Neil K. Clancy, owner of Riverton’s Impact Learning Center, is taking a brief break and having a quick bite to eat. He’s a busy guy—but he’s not complaining. As a matter of fact, the exuberant Clancy brims with enthusiasm when describing his tutoring profession.
Decades ago, after-school tutoring was rare. But with standardized tests and SATs intensifying competition to not only get into the best colleges, but sometimes a better high school, parents in recent years have sought out tutoring centers for their kids.
Or sometimes, as Clancy explains, sometimes a kid just needs that extra boost.
Four years ago, Clancy opened his Main Street store in Riverton mainly as a small-town school supply emporium, which still sells items like math workbooks, pencils and learning games.
“The first two years were incredibly busy. But after that,” Clancy says, indicating with a thumbs down, “it dropped off.”
Clancy thinks the stiff competition from big-box stores like Staples hurt his sales. Plus, opening a retail store in this tiny borough is tough, given the lack of shoppers making the rounds on foot.
As a separate niche, Clancy had started tutoring students in a study center in the back of the store. Driven predominantly by word-of-mouth, his clientele climbed steadily. In the last two years, he has committed more time toward his tutoring practice, mentoring more than 200 students.
In an earlier life, Clancy had stints in New York City and Washington, D.C., working in television news production, after graduating from Rutgers University with degrees in English and journalism.
Feeling unfulfilled, he took a left turn and taught third grade in the Moorestown School District for seven years.
After receiving his master's in education from Saint Joseph’s University in 1998, he rose through the ranks and worked in administration for 10 years in Gloucester Township, first as an assistant principal, and eventually becoming the principal in a school with more than 900 students.
But he found he missed teaching.
“Tutoring afforded me a way that I could still educate, but make a bigger difference,” says Clancy, who has also lived in Riverton for 15 years.
Part of Clancy’s tutoring approach is not just offering tricks and skills for mastering test-taking, but he says he tries to unearth a child’s learning potential and bring it to fruition, with the cornerstone being confidence.
“I try to initially get an understanding of why a kid may not be doing well,” says Clancy. “Sometimes a kid will say they don’t like school, and I’ll try to get him to tell me why. And then, I’ve had some kids struggling because they’ve had hearing and vision problems go undetected.”
Then he will break it down into building blocks.
“If a child is having difficulty with algebra, we go back to the fundamentals together. When ready, we move on together.”
Although nearly 70 percent of his students are high school juniors and seniors readying themselves for the SAT test, a lot of his clients are in elementary school, but not always.
“My youngest student so far was 4,” he says. “And my oldest student was a 61-year-old lady who was going back to college.”
He instructs students in English, math and most sciences, but draws the line with specialty subjects like calculus or French.
For a prospective SAT test taker, Clancy will offer strategies to drop the irrational multiple choice answers willfully inserted to confuse students. He emphasizes slowing down, just enough for the student to read the question correctly.
“Some kids read right through the questions and don’t stop.They get the wrong meaning of the sentence.”
He also tells college-bound kids to enroll on the College Board online—a nonprofit group that helps to connect students with college opportunities—and participate in the daily SAT trial questions.
And while Clancy is the tutor, sometimes mentor, oftentimes coach, Clancy says the kids who triumph the most from working with him are those who continue to practice and review after they leave his study center.
Clancy remains committed to each client who walks through his door. But what has he done when he hasn’t been able to help a student?
“I haven’t hit that yet,” quips a smiling Clancy. “And that’s the fun part.”