Eight years after it was founded, The Learning Center has hit its stride.
And it's a fast-paced one, at that.
The center was launched in 2006 and housed at Beaufort Academy on Lady's Island. While successful from its start, founder Malcolm Goodridge said the center wanted to do more to help students struggling to learn in a traditional classroom.
In the last year, the nonprofit tutoring and mentoring group has grown exponentially throughout the county, funding grants to various schools and institutions and reaching many more students.
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"In the beginning, we had it in just one spot, and it was great, but we weren't reaching as many students as we wanted," Goodridge said. "Our whole idea is to reach all the kids in Beaufort County, so we branched out on our own and are moving toward that."
The Learning Center was created to help students who "learn differently," whether because of a learning disability or for need of extra resources, said Goodridge, who himself struggled with dyslexia as a student. The center provided tutoring to those students, using different materials to work through what they were learning.
But in 2012, the group separated from Beaufort Academy -- which continued to provide its own learning services for identified students -- and joined the Coastal Community Foundation, becoming the Learning Center Fund. That allowed the center to award grants to educational institutions and expand the organization's reach, according to foundation board member D.C. Gilley.
During the last year, the fund awarded $120,000 in matching grants. Recipients included the Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry, Bridges Preparatory School, the Penn Center, St. Peter's Catholic School and the Beaufort County School District's Child Find program.
With the grant money, the institutions were able to hire their own staff -- not employees of the center -- to work with the students. It also helped them purchase different equipment and materials, enabling the organizations to provide the tutoring and mentoring services at no cost to the students.
Through the grants, the center and institutions worked with more than 75 students over the past school year. Although Goodridge could not say how many students the center assisted on an annual basis before separating, he said the number has grown significantly in the past year.
Even more, those students made great progress as a result of their participation in the funded programs, according to fund spokeswoman Wendy Pollitzer.
During a recent meeting of the center's board of directors, each institution presented to the board what was achieved with the grant money. And a trend emerged, Pollitzer said.
Each group showed that the students made significant gains over the year -- frequently measured by test scores and students' grades.
For example, 100 percent of students enrolled in the Penn Center's program improved academically. One student more than tripled his grade point average, according to Pollitzer.
And at Bridges, 60 percent of students receiving the tutoring services made gains of one or more years of schooling, as determined by Measures of Academic Progress test scores.
"The best thing about this generously funded program is that coaching has touched the lives of 34 learners here at Bridges," said Laura McAlhaney, the school's Learning Center coach.
The center's grants help to provide a range of services.
For example, Bridges and St. Peter's have in-school tutoring. The Boys & Girls Club and the Penn Center provide after-school programs. And the district's Child Find program identifies children in their toddler years who could most benefit from preschool or other assistance.
"Any time we can provide the resources to go out and find the children who need the additional services, it is only going to benefit the family, student and schools in the long run," superintendent Jeff Moss said. "And (the grant) has really helped us to do that."
For the coming school year, the fund has awarded two more grants to John Paul II Catholic School and AMIkids. It hopes eventually to expand to neighboring counties and possibly even to Columbia or Charleston, Goodridge said.
For that to happen, the center needs greater funding, he added. He hopes recent success stories will inspire donations from around the state.
"We are so pleased with what we were able to accomplish this past year, but we don't want to go too quickly and bite off more than we can chew," Goodridge said. "So we are just working to see where it's going next."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- New endowment gives county rare opportunity: The money targets students who learn differently, February 20, 2013
- Beaufort Academy donates $400,000 to Coastal Community Foundation, February 11, 2013
- Lady's Island learning center helps kids achieve academic success, November 9, 2009