Spokane Journal of Business

Meadowbrook helps clients tackle learning obstacles

Some adults seek service for job-required test prep; company also helps kids

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-—Staff photo by Treva Lind
Renie Smith, co-owner of Meadowbrook Educational Services, says the company has about 70 clients during a typical year, many of whom have multiple sessions.

Spokane-based Meadowbrook Educational Services Inc., which provides learning assessments and educational support to children and adults, has had recent successes in helping clients who struggle taking job-required tests, though they show at work that they know the material well.

Examples include assisting firefighters, police officers, truck drivers, and others who need to pass written tests required for certifications or promotions, says Meadowbrook Educational Services co-owner Renie Smith, who also is a certified educational trainer.

"Most of the adults who come to us are of normal to bright intelligence but have difficulties with testing which may include test anxieties, reading comprehension dif-ficulties, or the inability to write on paper what they know and do well in everyday work," Smith says.

"We help people learn how to succeed in passing tests that are essential for their promotions and certifications," she adds.

Meadowbrook, which is located in leased space at 505 W. Riverside in the Fernwell Building, also assists children as young as 2 years old, as well as adults of all ages, for educational assessments and guidance regarding difficulties with learning, speaking, writing, listening, and spelling.

Two years ago, the company moved from the Cheney area to downtown to be closer to the STA Plaza and more accessible to its adult clients who commute by bus, such as some enrolled in Community Colleges of Spokane classes, Smith says.

Most of its clients that total about 70 a year find the company because of word-of-mouth referrals, Smith says. She says based on fairly stable revenue growth, the company has "stayed afloat," but income hasn't been as high in recent years because she scaled back traveling to offer training classes to other educators.

In some cases, clients come in only for an assessment. In other cases, they might return for three to five educational support follow-up sessions. Meadowbrook receives about five referrals a year from Spokane-based state offices for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and WorkSource.

Smith, who also is company president, says she and her adult daughter, Dorothy Bennett, who is program director and an educational coach, are the only two employees. The company mainly occupies a 300-square-foot office on the fifth floor of the building, but the business also shares space such as conference rooms with independent lawyers who have offices on the same floor.

For the clients the company has helped with test taking, sometimes it's a matter of teaching people techniques to relax and focus on key concepts, Smith says.

Other Meadowbrook clients are those who have struggled with learning as a result of certain conditions that include dyslexia, autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and visual-spatial disorders, among others. A majority of children who receive its support services are ages 9 to 15.

A number of factors can impact people's ability to learn, she says, adding that a few examples include past mental trauma, missing foundational skills, and whether people can process information sequentially.

"Some people aren't sequential processors, so if they're taught by breaking concepts down, then they don't have the capacity to recall sequentially what they're taught," Smith says.

For its services, Smith says the company charges $250 per assessment if payment is made online, and $275 if paid in person at the assessment appointment, which usually takes about three hours and includes questions, testing, and time for discussing the assessment's results.

After the initial assessment, Smith says that fees typically are $75 an hour for educational and learning support programs that can vary from a session on one day to sessions over the course of five days. If a physical problem such as hearing impairment is detected, Smith says the company can refer clients to health professionals.

"We don't really tutor," Smith says. "With the assessment, we can offer different educational programs for individual needs. We find out what is causing people to have difficulty learning or in how they process information."

She adds, "Most people who come here have had problems because they have been taught to learn in a way that is not their processing style. We don't diagnose because we're not doctors. We can see the symptoms, and we know what to do when the symptoms manifest."

Darin Schroeder, who works for a landscape maintenance company based here, Spokane ProCare Inc., says he went to Meadowbrook Educational Services this past fall for three sessions to help in preparing for written state tests required to become a certified spray technician.

Schroeder previously had attempted five times to pass the first written exam required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to become a certified technician, barely missing the minimum required score. However, Spokane ProCare owner Kevin Schroeder, who also is Darin's father, says Darin showed high proficiency on the job while working with another certified technician regarding knowledge about the chemicals and required procedures.

"Even though there is a study guide, some people are not good written test takers, yet you can talk face-to-face to them and they know all the material," Kevin Schroeder says. "It even got to the point that I had asked the Department of Agriculture if they'd be willing to give him an oral test, but they said no, they couldn't."

Schroeder's company, as the employer, paid for Darin Schroeder's sessions over three days at Meadowbrook with Smith, after Kevin Schroeder had heard about Meadowbrook from a friend.

"He worked with Renie starting on the Wednesday before the test for three days, and he passed two out of the three tests, which was phenomenal," Kevin Schroeder says. "In the following month, he passed a third test to get him licensed in the ornamental field."

Darin Schroeder says the sessions with Meadowbrook helped him learn how to pull information out of a test study guide and think about relaxing his mind during the test to focus on key points.

"Instead of trying to remember every single thing, they help you relax and think about the important parts," he says. "When I take a test, I get really anxious and want to hurry up and get it over with. They taught me how to find a center point and relax a little bit so my brain can actually work the way it's supposed to and remember."

Smith says she founded Meadowbrook Educational Services in 1996 in the Cheney area, where she often provided services to children attending the Cheney and Liberty school districts.

She also has worked with clients and has trained other educational professionals internationally, including in Singapore, India, and South Africa. She studied with a South African educational expert who has researched how the development of certain foundational skills, such as perception, memory, and concentration, is necessary before a child is able to learn successfully.

Smith says if children don't have certain skills by third grade, they start floundering in school. "That is about when they go into special education services," Smith says. She asserts that oftentimes, these children aren't getting the support they need.

She adds, "They'd never been taught how to learn. We assume so much as a first-world country," such as young children being expected automatically to know how to focus their attention. "We just expect it to happen."

Smith says people also differ in how they learn best, sometimes called learning styles, such as whether they are auditory-sequential learners, visual learners, and visual-spatial learners who process emotionally and with physical touching.

She says three types of memory are important for people recalling what they learn: short-term memory; working memory, which is the ability to recall a certain number of digits; and long-term memory, recalling information learned from several years ago to a long time ago in its correct order.

She adds that an issue for some people is how many pieces of new information they can remember in proper order immediately after learning it, and then a short time later pull it back out of memory correctly in proper sequence, such as for a test.

"We have a lot of people who come in here who have short-digit memory spans; that's one example," she says. "We teach them how to store the information."

Smith says she doesn't have any plans to expand her business at this time, although she may train a few employees eventually before retiring. However, she adds that helping people, especially children, keeps her drawn to providing the company's services.

Treva Lind
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