A growing number of young families and an increasing demand for educational enrichment for kids is leading the local franchise of Sylvan Learning Centers to expand to south Kennewick and Yakima.
Owner Randy Way said both new outlets should be ready to open in the coming months after renovations are complete.
The south Kennewick office will be on Union Street just north of the Gesa Credit Union on 27th Avenue.
The expansion is partly aimed at improving accessibility. Way said that he’s noticed in recent years that families are less willing to drive as far to get their kids to his south Richland center on Keene Road.
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“I once had a family coming twice a week from Lewiston (in Idaho),” Way said, adding that he has noticed that families driving farther are less likely to stay with the center as those who live closer.
Being able to help more kids, that’s what it’s about.
Barb McDonald, Sylvan Learning Center in Richland
But they also are increasing demand for test preparation for high school students and for science- and technology-centered programs such as robotics and coding.
“Being able to help more kids, that’s what it’s about,” said Barb McDonald, director of education at the Richland center.
The Tri-City franchise for Sylvan was originally in Kennewick, near Gage Boulevard and Steptoe Street, when Way and his wife bought it in 2005. Way came into the business with a background in education, having formerly been an elementary school teacher and coach in Umatilla.
He moved the center to south Richland several years ago because more space was needed to serve more customers. That growth has continued. The Richland center has an average of more than 100 students spending about three hours a week receiving instruction or participating in programs. That’s up from 75 students seen each week on average five years ago, Way said.
“There are a lot of unique options parents are gravitating toward,” he said.
Historically, Sylvan has dedicated most of its business to helping bring kids up to grade level in basic subjects such as reading, writing and math, Way said.
The company also prides itself on its own curriculum, and focus on small groups or individualized instruction. But Way and McDonald emphasized that they aren’t a tutoring service nor a substitute for schools. Rather, they provide supplemental education services or enrichment.
There are a lot of unique options parents are gravitating toward.
Randy Way, owner of Sylvan Learning Center in Richland
“It’s like going to the batting cages and getting some extra help,” Way said.
While work in basic subjects still makes up nearly 65 percent of the business, adult education, test preparation for college admissions and science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs are drawing more students each month.
“STEM is so huge around here,” McDonald said. She added that while local school districts have increasingly offered STEM options, they aren’t available at every school or don’t have the capacity for every student who is interested.
The expansion will lead the Richland center to move a few of its 21 employees to the Kennewick site, Way said.
But he’s also looking to hire as many as 12 more people.
“There’s always going to be a market for what we do,” Way said.