A classroom of two – SoloQuest celebrates 15 years of personalized instruction

In 1997, SoloQuest School and Learning Center opened its doors to students in Sonoma seeking an alternative to the traditional classroom environment. Fifteen years, 56 graduates, and an additional location later, the private school and tutoring center continues to help teenagers achieve academic success.

Whatever the name might imply, SoloQuest students are anything but “flying solo.”

Located in Sonoma and Larkspur, the school offers one-on-one instruction and personalized study plans to middle and high school students, allowing students to work closely with their teachers. “It’s an important way to teach students who may need repetition of concepts, who need to ask questions and don’t in a classroom setting, and for students who need the undivided attention of a teacher,” said Executive Director Deborah Stewart, who founded SoloQuest with her husband, Bill.

For students who struggle to succeed as California’s classroom sizes reach 30 and beyond, SoloQuest is a beacon of hope. Recent graduate Miranda Bender was one such student. After attending a private grade school and achieving A’s and B’s, Bender found that public high school presented new challenges. “It was just a much more difficult environment,” she said. “The teachers were overwhelmed, and I couldn’t really get any help when I was having problems, so my grades took a pretty huge dive.” Miranda’s desperation led her to SoloQuest, where she remained until graduating this past spring.

For 2004 graduate Bryn Howlett, the biggest challenge was finding the motivation to get serious about schoolwork in a large classroom setting, where he felt more or less anonymous. “At SoloQuest you have a relationship with the teachers rather than just blending in with 30 or 40 kids,” he said. “In a large classroom you can get away with not doing the work, but when it’s just you and the teacher, you can’t really slip by without doing it.”

This level of individualized attention allows students to move through coursework at a pace that’s appropriate for them, says Stewart. This also means SoloQuest students aren’t limited by the typical semester schedule.

“We have a student who just started his semester this month,” said Stewart. This flexibility is a huge help to students with health issues, she says, adding “students who transfer from other schools during a semester with failing grades or insufficient credit benefit because they can start over or continue from where they left off.”

Stewart, who has 36 years of experience as an educator in both public and private schools, is also one of eight full- and part-time teachers at SoloQuest. For Miranda, it was the quality of teaching there that made her experience so positive. “All of the teachers were very friendly, very helpful, and very caring,” she said. “You could really tell they actually wanted you to succeed,” she said.

Through its Learning Center, SoloQuest also offers subject-based and cognitive tutoring. “We can identify learning process issues, like poor reading comprehension, memory, attention and slow processing skills and offer a program that strengthens these skills,” Stewart said. “Actually fixing the learning issues so that students can be independent learners is the best way to support students.”

Starting out with just one student, SoloQuest now has 10 full-time and anywhere from 30-50 part-time students taking courses to meet university requirements, or to conquer tough subjects like math and foreign language. Tuition for a full-time student ranges from $3,000-$5,000 per semester, but Stewart says payment programs can be arranged and students can be taught in small groups for reduced tuition.

As for Miranda and Bryn, both are busy living out their own personal success stories after graduating from SoloQuest.

Miranda is enjoying taking classes at the SRJC, with plans to transfer to UC Davis to study wildlife and fish conservation biology. Bryn has since earned a psychology degree from Chico State University and is enjoying a fulfilling career as a web designer in San Rafael. He says he finds that the time management skills and sense of personal accountability he gained at SoloQuest have enhanced his ability to manage multiple design projects at once. After building hundreds of websites for small businesses and earning steady promotions and pay-raises in a job he loves, Bryn reflects, “I would say compared to where I thought I’d be, I’m successful.”

For more information on SoloQuest School and Learning Center, visit Soloquest.com or call 939-1133.


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