Hartshorn opens Kumon Center at Kapa‘a High School

KAPA‘A — Melanie Hartshorn was a teacher in Los Angeles county for almost eight years for high school students who didn’t know their times tables in 10th grade.

“It was my job to take my students from second and third grade math and reading skills to pass the California high school exit exam,” said Melanie.

Experiences such as these lead her to open a Kumon Center in Kapa‘a High School in June.

“Had my students had something like Kumon there for them, they wouldn’t have been my students,” she said.

Melanie moved to Kaua‘i late last year and is not the only one in her family to start a business on Kaua‘i. Her son, Jeremy Hartshorn, and his wife, Julie, are co-owners along with their friend Annie Caporuscio of Small Town Coffee in Kapa‘a. The couple are also owners of Bandwagon Studios Mobile Music Education. Melanie’s sister, Valerie Swink, and brother-in-law, Pete, own Kaua‘i Rent-A-Car in Kapa‘a.

It took Melanie a year from first inquiring about opening a center to actually opening one. That meant going through two weeks of training at the main headquarters in New Jersey, some distance training and preparation.

“They definitely screen their franchisees,” she said.

Being a franchisee, she owns the center, with the Kumon Corporation getting royalties in exchange for providing all of the advertising and curriculum.

Kumon was started around 50 years ago in Japan by a math teacher wanting to help his son master math and the concept spread from there, she said.

“In the state, my center is No. 47, and there are centers in over 40 countries,” she said. “It is basically the fastest growing after-school program in the world. It’s not a short-term tutoring program, it’s long-term academic support and enrichment.”

She said if students start failing around middle school, and there’s no one to catch them, they might end up joining gangs and engaging in risky behavior.

“In a very real sense, Kumon is a drop-out prevention program, because students who are academically successful typically don’t drop out even if they have a difficult background,” she said.

Kumon first gives a free placement test to determine the level in which the student has complete mastery of the material and then the curriculum builds on that.

In the typical school curriculum, Melanie said, “It is a one-sized fits all. With every passing year, students’ holes tend to get larger and larger and by high school, they’re burnt out of trying. Our curriculum does not look like textbooks but will take them from the place where they had 100 percent independent accuracy and speed, and build on that.”

The curriculum “goes from preschool through high school; math accounting to calculus and reading from phonics to Shakespeare,” Melanie said.

Melanie has been teaching for more than 20 years all over the world, in Guatemala, California, Texas and Washington, to all grades from preschool to adults. She has a bachelor’s degree from Sam Houston State University in Texas and a master’s in education from National University in California, where she also did advanced studies in special education.

She said living in six different countries in her lifetime prepared her for adapting to new cultures like the one on Kaua‘i.

“I am fluent in Spanish, able to communicate in an Indian language spoken in a remote region in Guatemala and I have had the challenge of working with people of different cultures and points of view,” she said.

Her experiences also include teaching in Brian, Texas, for four years with a student body of 64 percent black, 35 percent Hispanic and one percent “other.”

“I taught a bilingual class of students who knew no English to getting them to pass the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test. I  have always worked with challenging students and parents,” she said. “What really matters is not the cultural differences, but how you treat people. If people feel respected and valued, they’re gong to respond positively.”

In education, Melanie would be the first to say that dedication is the key to success and she plans to ensure just that with this new venture.

“This is where I’m supposed to be and this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not expecting to go away anytime soon. I also have family here so I have lots of reasons to stay and not any reasons to go.”

Center hours are Monday and Thursday, 2:45 to 5:45 p.m. Preregistration is through July 15.

If No Child Left Behind funds are not available, Melanie said she is working toward programs to serve low-income students.

Melanie can be reached at 635-8550 or at melaniehartshorm@ikumon.com.

• Jane Esaki, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 257) or by emailing jesaki@thegardenisland.com.

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