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A special way of tutoring at Greenhouse

Posted: March 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Greenhouse Tutoring Center founder Joan Green tosses a ball with student Michael Meyer, 3, of Valencia.

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Michael Meyer, 3, has the time of his life, tossing a squishy ball into a small plastic shopping basket. Michael, who has Down syndrome, is also learning in the process.

His teacher Joan Green of Greenhouse Tutoring Center in Castaic encourages Michael to pick the next ball by the color. He selects the proper ball and scores another basket to cheers from Green and his brother Matthew, 5.

Mother Karen Meyer, of Valencia, looks on proudly. She’s been taking Michael for one-on-one lessons with Green twice a week since Greenhouse Tutoring Center opened its doors in February.

“Joan’s so good; she’s got a gift. She’s worked with special-needs kids her entire career, so she knows exactly what to do to get results,” Meyer said.

Green also knows how to write for children like Michael, to help them learn the fundamentals, from language to math skills.

Along with her husband, Michael, Green founded Greenhouse Publishing more than a decade ago to produce unique, interactive books with Velcro picture squares. Currently, Greenhouse Publishing offers 20 such titles, as well as communication card sets and visual schedules for classrooms.

“Most special-needs children are visual versus auditory learners. They learn better by demonstration, with hands-on techniques,” Green said.

After taking a sabbatical from teaching to focus on publishing, Green is thrilled to have students again.

“I love it,” she said. “I’m so happy to work with families, too. Their child may learn different and it may take longer, but there are a million things we can do.”

An unexpected path
Originally, Green wanted to be a psychologist, until a chance car accident changed her perspective.

“We stopped to help, and one of the people involved was deaf. It was so frustrating; he couldn’t express himself to us,” she said.

Green, who hails from Tennessee, moved to California and changed her major from psychology to deaf education, with a minor in early childhood development. She had found her calling.

“The whole basis of what makes me happy is affecting positive change. I got to do that on a daily basis,” she said. “It was so exciting to work with these kids and see what happened.”

While she was teaching, Green came up with the idea for interactive books from charts she used in the classroom. She had created a series of small, illustrated pictures that special-needs children could use to show her what they wanted or to answer a question or even to create a sentence.

Greenhouse Publishing
Illustrated by Linda Comerford, Green’s books became a hit when special-needs teachers, as well as occupational and speech therapists, found out about her unique approach as she lectured at conventions.

Michael Green left the music-publishing business, where he had worked for more than 20 years, to put the books together.

“I had the idea, and he really knew the process,” Joan Green said.

Focused on building her new business, Green stepped out of teaching and into the roles of saleswoman and author. It wasn’t exactly glamorous in the beginning.

“I felt like a snake-oil salesman, selling books out of my SUV,” Green said with a laugh.

Greenhouse Publishing’s books quickly caught on and are now utilized by schools and educators throughout the United States and internationally.

The Greens were gratified by the books’ success and feedback they received.

“A speech therapist called us one day. Her 13-year-old client had never spoken a word outside of her house. She spoke for the first time by using one of our books. I got goose bumps,” Michael Green said. “You get these books to the right kid at the right time and boom, their brain just explodes with information. It helps everything in their life.”

Though she enjoyed the business, Green found herself missing “her kids.”

In 2009, she went back to teaching special-needs classes at Valley View Elementary in Newhall as an extended substitute, as well as for summer school.

“It was so exciting, just a wonderful time,” Green recalled.

When the teaching gig ended, Green worked, then volunteered for Progressive Steps in Santa Clarita, which offered learning programs for children with developmental disabilities.

One day, she took a look around the offices of Greenhouse Publishing and had an epiphany.

“I had the credentials, the materials, the time and the place,” she said. “I thought, ‘I could have the school here.’”
Greenhouse Tutoring Center was born.

A school of her own
Meyer was one of Green’s first clients. The two had met at Progressive Steps, where Meyer was impressed by Green’s passion.

“You can tell when someone loves what they do,” Meyer said as she watched Green give an animated reading to Michael and her second-youngest son, Matthew, 5, complete with hand puppets and funny voices.

Matthew is not special-needs, but according to Meyer, “loves coming here, too.”

Private classes at Greenhouse Tutoring Center range from $30 to $50. A Down syndrome group meets every Friday at the rate of $25 per hour. Greenhouse Learning Center is a private pay facility, no insurance is accepted, and focuses on children ages 3-8.

Green meets with parents first, reviews their child’s Individual Education Plan, a standard system for special-needs kids at traditional schools, and breaks it down into the top five goals for each family. The goals are laminated on a single sheet of paper, which can be placed on the refrigerator for easy reference.

“It can be part of everyday living, learning things such as colors, by asking the child to give you green peppers or hand you the blue plate,” Green said. “For fine motor skills, you can give your child a bottle to squirt bubbles while they bathe. It’s these hands-on simple things that can really help your child.”

These tools help parents form a winning team Green said is necessary for each child’s success. “Sometimes special-needs parents get flak for not being more supportive, but actually, no one has ever shown them what to do,” she said.

This approach has helped the Meyer family immensely.

“I have no doubt that by keeping at this, Michael will learn to read. It’ll definitely be later than a typical kid, but it will happen,” Meyer said. “It’s early intervention that’s so key. It makes all the difference.”

Greenhouse Tutoring Center is located at 28315 W. Industry Drive, Castaic. For more information, call (661) 263-766, visit www.facebook.com/greenhousetotoring or visit www.greenhousepub.com.

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