Success Stories

Please take time to read the stories below as we highlight the wonderful students who have made huge strides in their lives while enriching our own. We share these success stories from our many years of service in hopes that a glimpse into their lives might both inform and inspire. The lesson is clear: each child has unique gifts to share, and all can reach their potential when given the tools to strengthen their abilities and really shine!


The tutors are very encouraging and they really do connect with the students well.

John C.

“Total Learning Center not only helped me improve on my SAT scores, they also helped me adapt to better problem solving and reading strategies in and out of the classroom. I attend TLC in the summer as I could’ve decided not to attend 2 days a week, but I was really lenient on improving my SAT scores so I gave it a try and it was one of the best decisions I made. The tutors are very encouraging and they really do connect with the students well.  The main 2 tutors I had, Brad for math, and Ryan for reading, definitely helped me achieve these goals that I can later on apply in college and in the real world. I strongly recommend anyone who is considering or likes the one on one learning atmosphere to attend this learning center for they have and contain many awards such as Nickelodeon’s best young adults and young children learning institution. Hope you like it and I really do mean what I say in this testimonial.”

Thank you

John C

Without TLC, I would never have been able to dream of what I am doing now.

Erin Browning

Erin Browning never fully participated in class during her elementary school days. While the other kids were quickly skimming through text, Erin was still figuring out individual words. Now, she’s preparing to graduate from college.

“I avoided reading at all costs because I was scared to read in class,” Erin said. “I didn’t know simple words that everyone else did. It wasn’t that I did not understand or comprehend the word. I just couldn’t read the words; therefore, I couldn’t comprehend what I was reading.”

She never let the other kids realize that she was struggling though. Erin always put on the facade that she was doing well when in reality she was seeking extra help from teachers after school. Erin’s parents told her when she was about 9 years old that she had a learning disability called dyslexia. Her parents carefully explained even though her brain worked differently, she could still excel at school if given the right tools.

“I asked them if I was stupid,” Erin said. “They assured me that I was smart, just needed some extra help.”

That help came from the staff at Total Learning Centers and the multiple programs in which Erin participated. TLC discovered Erin also had some processing issues and attention issues in addition to the dyslexia and designed a custom education plan for Erin.

Throughout her nearly 10 years she spent working with TLC education specialists, Erin participated in a variety of programs aimed to remediate her specific weaknesses. In her time at TLC, Erin took CET Plus, World of Reading, Alphabetic Phonics, Play Attention, Eye Q, and Rewards. All of these programs were designed to remediate a different aspect of the brain and give her the extra boost she needed to help her excel at school. As she got older, she took SAT Prep, math tutoring and writing tutoring to help develop those skill sets as well.

“I started to realize that I was not the only one struggling in school and became very comfortable very quickly,” Erin said.

Erin remembers thinking when she started attending TLC that she was determined to get A’s in school. Her goals have definitely grown even bigger since then. Erin gained the academic tools she was missing and she exudes confidence both in and out of the classroom.

Erin just finished her freshman year at Mercyhurst College, earning a 3.5 GPA. She is setting new standards for other students with similar learning disabilities as well. Erin is the first “learning different” program student at Mercyhurst to be in the college’s honors program. Erin sets very high expectations for herself. Now that studying is easier, Erin hopes she will be able to learn Spanish well and travel abroad to study in Spain next winter.

At college, Erin is taking a double major in international business and marketing with a pre-law minor. She said she hopes her combined skill set will enable her to pursue a career in America and Spain as a marketer or lawyer. She’s not sure yet exactly what she wants to do, but she knows she wants to pursue her MBA as well.

“Without TLC, I would never have been able to dream of what I am doing now. I would have never been able to graduate (high school) or be in the honors program (at college),” Erin said. “I would not be able to achieve a lifelong goal of mastering a second language. TLC has not just helped me in the classroom, but helped me gain the confidence in life to succeed at anything that I put my mind to.”

Having someone in your corner can make all the difference.

Elise Mote

At 13 years old, Elise Mote was a sharp, determined, self-motivated young girl. The painful truth however was that those assets, without academic success, guaranteed frustration. Happy and successful now, Elise was definitely living the formula for stress- pressure to perform minus the skills to achieve.

“Elise is a bright girl but learns differently, and the typical school environment was not able to accommodate her educational needs fully,” said Beverley Mote, Elise’s mom. “She was not able to be as successful or achieve her potential in the typical school environment.”

Elise’s inability to meet her own high standards caused her extreme anxiety, which only heightened her struggles at school. As they watched her grades and self-esteem drop, Elise’s parents knew they had to find another way for Elise to learn. The answer: individualized attention with a structured learning plan at Total Learning Centers.

Elise was previously diagnosed with a nonverbal learning disability and a specific math disability so she did have learning support in public school for reading and math. But Beverley says most of the teachers in the public school system were not equipped with the tools to deal with Elise’s situation.

