds a bachelor degree in marketing from Michigan State University and an MBA from the University of Alabama. He is husband to Michelle (7 years) and father to Braden (5) and Brenna (3).
What "Common Core" is that basic tutoring can't solve
We talked to Wendy Garner of NBC 13's "Daytime Alabama" about how GradePower offers much much more than a basic academic tutor.
Date: 25 September 2013 Time: 09:00AM CT Source: WCFT Network:ABC Market: Birmingham-Anniston-Tuscaloosa, AL
"His confidence has already improved just in the few weeks he's been at GradePower. The encouraging, devoted staff has made a huge impact on his attitude toward learning as well. Even the kids that go there have a special bond. I love this place! :)"
-Heather Brook Soto
"I think GradePower is doing great things. Since my 5-year-old son started in January, we've seen a difference in his ability to focus on the task at hand and his eagerness to want to learn. The coaches (Ashlee, Jessica and Laura) are such amazing people. They have such a caring way with the children and helping them get ahead in school. I just want to thank Mr. Tony for opening GradePower!"
"Thank you all so much. Bryan is doing so much better at school. He loves GradePower!"
"Very nurturing and supportive environment! Tony and his staff work diligently on assessing the needs of the individual while providing the tools to attain positive and successful learning techniques. GradePower is awesome! 5 stars!"
"We truly believe in GradePower. My high school daughter is doing much better after spending part of her summer there. My kids will be enrolled this summer."
"GradePower is totally worth it. My daughter is there two days a week."
"Our daughter got good grades before going to GradePower, but she sometimes struggled to get them. One day she came home and said, "I want to go to GradePower, because when they explained math in my class today made sense." Since she's been there she's been more willing to face challenging math problems, whereas before she'd get upset and give up. Her grades have improved and homework time in our house is much calmer. "
-Mt. Laurel Dad
"Our son went through the Little Reader Academy and through that experience his skills in reading and writing quickly soared. The little reader program was a great experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling to help their child learn to read. Our son did advance out of little readers during the school year and the program was as successful helping him further grow his reading skills. We greatly appreciate the coaches and staff at GradePower!!"
"Our son was in third grade when we started Grade Power. We used their services for 1 1/2 years and could not have been more pleased with our son's progress. They were very flexible with what he needed and very patient with him as well. :) His reading levels improved to his grade level and his math scores increased as well."
"My oldest son was so discouraged with learning. I decided to try GP and he went a solid year ending October 2013. He has been self-sufficient ever since! His study efforts, comprehension, and confidence have all improved for what I believe to be a lifetime. I am forever grateful for GP's entire staff! My younger son is excited to be going to the summer math program this year. He actually asked to go based on his big brother's advice. I look forward to watching him "learn how to learn" as well. Thank you GP!!!"
"I just wanted to give an update on my oldest son who was at GP for about a year ending in September 2014. He has been self-sufficient with a new confidence ever since! I am so proud of his accomplishments this year and am beyond grateful for the entire staff at Grade Power. My youngest son will be attending this summer at his own request saying it worked for "his bro." We are looking forward to it. Thanks GP!!"
Creating education value in Birmingham starts at home, not school
School is now back in session. Many of you likely took cursory interest in last month's publishing of the "Top school districts in Birmingham"* by the Birmingham Business Journal. Accompanying the study was a broader analysis of the top school districts in Alabama. Many were likely pacified by the fact that most of the districts leading Birmingham also lead the state (Mountain Brook, Homewood, Hoover, Vestavia). However, this should be expected.
Conversely, many readers may have been dismayed that one area school district was ranked alarmingly low. Shelby County Schools ranked 8th in Birmingham and 25th statewide, lagging other area districts including Jasper, Trussville, and Oneonta. We were likewise disappointed, but not surprised. Two questions beg:
How could this be, given that Shelby County is comprised of:
- Three of the wealthiest zip codes in the state*
- A resident population with educational attainment above the state average*
- A more-than-favorable school density (i.e. students-per-school ratio)?
