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8/22/2004

Lafayette pair opens math-only center

By Eric Bontrager
The Daily Times-Call

LAFAYETTE — Alan Iguchi loves math.

Lisa Iguchi loves to teach.

Some people were just meant for each other.

The two, who have been married for 30 years, have combined their interests and their desire to give back by opening Colorado’s first Mathnasium, a math-only learning center for children.

“Kids don’t hate math,” Alan said. “What they hate is being confused and frustrated by math.”

As part of a national franchise, Mathnasium Boulder — located in a shopping center on the southeast corner of 95th Street and Arapahoe in Lafayette — evaluates what students know about math and how they learn best and then creates a customized teaching program. Each student is then taught in that particular style by the Iguchis on a one-on-one basis.

The goal is to create a comprehensive understanding of math for students, rather than having students just memorize how to do equations.

Lisa said it is important for children to develop their math proficiency as early as possible.

“It’s like learning a second language: The younger, the better,” she said.

Mathnasium’s play on the word “gymnasium” is intentional, Lisa said. The center’s teaching method, called “Number Sense,” builds a student’s comprehensive knowledge of math by developing the gaps in a student’s understanding.

“If you have a hole in your knowledge, why not fill it?” she asked.

Mathnasium is also like a gym in its structure. Students can drop in at any time during the center’s hours of operation, rather than being on a set schedule. Lisa said that unlike other learning centers, Mathnasium operates under monthly fees, with no contracts required. Rates can be as low as $150 per month, depending on the plan selected and the grade of the student.

Families with multiple children receive a 10 percent discount for the first additional child, 20 percent for the second and 40 percent for each additional child after that.

The Iguchis plan to offer annual scholarships to local schools for students who need financial assistance.

The program is open to students in grades two through 12. The center will offer math prep classes for the SAT and “Cram for Exams” tutoring on Saturdays, and it may offer a class for adults.

“Parents come in and see how their kids’ math skills are improving and then tell us they would like to do the same,” Lisa said.

The new business venture represents a new stage in the Iguchis’ life.

After earning bachelor’s degrees in math and physics from the University of Hawaii, Alan spent more than 25 years as a marketing executive in the tech field.

Lisa graduated from UCLA with a degree in music, and continued her education with additional degrees while teaching at assorted learning centers and schools, including Front Range Community College, where she taught writing.

Lisa said that while Alan enjoyed his former career, he didn’t receive the “soul satisfaction” he wanted.

“It’s hard to explain, but I wanted to give something back,” Alan said.

Then, in March, Alan discovered Mathnasium, a service that combined both his love of math and the couple’s desire to teach.

Alan left his job, and the couple went to train at Mathnasium’s home office in Los Angeles. For several weeks, the two studied with Larry Martinek, the creator of Mathnasium’s Number Sense teaching method.

The two continue to train via once-a-week conference calls with the home office and other Mathnasium operations around the country.

While the Lafayette center opened its doors in mid-August, its grand opening will not be until Sept. 14, after area schools have begun the new year.

The couple plans to make presentations to local school boards and parent-teacher groups to get the word out about their new after-school learning service.

Lisa said the response has been positive, so far.

“Teachers who live in our neighborhood are really excited about it,” Lisa said, emphasizing that Mathnasium is only a supplement to a normal school curriculum, however.

Right now, Alan and Lisa will be the only ones teaching. Alan said he hopes to recruit college students from University of Colorado at Boulder to help out.

Is it hard for a couple who lives together to work together? The Iguchis don’t think so.

“It’s hard for us NOT to talk about this,” Alan said, adding that he and his wife often must force themselves to do other activities besides preparing the center.

Being absorbed by their new business is OK, Lisa said. The chance to fuse their passions into a business that benefits the community has been nothing short of a joy.

“It’s fun to share the dream,” she said.

Eric Bontrager can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 483, or by e-mail at ebontrager@times-call.com.