A Note from Hannah Sundari Sammy (Founder and Tutor, H.L.C.)
This week, I had two experiences which really made me think about “pro-bono” work and volunteering professional services to interested clients. On this topic I’m a bit torn between getting my business off the ground financially and reaching out to clients and assisting those students who are truly interested in improving themselves academically.
As a start-up company, and more dismally so, one revolving around education (which is free in Trinidad and Tobago), I often wonder when it comes to marketing, why would people choose to pay money for HLC’s services, and what will make private tutoring, remedial classes and academic skills training desirable to customers? In answering these questions I decided to include the elements of inclusiveness and flexibility to the Holistic Learning Center’s portfolio.
Individualized sessions, uniquely tailored classes and the convenience of choosing the location, time, number of sessions and even cost per session are elements not present in the traditional school system where students participate in (or passively observe) a “hit-or-miss” type of learning experience. This “one size fits all” mode of operation creates an academic environment where students are prone to falling through the cracks, being left behind and at times pushed along through the “conveyor belt” class system which evidently lacks quality control. Countless times I have encountered students who’s chronological age did not match their mental age, nor their academic stage of development.
In a class of 15 children, I once had an 8 year old student, who had the writing and mathematical reasoning ability of a 4 year old, and a 7 year old who had the cognitive abilities and speed of processing information of a 12 year old. At that point I remember asking myself how exactly is a teacher, without any type of assistant in the classroom supposed to deal with such a large disparity of students, who were placed into the same class at school based solely on their chronological age. I asked the 8 year old how he was had reached to this stage in school and still did not know how to write or read properly. He replied a simple truth, that in class, teachers never had time for him, and that most days he just got frustrated and gave up…
It was experiences like that, as well as my own personal trials in school that really made me question how much of a benefit the traditional school system was. In the same way, these observations pushed me to dream about making the Holistic Learning Center a reality.
This is why, while the Center is a business endeavor for me, I am not sure if at all times it can function like a business, in the truest sense. When I decided to leave my full time job and commit 100% to this dream I had of creating an inclusive and productive learning environment for students I knew that the chances of making a large profit was unlikely. At the very least, I would be able to eat 3 square meals a day, while at most, I’ll be able to truly make an impact in students’ lives and empower them to reach their highest academic potential.
The dilemma of pro bono (for free) vs. pro rata (pay as you go) begins when one considers the latter – what does it take to make an impact in a students’ lives; how far will one go to make that impact. Do you only assist clients who can pay your fee or do you help everyone in need regardless of if they can pay or not? What do I say to a mother who calls about her child needing assistance, who also follows that statement with “I’m sorry I cannot afford your services”…
At the Holistic Learning Center we try to negotiate as much as possible with our clients – hence flexibility. We also try our best to cater to all, impartially, with our underlying mantra being “Making Time for You”. So, when I get a call from a prospective client the first thing I ask is, what can the Holistic Learning Center do for you, tell us what you need from us and let’s see what we can arrange. We always encourage an open dialogue with our clients, especially on “taboo” subjects like the fees attached to sessions. So talk to us, we’re here to help as best we can and we’re growing and understanding new things, the same as you are.
In conclusion yes, we do “pro-bono” and volunteer work and aim to participate in community outreach as much as we can. On the other hand we also charge a standard fee for sessions that clients are free to discuss and negotiate with us. This is just a fraction of what needs to be discussed however, the real matter on our mind is the education our students receive, creating awareness about educational issues and starting a conversation about how the Holistic Learning Center can empower you, through education.
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Until next time!