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Debra Gawrys, director of Connections Learning Center, and her daughter, Kristen, enjoy a moment at the center. In 2018, Kristen joined the family business that her mother started in 2004. Kristen teaches students who struggled like she once did. For more information about Connections Learning Center, call (773) 238-4526.

Since it opened 17 years ago, Connections Learning Center has been on the forefront of educating students, and it continues that tradition with its online tutoring.

Many local families have enlisted the help of the educators with in-person and online tutoring from Connections Learning Center.

Using the most up-to-date and successful teaching methods, Connections Learning Center, 2744 W. 111th St., is under the direction of Debra Gawrys, and her family business has enabled thousands of students from Mt. Greenwood to achieve academic success.

“We offer alternative educational therapies. We want to find the root cause or the reason that a perfectly bright student isn’t doing well,” Debra said. “Once the root cause is found, we can suggest the right program, or combination of programs, so the problem is fixed.”

Instead of traditional tutoring methods, Debra uses cognitive educational therapy, which is called “brain training.”

Cognitive brain training is all about neuroplasticity, a term referring to the fact that the brain can change. Experts now know that educators can increase a student’s cognitive abilities by creating new brain paths for efficient learning.

Three years ago, her daughter, Kristen, 34, joined the business that Debra started 17 years ago. Kristen is on the staff that teaches students to become better learners, so students can reach their true potential.

In joining the family business, Kristen and Connections Learning Center have come full circle because Kristen was a motivating factor in Debra’s business venture.

When Kristen was in elementary school, she struggled to read, bringing on issues of self-confidence. Debra was a classroom teacher at the time, and in trying to help Kristen overcome her difficulties in school, Debra sought new and innovative methods of teaching.

Not only did those teaching methods turn Kristen into an academic achiever, Debra went on to use them to help hundreds of others students who once lived what Kristen went through.

“In third grade, I was a total non-reader,” Kristen said. “I couldn’t even read the word ‘the.’

“My mother, who had her master’s in special education, was trying everything, and nothing worked until she learned about dyslexia and found the Wilson Reading Program.”

Now with a bachelor’s degree from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., Kristen, a graduate of Marian Catholic High School, loves to read, enjoying two to three books a month.

Kristin said dyslexia wasn’t a term used much during her days in elementary school; students were labeled “learning disabled,” offering little information about the disability.

“I just thought I was stupid before finding out I was dyslexic,” Kristen said. “Once my mother started using the Wilson Reading Program to teach me, I started learning to read right away.”

Dealing with a learning disability often requires students to spend additional time completing assignments, and it creates other issues.

“I remember how it felt to be teased by other kids when I struggled,” Kristen said. “It was hurtful, was embarrassing, and I struggled not to believe they were right about me.”

In her earlier school years, Kristen had an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is provided for students who need additional resources in their studies. Her desire to succeed often led to confusion about the reasons for her situation.

“It was always important to me to prove that I am ‘smart’ and I can succeed in the classroom,” said Kristen. “I can still remember how confused and tired my brain felt everyday, but I just kept pushing because I wanted to be smart.

Kristen came to understand that not all students learn in a way prescribed by their school district or by traditional tutors.

“I wish that I had some of the programs back then that we now use at Connections such as online tutoring,” she said. “Had I been able to go through our cognitive brain training, I wouldn’t have had to work so hard in school.”

Many of the students of Connections Learning Center, Kristen said, start out with feelings similar to those she experienced as a struggling student. She develops a connection with her students because she has been there.

“I share my story with each of them and that I understand how they feel. Most start to trust and begin to try after that.”

Improvements, she said, soon follow.

“Once they see small successes, their confidence begins to build, and then they start to learn faster.”

As she continues her career, Kristen is considering various areas of study for her master’s degree and eventually wants to earn a doctorate. Obviously, this young educator is motivated by her mother’s resume.

Debra, a Beverly resident, has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in learning disabilities from St. Xavier University. She taught in elementary school and was also a learning disabilities resource teacher. She also served on the board for the Illinois chapter of the International Dyslexia Association. She is also the president of the Beverly Hills Morgan Park Business Association.

Connections Learning Center also provides test preparation for the ACT/SAT, private school and selective enrollment, college placement exams, the GRE and the GED.

For more information about Connections Learning Center or a free consultation, call (773) 238-4526 or visit