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ARCHIVED  July 1, 1996

Dreamcatcher weaves new education mode

Margo Barnhart began working on a doctorate in education in 1983 in the hopes of landing her dream job as a school superintendent. After nine years
of hard work, while raising five children, she obtained her doctorate from Harvard.

But her “dream job” was filled with frustration and disappointment.

“It was simple,” Barnhart said, “I never got to make any decisions based on what was best for kids.”

So Barnhart and her husband, Jerry, decided they could better realize their common goal of helping kids succeed in school by working outside the
traditional public school system. The result was Windsor-based Dreamcatcher Learning Centers Inc.

Dreamcatcher began as the Barnharts investigated opportunities for supplementing public education. The possibilities for involvement with existing
learning centers were limited. A franchise was expensive, and the teaching techniques did not satisfy the Barnharts.

When they realized there was a niche for their ideas and they had the skills to fill it, the Barnharts pooled their 35 years of educational experience and
founded Dreamcatcher. Their programs feature personalized assessment and instruction for all ages and skill levels in a variety of subject areas.

Convinced that an excellent curriculum was essential for success, they spent six months searching for the best one they could find. They chose Direct
Instruction, a method of teaching reading, spelling and math that was developed 35 years ago by Sigfried Engelmann at the University of Illinois.

“There are in excess of 2,500 research articles that demonstrate absolutely and unequivocally, the efficacy and efficiency of Direct Instruction,”
Barnhart said. “It works for retarded kids, and it works for brilliant kids. It works for average or unmotivated kids. It is a fast-paced, interactive style.
Teachers can’t be lazy when they do it.”

In the summer of 1995, the Barnharts placed an ad in the paper for Dreamcatcher Learning Center. They guaranteed their method would work because
they felt they needed to be accountable and show parents they were serious about their business.

Now, just one year later, they are about to open the eighth Dreamcatcher Learning Center in Colorado and will soon franchise their operation.

Her background in education has helped Barnhart choose a curriculum and assessment materials, but her business background was nonexistent. With
no coursework or experience in accounting, advertising or marketing, she has had to call on the expertise of others.

“We answered an ad that said ‘free business consultation’ and received some good advice and insight from UNC’s SBA students,” Barnhart said. But
much of what she has learned about business has been learned by trial and error.

Barnhart acknowledges that Dreamcatcher Learning Centers are not an alternative to public school.

“But public schools can’t do what we do on a one-on-one basis,” she added. “Public schools are not my enemy; we supplement them and work with
them whenever possible.”

A recent marketing campaign through area public schools brought impressive results. Distributing flyers on a Dreamcatcher summer package special
brought 50 new children into the program.

Currently, Dreamcatcher Learning Centers have 20 teachers who have been through special training consisting of observation of lessons, reading,
videotapes and supervised lessons to learn the Direct Instruction method. Once the teachers have the training, Barnhart cautions them to carefully
follow the materials of Direct Instruction.

Based on the philosophy that all children can learn, Direct Instruction materials are carefully sequenced, and both teacher and student are highly
involved in the process. Students begin at their own level and build upon their skills at a rapid rate with constant feedback and positive reinforcement.
The method gives students mastery of fundamental academic skills that they will continue to use throughout life.

Windsor resident Holly Hoag enrolled her son, Art, in Dreamcatcher Learning Center when a major move during Art’s early education caused his
reading skills to fall behind his grade level.

“They were very positive,” Hoag said, “with lots of positive reinforcement, and they always sensed when he had had enough.” Hoag added that
Barnhart worked with the public school’s reading teacher to establish a successful teacher setting for learning.

“The Dreamcatcher program was really the basis of him reading and not being frustrated by reading,” Hoag added. “It was the best money I ever
spent.”

Barnhart would like to work more extensively with public schools to reach a greater number of children who might not otherwise receive help. Her
own experience with federally funded (Title I) programs designed to help educationally disadvantaged children is that they have not been effective.

Barnhart believes that with a percentage of Title I money, she could provide these children with a year and a half of academic growth for every year of
Dreamcatcher instruction.

“We could take 20 percent of their money and 30 percent of the kids and boost their scores like they’ve never happened before,” Barnhart said.

At the start of their business, the Barnharts made an agreement that they would quit if the day ever came that they felt they were not making decisions
based on what was best for kids. They have established two main criteria for guiding them in their business decisions: that parents know more than
anybody else about their kids and that all kids deserve a successful learning experience.

“If we keep those two values in mind,” Barnhart said, “we could open 500 or even 5,000 centers across the country, and every one of them will be
successful.”

Margo Barnhart began working on a doctorate in education in 1983 in the hopes of landing her dream job as a school superintendent. After nine years
of hard work, while raising five children, she obtained her doctorate from Harvard.

But her “dream job” was filled with frustration and disappointment.

“It was simple,” Barnhart said, “I never got to make any decisions based on what was best for kids.”

So Barnhart and her husband, Jerry, decided they could better realize their common goal of helping kids succeed in school by working outside the
traditional public school system. The result was Windsor-based…

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