We’re always looking for new resources we can share to help families, and the one request that comes up almost every day? Parents asking for a fabulous tutor recommendation! That’s why we were thrilled to learn about Prep Academy Tutors NY & CT, launched by Vanessa O’Friel and Sarah Loader, in 2020. Their business is the first US franchise (there are 18 across Canada), and the second largest in the organization. After meeting on a moms’ weekend on Long Island in 2018, the two chatted about back-to-work strategies after having kids on the trip home. “With seven children between us, we realized we both wanted to create a situation where we could work close to home and also had an interest in education and a passion for supporting children,” shares Vanessa. “With my entrepreneurial background and Vanessa’s background in education, we knew we were on to something!” adds Sarah. We spoke to the duo about launching at the beginning of the pandemic, what they offer and future plans.
Can you tell us a bit about your families and professional backgrounds?
Sarah: Yes! I am a long-standing Prep Academy Tutors client-turned-franchise owner, as well as a trained lawyer. My three children, my husband Ryan and I enjoy spending summers on the Muskoka Lakes in Ontario each summer, reconnecting with family. My goal is to build a vibrant business that makes a valuable contribution to my community, driven by word-of-mouth referrals. My children, Ben, Zoe, and Zachary, ages 11 through 15, love to ski and snowboard, and sail in the summer.
Vanessa: My background as an elementary teacher and later, middle and high school science teacher, brings the point of view of an educator to the business. My husband Jeremy and I moved to Bronxville six years ago with our four small children. As a former Manhattanite, being close to the city was a selling point and I frequently visit the city to see family and friends. All four of my children, Rory, Charlotte, Angus, and Cillian, ages 8 through 16, attend the Bronxville School, which gives me a unique perspective of elementary, middle, and high school. My favorite part of the business is matching up students with the perfect tutors and seeing the students flourish. As one client said of her tutors, “They take the time to learn the kids’ learning styles. We saw real improvements with our children, going from Ds, to As and Bs!”
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Can you please share a bit about launching during the pandemic?
Vanessa: We launched March 2020, when school was online, during the first pandemic lockdown. Sarah and I would take walks with our four-legged, future company mascots, Clover and Bailey, and discuss hiring, marketing, online learning platforms, and start-up issues.
As lockdown continued, and it became clear that students would need academic support and help closing learning gaps, we decided to officially launch. The timing was right. As one parent put it, “during a difficult year, Prep Academy Tutors provided incredible enrichment opportunities for my son, bringing the joy back to learning for him and peace of mind for me that he was progressing academically.” Another parent said of their weekly tutoring lessons, “looking back, it might have been the most normal part of the year!”
What separates you from other tutoring businesses?
Sarah: We work hard to make Prep Academy Tutors an approachable business to clients, growing one client at a time with a highly personalized approach. The goal of Prep Academy Tutors is to be the trusted ‘go-to’ community resource for academic tutoring support and test prep.
Prep Academy Tutors offers curriculum-based support, remediation, and enrichment services in all subjects from kindergarten to 12th grade, college essay writing, ISEE/SSAT/SAT/ACT test prep, Orton-Gillingham reading method, and language tutoring for French, Spanish and Italian. We hold unique enrichment workshops for all ages, including middle and high school Financial Literacy and Executive Functioning Workshops. Our tutors are available in Westchester and Fairfield counties. We also offer summer learning in the Hamptons in partnership with iCamp STEAM summer camp.
I know you have a huge emphasis on hiring the best teachers. Can you share a bit more about that?
Vanessa: Over half of our time is spent hiring teachers. We have a high standard of excellence for members of the Prep Academy team. The team consists of skilled, certified teachers who are professional, reliable, responsive, and personable. We truly invest time and thought into connecting each student with a teacher whose skills, experience, and personality best suit their academic needs.
What is a typical day like for both of you?
Sarah: A day in the life of Prep Academy Tutors is busy and varied, from planning social media campaigns to designing new workshops, writing blogs, photographing current students and teachers, and learning about new platforms to engage with the best teachers and new clients. Running a new business is a big commitment for two busy moms, but Vanessa and Sarah both love it. Their hard work is rewarded by the academic success of their students, who are having fun and engaged in their learning, and by the positive feedback from happy parents!