“Elise has a nonverbal learning disability that inhibits her learning and affects all areas of her executive functioning skills, and most teachers in the school system are not aware of how much executive functioning impacts all aspects of school,” Beverley said. “Certainly the general education teachers at school don’t know all the ramifications of a nonverbal learning disability.”

Remediation for Executive Functioning Deficit issues is relatively difficult, but brain-based learning and cognitive enhancement programs can increase skills such as auditory processing, visual discrimination, processing speed, phonological awareness, planning, sequencing, attention to detail, memory, etc. By increasing a child’s functioning in any cognitive skill area, overall level of academic achievement can be enhanced. These programs are often overlooked when developing an educational program, yet the gains made through these programs can create significant advances across all academic subjects.

Executive Functioning Deficit (EF), has been defined as the ability to maintain an appropriate problem solving set for attainment of a future goal and that this ability includes the more specific skills of inhibition, planning, and mental representation.

Behaviors that can be observed (or reported) in the clinical setting that might indicate an EF deficit that should be assessed by standardized testing include, but are not limited to poor organization, planning, or strategy use; concrete thinking; lack of inhibition; difficulty grasping cause and effect; inability to delay gratification; difficulty following multistep directions; difficulty changing strategies or thinking of things in a different way (i.e., perseveration); poor judgment; and inability to apply knowledge to new situations.

Children with Executive Functioning Deficit have difficulty reading social cues and may feel overwhelmed in large group situations. EF can cause pervasive problems as this disability does not affect only one area of learning like Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, or Dyscalculia. Every subject can be affected by Executive Functioning Deficit issues, but particularly any academic area that requires sequential processing.

The education specialists at Total Learning Centers were able to develop an educational plan that met Elise’s specific learning needs. For the last two years, Elise has attended TLC four days a week instead of attending public school. She still fulfills the state’s educational requirements by taking reading, science, history, math, writing classes and remediation for her learning challenges. But school feels different now.

Learning is fun again, not a chore, according to Elise. Beverley says Elise leaves for school — and returns — with a smile on her face. “TLC was able to work with her on an individual basis and find programs and ways for her to learn the same materials,” Beverley said. “All of a sudden the girl regained all of that confidence to the point now where she approaches life with the maturity and confidence of someone beyond her years.”

Elise had lost trust in teachers before coming to TLC and now with one-on-one attention has been able to regain that trust and improve her self-confidence. “In the school environment, there was no one that was a cheerleader,” Beverley said. “Having someone in your corner can make all the difference.” After just one year at TLC, Elise’s PSSA scores increased to advanced. Her school-related anxiety has diminished, and her self-esteem has soared.

“She’s a new child,” Beverley said. “TLC saved my daughter’s life.”

Once his confidence improved – everything improved.

Paula Raves

Paula Raves says her best advice for parents is not to struggle with a child alone. She didn’t know Total Learning Centers offered the range of services that it does or else she said she would have taken her son, Jonathan, much sooner.

When Paula first brought Jonathan to Total Learning Centers in 2003, she just wanted to help prepare him for the SAT. She had seen ads in a local magazine for TLC and walked past the building in the plaza many times, but had never stopped to ask about services.

She already knew the SAT would be rough for Jonathan since he was diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADD by age 8. He’d had learning support over the years in private school and with private tutors. However, she always felt as wonderful as all the teachers and tutors were, it was just support, not fixing his problem.

“No one ever focused on identifying his problem areas and developing strategies to overcome the problems — until he came to TLC,” she said. Jonathan knew he wanted to attend college but had never really done well on standardized tests so he was happy to take the classes. He didn’t realize he was about to not only develop his studies but also discover an employment opportunity – all because he walked through those doors.

Drs. Carol and Joe Utay know every child can succeed far beyond his or her expectations with the right remediation and support. TLC always tests students to check for any underlying issues preventing the child from learning to his or her full potential. The story was no different with Jonathan. Even though he initially came to the center for SAT Prep classes, he was tested in October 2003, and the education specialists at TLC found he was bright and had difficulties with processing his thoughts efficiently, transitions, multitasking and working memory, in addition to his ADD and reading disorder.

These weaknesses in executive functioning were not uncommon, and TLC education specialists went right to work to design a program that would really help Jonathan excel. Students can only make real progress when the underlying weaknesses are addressed first, so Jonathan stopped his SAT Prep classes and began the Cognitive Educational Therapy program.

“I immediately noticed my attention span and focus was better in classes,” Jonathan said. “That lasted over the years. I used to have test taking anxiety but as my reading and my attention has improved, I am not as anxious as I used to be.”

Cognitive Educational Therapy works to strengthen six areas of the brain’s executive functioning necessary for learning: attention, working memory, thinking (processing) speed, visual processing, auditory processing and logic and reasoning.

