LAND O'LAKES — Fifty years ago, halfway around the world in Osaka, Japan, a young boy struggled with his arithmetic.
The boy's father, a high school math teacher, created a step-by-step program to help his son. Soon friends and neighbors wanted him to help their children, too, and the Kumon method was born.
Today, Toru Kumon's teaching process is used in 43 countries around the world. There are 18 Kumon centers in the Tampa Bay region, including one in Land O'Lakes.
Private tutoring is big business in the U.S. In the Tampa Bay region alone, there are over 100 tutoring centers ranging from franchises like Kumon, Sylvan and Huntington to independent tutors such as Dr. Patricia Ann Bennett, otherwise known as "Pat the Tutor."
For Daksha Jadeja, instructor and director at the Kumon center in Land O'Lakes, making a difference in the lives of her students and their families is the most rewarding work she has ever done.
"Parents come in needing help, and in a few months, their child is succeeding in school," she said. She sees the Kumon Center as an educational partner and resource for schools.
While the nation has debated between traditional rote methods and more conceptual approaches, Kumon math follows a linear and traditional path.
Students must demonstrate complete mastery — often under time pressure — before moving to the next level. The difference between assignments is so gradual that students don't often realize the work has become more challenging.
And practice makes perfect. The commitment of Kumon can be intense. Students must practice an average of 20 to 30 minutes every day, including school vacations and holidays. In addition, families are asked to commit six months to a year to the program.
For students and families able to make that commitment, the rewards can be great.
Fourth-grader Nicholas Roy is currently solving simultaneous linear equations, part of the Algebra I series. He started at Kumon the summer before second grade.
"Everything had come easily for Nicholas. We needed a program that would enrich him," said his mother, Lisa Roy. "Once we got started, we were hooked."
When things got more challenging, Nicholas kept learning. "He learned that if you keep working at something — perseverance — you'd succeed," his mother said.
"He has amazed himself and everyone around him," Jadeja said.
Jadeja's students, who range in age from preschool to high school, are evenly split between those seeking remedial help and those seeking enrichment.
"Students who come for remedial support don't remain remedial for long," she said.
Part of the Kumon philosophy is that all students are capable of mastering high-level subject material. Kumon provides highly individualized student work for each student.
Jadeja explained the importance of matching student ability with specific work. She sees the skills taught at Kumon as a base, like the foundation of a house. "If that foundation isn't strong, it's going to fall."
Gita Vidyarthi's three children have attended the Kumon Center for 2 1/2 years.
She began tutoring as remediation for her eldest son, who has now surpassed his grade level and continues for enrichment. Vidyarthi credited her son's teacher, Jadeja.
"I really owe a lot of my children's success to her," she said. "Any program is only as good as the teachers who run it. We are very blessed."
The Kumon method received a boost last month when the National Mathematics Advisory Panel recommended that math curriculum focus more on a narrower range of core concepts and skills, something Kumon centers have been doing for years.
As for Jadeja, she focuses on one student at a time, helping them reach their potential. "Each child has the ability to excel beyond expectations," she said.