By Chris McGuinness

Killeen Daily Herald

Pat Darnell retired from her teaching job in 2009 but said she still had a passion for working with students.

"I love what I do, and wanted to continue helping these kids," the former Killeen Independent School District teacher said. "I wanted to find another way to do that."

Darnell, who was a public educator for 23 years, decided to become a tutor and began making appointments to work with students.

As academic expectations grow more complex, struggling students and their families look for guidance outside the classroom. Local elementary, middle school, high school and college students have more tutoring choices now than ever before, including one-on-one tutors, local tutoring centers and online services.

Darnell said she specializes in tutoring students who speak English as a second language, and often meets with them in their homes or public libraries.

"They often face challenges because they speak one language at home and have to speak another at their school," she said. "Because of my experience as a teacher, I can help (them) and their families understand how the school system works, and what resources are available to them."

In addition to assisting students with school work, Darnell said she also helps them write letters to teachers and administrators and prepare for parent-teacher meetings.

"I like being able to go to their homes, because it gives me a chance to talk to the family about what they need help with, and (the family) can watch and ask any questions," she said.


While Darnell started tutoring after her teaching career was over, Casey Whalen, 24, of Harker Heights, offers his tutoring services while seeking a job in the engineering industry.

"I was always good at math, and I always would help out my friends," he said. "This is the first time I started charging for it."

Whalen will graduate in December from Texas A&M University with a master's degree in aerospace engineering. He said he took up tutoring and working as a substitute teacher while searching for an engineering job.

"The (tutoring) also allows me to have a pretty flexible schedule, so if I get an interview and have to do some traveling I can move around my schedule," he said.

Whalen said he has three regular students, including two members of the military who take classes online and another student studying to take a graduate record examination.

"Some of my tutoring I do online, one of (the students) is actually deployed overseas right now," he said.

Central location

In addition to private tutoring, parents also have the option of seeking tutoring services from third party centers.

Stephanie Kelso, director and president of the Science Math And Reading Tutoring (SMART) Zone center in Harker Heights, said having students come to a centralized location helps them focus.

"We believe it's important to have students in a neutral environment," she said. "There's less of a chance of them being distracted than if they were at home, or even at school in some cases."

SMART Zone, which opened in June, employes 10 certified teachers and serves about 30 students each week. Kelso said the center provides 50-minute sessions on a one-on-one basis, or group sessions with one tutor and up to four students.

Tutor Ashley Crosby, a former teacher at Bellaire Elementary School, said she was eager to start working with children again after being a stay-at-home mother for three years. She decided to work at the center instead of tutoring independently.

"I considered going out on my own, but I wasn't sure how parents would feel about bringing their child to a stranger's house," she said. "Also you have a lot more resources and materials here at the center that you would have to pay out of your own pocket for otherwise."

Rewarding work

Crosby said working one-on-one with students at the center rekindled her love for teaching.

"When you are in a classroom, you can get bogged down, and with 20 to 25 students it's hard to really get that time with each student," she said. "Here you have the time to really get to know them and tailor the lessons to their needs."

Tara Garay, the assistant director of the Sylvan Learning Center in Killeen, said she feels her work as a tutor is rewarding. Garay was one of the center's 20 teachers until she was promoted to her current position last month.

"It's amazing to see how excited the kids get when they start improving," she said. Garay taught in the Killeen Independent School District for two years before accepting a permanent position at Sylvan in October. "(The students) would come in frustrated, and to see them blossom and gain confidence was very rewarding."

Garay's center is just one of hundreds of Sylvan Learning Centers across the nation. Killeen center director Rosemary Lantz said the location offers tutoring in a variety of subjects including math, science, SAT preparation and some college-level subjects.

The Killeen center currently has 45 students, many of whom are elementary school students looking to improve in math and reading. Lantz said the center may see an increase in high school students as schools switch over to the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test this year.

Some tutoring companies have abandoned the idea of face-to-face tutoring in favor of an online model.

Online partner

KISD has partnered with one such company,, to provide online services to some of its students.

The site allows students to log on at any time and connect to a professional tutor for as long as they want. KISD purchased the service for all its ninth-grade students in 2010, and the district's board of trustees voted this month to pay $100,000 for 12 months of services for students who are identified by campus personnel as having an academic need.

"It's a really great option for students, because they literally have access to help no matter where they are as long as they have an internet connection," said Susan Buckley, KISD director of secondary curriculum and professional development.

No matter how students receive their tutoring services, Darnell said making sure students get the extra help they need is important, not only to their grades but to their futures.

"When they are struggling they get frustrated, and when they get frustrated, they could end up dropping out of school," she said. "We don't want to lose them, so you do what you can to help, including giving them options like tutoring."

Contact Chris McGuinness at or (254) 501-7568.

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