“I think the Cognitive Educational Therapy program helped him to immediately be more attentive and better able to focus. This helped him to gain confidence,” Paula said. “Once his confidence improved – everything improved. Also, the staff at TLC was very encouraging and supportive, and he responded to that.”

By addressing the underlying issues first, Jonathan was able to make much faster progress in his SAT Prep sessions as well.

“I did better on my SATs than I expected and was accepted to college in August before my senior year of high school. This really helped me to gain confidence. It also took away the stress of my senior year.”

Gaining confidence in his abilities and improving his attention and executive functioning skills helped him to become a better student and more attentive learner and helped him discover his strengths — which TLC tapped right away. Jonathan discovered he had a natural knack for figuring out and solving computer issues so Drs. Carol and Joe offered Jonathan a technology support job at Total Learning Centers during his junior year of high school.

“He came to work every day directly after school and managed a variety of responsibilities, mainly in computer networking and software support,” explains Dr. Carol: “In the summer of 2006, Jonathan expanded his role as he took on another level of responsibility and remodeled a new center. He did carpentry, painting, electrical and tile work. Jonathan still works at the center as technology support when he is home on school breaks and during the summer months. He thanks us for the opportunity but we feel it is us that benefit greatly from his problem-solving skills, technology know-how, and strong work ethic.”

Now in his senior year of college at California University of Pennsylvania in California, Pa., Jonathan is proud to share that he only required minimal test-taking support from the Learning Support Office for his first two years.

“My last two years I have not needed any support at all. I changed my major during my junior year and thought I might not be able to graduate in four years,” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep up and will graduate as planned.” In fact, Jonathan received a 3.91 GPA this past semester and has an overall 3.5 GPA, receiving academic honors six out of seven semesters so far.

Now 22 years old, Jonathan is looking forward to graduating college and getting a technology-related job, similar to his responsibilities at TLC. He has plans to attend graduate school in the future and maybe even become an entrepreneur.

“I’ve been able to realize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. TLC has helped me to improve upon my weak areas but also has helped me to feel confident about my strengths,” Jonathan said. “I know that I would not have been as successful in college without the skills I learned at TLC. These skills will help me for the rest of my life.”

My grades have improved every single semester.

Matthew Thompson

At 19 and on academic probation in the first semester of his sophomore year at Bluffton University, Ohio, Matthew Thomson knew he needed help. He didn’t feel connected to what he was studying, didn’t understand the classes he was taking and desperately needed direction.

“I needed something to change,” Matt said. “I knew that I had problems with paying attention in class, and I could never keep good notes because of it.” A friend told him about the help he had received at Total Learning Centers, and Matt decided to check it out. Not only did he find the academic and emotional support he needed, but Matt found the direction he sought after as well.

Matt had never needed learning support in high school, but now he was developing great anxiety over tests and having trouble concentrating and remembering material. Anxiety related to school was quite evident and was hindering school achievement. A thorough evaluation at TLC showed Matt had challenges in executive functioning, attention, study skills and skill deficits in reading and writing. TLC education experts recommended Matt begin the World of Executive Functioning program to improve processing, working memory, integration of skills, executive functioning, multitasking and attention.

Research is clear that anxiety interferes both with learning and accessing memory to show what one has learned. TLC education experts knew Matt had great potential and once his skills were remediated and his confidence increased, he would be able to function at a much higher level at school. During his time off from college, Matt excelled in the World of Executive Functioning program at TLC and says he loved it! When the next semester started, Matt was confident and ready to tackle college again.

Dr. Carol Utay, co-founder and executive director of TLC, also helped Matt realize the accommodations he needed for test taking at school. By law, students who have a documented learning disability, such as a dyslexia or attention deficit disorder, can receive appropriate accommodations such as extended time or a quiet place to take a test. “I saw a huge improvement in my memory after I completed World of Executive Functioning. Between being able to pay more attention in classes, and the accommodations that Bluffton is now giving me, I have definitely seen an improvement,” Matt said. “My grades have improved every single semester.”

Matt also started working for TLC as a teacher’s aide and has been able to share his experiences with other TLC students.“Teaching World of Executive Functioning to other students at TLC is definitely something that I am passionate about,” he said. “I can’t even explain how much the programs at Total Learning Centers have helped me, and just knowing that I can share that with someone else struggling is an amazing feeling.”

In fact, his experience teaching at TLC sparked an interest in studying child development at college. “I knew that I wanted to work with kids. I just didn’t know in what capacity. Being involved with TLC has made me more passionate about helping children who struggle,” Matt said.

Now 23 years old, Matt has big plans for the future, including getting married and going to graduate school at Bowling Green University. He’s hoping to get hired by a college in the student activities office someday. “Working at TLC for the past three years has given me more experience than I could have ever asked for,” Matt said. “The skills that the Utays have built in me will be things that stay with me my whole life, and have given me the aspiration to go on to graduate school.”


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