Qualitative and quantitative observations
Our two Centers in Shelby County work with kids from Shelby as well as 10 adjacent counties. Qualitatively, we notice a cognitive and academic difference between kids from the top districts and those from districts that lag. It is common for us to meet high school students from Shelby County with significant variance in grade point average (GPA) compared to their American Collegiate Test (ACT) test scores (i.e. students with high GPAs and low ACTs), otherwise coined, “grade inflation.” While still prevalent across districts, by our observation such disparity is not as pervasive amongst students from the top-ranking districts.
Quantitatively, our observations are validated. For example, one of our Centers serves families from two elementary schools within one mile of each other; one is zoned Hoover, the other is Shelby. While our cognitive analysis (i.e. measure of learning instincts and potential to learn) show little variance between the two populations, the academic proficiencies do vary. A head-to-head comparison of 5th grade ACT Aspire scores over the period 2013-2015 shows a statistically significant swing favoring the Hoover school of 17 basis points in reading and 9 in math. (Incidentally, the Shelby County school in question is one of only a few dozen schools in the state with a reading/math variance of more than 18 points. Statistically, this variance is somewhat peculiar and should prompt further probing. (Most of the top-performing districts have a variance of 5 points +/- 1pt.)* The question begs: with all other socio-economic factors being basically identical, why the variance?
Focusing on what really matters
One common trait that's prevalent amongst under-performers, be it a student, school district, or company, is that they often seem hyper-focused on near-term trends vs. the real indicators that drive performance improvement. One trend embraced by many school administrators is getting more technology in the classroom, despite the fact that there's no evidence to support that technology improves a child's capacity to learn. Does it improve access to information? Certainly. But, those who know better realize access to information does not promote a capacity to learn it. Technology offers a convenient content channel used to store existing knowledge, or practice skills that already exist.
If you’re still not convinced, consider this: technology has been in classrooms for 25 years. In that span, college and career readiness (as measured by the ACT) has not improved at all (see graph). Similarly, research from the Brookings Institute and Harvard University suggests that current "smart technology" actually reduces intelligence by as much as 15%. In spite of such contrary evidence, many administrators lament that technology is cost prohibitive for their low-income families, yet soap box to accelerate the "digitization" of classrooms. More critical minds would ask, if the skills tested in school were mastered 400 years before the birth of Christ on stone tablets by Galileo, Pythagoras, and Socrates, why would kids need a "present day" tablet to learn them today? Some would go as far as to suggest those skills are arcane and irrelevant. Not so. They are essential.
Chart 1: Percentage of high school seniors achieving college- and career-ready proficiency (by skill). Source: ACT
Where education value is truly created
The bottom line for families, not only in Shelby County, but everywhere, is that their child's aptitude and potential is best influenced after the last school bell of the day, not the first. If aspirations for your kids are beyond "average," then you have to take control. Learning is a dynamic process. Standardizing it is a square-peg-in-a-round-hole proposition that makes minds passive and reactive. However, schools with stagnant budgets and higher enrollments have been forced to standardize their methods to become more efficient (ergo the rush to embrace technology). But any entity—business, school, or non-profit organization—that seeks to standardize a process is by definition focused more on improving the capacity of the process (i.e. moving more students through the process) instead of its quality. In fact, to commit to standardize is to concede satisfaction with the quality's status quo. Is the status quo of your school district good enough for your family? If not, realize that waiting for a teacher, school, or school district to proactively help your child achieve their highest potential is simply very unlikely to happen. Education is the only consumable service where the value of the service is created by the consumer and not by the provider. If you want more value, then you have to take steps to create it.
Sources: Niche K-12 Surveys, Inc., Birmingham Business Journal “Wealthiest Zip Codes in Alabama,” (2015), US Dept. of Education, Harvard Univ. Press, Brookings Institute, US Census 2015, ACT, Alabama State Dept. of Education (ACT Aspire results 2014-15)
Tony Mauro is owner and Executive Director of GradePower Learning Centers of Birmingham.