Sylvan owner hires former first grade teacher to work in Niles

Published 11:13 pm Monday, March 6, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - It's not too often someone gets to work alongside the person who inspired them as a child. Even more rare may be hiring one's mentor later in life.
But, that is exactly the case with Krissy Miles and Jeanie Butterfield at the Sylvan Learning Center in Niles.
Miles was searching for some extra help and Butterfield, known as “Mrs. B” at the school, was wishing for a new challenge during retirement.
The relationship began in 1981 in Mishawaka, Ind. when Miles was a student in Butterfield's first grade class at Twin Branch School. There Miles learned to sing ‘Silent Night' in German, an annual tradition Mrs. B carried out with all of her classes around Christmas.
The holiday lesson was an early inspiration, Miles said. She eventually graduated from Indiana University, like Mrs. B, and became a high school German language and special education teacher in Defiance,Ohio.
While Miles set off on her own career, Mrs. B continued to teach for 31 years in the same first grade classroom at Twin Branch. During that time, she was awarded the Who's Who Among American Teachers Award five years in a row (2000-2004), was given the key to the city of Mishawaka in 1994 by former Mayor Robert Beutter and was named the Most Influential Teacher by the 2005 valedictorians of Mishawaka High School.
The two kept in touch over the years. Mrs. B taught Miles' sister, Dawn Payne, and was even a guest at both women's weddings. “Even though they left my classroom, they never left my heart,” Butterfield said.
After Butterfield retired in June 2005 she said she ran into Miles' father at the Granger Community Church, where Miles' husband Lucas is also a youth pastor. Ron Hearon told her his daughter was looking for help at the Sylvan Learning Center the Miles' purchased in 2004. Mrs. B said the opportunity sounded like the perfect way to fill the void of retirement.
The process of adjusting to working with Mrs. B was not really a process at all, Miles said. “From the very first moment there was the connection. She took the reins and ran with it right away,” Miles said.
Mrs. B admitted the scenario of a former teacher working for one of her past students was different, but, it did not bother either of them.
Miles said the hardest adjustment was trying to call her newest employee by her first name, a task she said she has since given up on.
The days of teaching in a classroom full of young kids are over, but Mrs. B said she enjoys working within the brightly colored red, yellow and green walls of the Sylvan Learning Center.
Trading in her first-grade techniques for a chance to work with older students required a bit of a transition, Mrs. B said.
The techniques used at Sylvan were also a surprise, Butterfield said. When she arrived, Miles and the other instructors were already teaching kids with similar methods she had learned in her 40 hours of post-masters courses from Purdue University.
One practice in particular she was happy to see being used at the center was scaffolding. The technique involves slowly taking away support from the student as they improve and are able to work better on their own.
Miles said the center also prides itself on the relationships it forms with the schools, the students and their parents.
The students arrive and are given a skills assessment by Sylvan instructors to discover where weaknesses may be, Miles said. The center then develops a personalized plan for the students.
The students may come and go. But, they never leave Mrs. B's heart.
Together with the Sylvan instructors, the students decide what can be accomplished in a short time, such as a month, but also set a series of long-term goals for themselves, Miles said.
To “complete the circle”, Miles said the center keeps parents informed on their child's progress with monthly meetings.
Mrs. B is a popular choice among many of Sylvan's students, Miles said.
Nicole Ziegert is an instructor at Sylvan. Her son Jacob also comes to the center for help, but not to study with his mother.
Other students also give praise to Mrs. B and Sylvan as a whole. Dowagiac Union High School junior Amanda Schaus said she has been going to the center for about two months. During that time, she said she has improved her note-taking skills.
Ashley Williams, a Niles High School freshman who has studied at Sylvan for about three months agreed.
The center has even been able to turn one of its own students into a Sylvan instructor. Kate Schnelke said she began as a student at the center in 2002. Since 2004 she has been working as a teacher for Miles and said it has been interesting being a part of both sides of the process.
As for Mrs. B, she said her time with Miles at the center was in the cards all along.
The belief is reinforced through the attitudes of the students she works with every day, she said.
The students may come and go. But, they never leave Mrs. B's heart.