The foundation of learning is connection; connection between information and understanding, between experience and integration, between teacher and student. For Alice Kyburg, the founder of the Center for New Learning, making these connections for Vineyard students is about supplementing school-based curricula with individually tailored learning modes and methods.
In creating the Center for New Learning, Ms. Kyburg said she hopes to offer an alternative afterschool activity which extends focused learning into the afternoons, evenings, and weekends. She explained, “Sometimes students have an association with school which is negative — more school after school, why do it — but when learning is taken out of the traditional classroom and instruction happens in small groups or one-on-one, the atmosphere is relaxed and fun, and suddenly … click. They get it.”
Ms. Kyburg, a longtime but part-time resident of the Vineyard, has commuted to teach as a professor of cognitive sciences and philosophy at the University of Wisconsin for the past several years. “It was time to stop flying halfway across the country to teach, and root myself more firmly here. With two children and husband living full-time here, and my teaching so far away, I began to feel somewhat disconnected to the Island. I want to be a contributing member of the Martha’s Vineyard community.”
With a Ph.D. in computer and cognitive sciences, and a M.Ed. in middle school math education, Ms. Kyburg has long been investigating the process of thought, understanding, and learning. She said, “My field is interdisciplinary. Cognitive sciences encompass psychology, language, and cognition, and in my computer science research, I was interested in how machines think, which in turn leads to asking how do people think. This doesn’t immediately lead one to imagine opening a learning center, but I have always been entrepreneurial, and at the heart of my teaching, I hope to inspire my students to be passionate about the life of the mind.”
Ms. Kyburg said she looked at educational gaps faced by Vineyard students and saw an opportunity to link “all these talented and brilliant adults, who aren’t looking for a full-time teaching position, but certainly have expertise in a myriad of areas, with students in need of some extra learning time.” She said, “In looking for tutors, I started to build this incredible roster of talent, and now, I see my business more as a matchmaking process than anything else. Finding the right teacher to make those amazing learning connections happen for students.” Instruction in math, foreign languages, English composition, and college test and essay preparation are just a few immediate niches Ms. Kyburg hopes to fill.
Ms. Kyburg laid out the typical process in beginning a program: “We would normally plan a parent and tutor meeting, to hear what we they hope to achieve. It may start with extra help in math, but then it turns out the challenges in math relate to reading comprehension, so we add a half hour of reading comprehension to the math. The hour will be perfectly crafted for the needs of each student and how to best accomplish those goals.”
A current student needing very focused math and English review, Janaina Da Silva of Vineyard Haven, said, “I came to Alice because I am preparing to take a college placement test. I am returning to school after graduating in 2005, and all those things I used to know so well needed reviewing.” Alice has been working with Ms. Da Silva for just over a month, and in a few more weeks she feels ready to schedule the test.
Ms. Kyburg said that coming to the center “doesn’t mean you necessarily have a problem to fix, instead it’s important to see this as a supplement to education, to follow each student’s passion and interest, to expand what can be done in a classroom of 20 diverse minds. Anyone can do more, learn more.”
Ms. Kyburg found a perfect location at Vineyard Haven’s Yoga Haven building, run by Sherry Sidoti. “Sherry was looking for someone to share the space in a conscious way, and because our program times didn’t overlap, we think it will be a great fit. The ultimate goal is to have the learning center become a nonprofit, but we will have to see what the economics of the business can support.”
Ms. Kyburg has never run her own business, but she said, “I am very excited to be creating this program from the ground up, with the community at the heart of why I’m doing this. I look forward to getting out of the bureaucracy of a big university system, and working with local families and local luminaries. Every business has to grow through process, I am very flexible, and will respond to the community’s needs, in both curriculum offered and pricing.”
Ms. Kyburg said she’s eager to match the perfect teacher with the student. “You know,” she added, “there are so many incredible people living on this Island with so much to teach; I feel grateful to help make those connections, connections that can make a long-term difference for our youth.”
For more information, visit cnlmv.org.