That's what parents, as well as the tutors, volunteers and board members of Harlan's new Learning Center finds so unbelievable.
When education takes place in an intimate, non-structured and caring environment, learning is made fun, self-esteem is nurtured, and a whole world of wisdom and opportunity is opened.
That is what's taking place within the old classrooms of Holy Trinity School, which closed in the spring of 2004. Women like Marjorie Grieshop and Blanche Bennett, who were affiliated with the school, hated to see its mission of providing quality education to Harlan County come to an end.
When the women met with former Holy Trinity Sister Mary Claire and Sister Lea, they set out to continue the school's mission through a community educational outreach program.
"We didn't want to see this building sit empty," Grieshop said. "We wanted it to be used to change people's lives through education."
And who they brought in to make that happen was veteran county schools educator Trenna Cornett, who has worked as a classroom teacher, an assistant principal and a reading consultant, and was also employed by the state as a highly skilled educator for low-performance schools.
"She brings a lot of experience to the table," Grieshop added. "She's a born teacher, a gifted teacher."
"And all ages respond to her," added Bennett. "She interacts well with both children and adults, and she has been successful in making our vision here at the Learning Center a reality."
This past December, The Learning Center celebrated its first-year anniversary, and Cornett, along with Grieshop and Bennett, can easily see how the program has flourished in the span of just over 12 months. Seventeen students received tutoring services during the first year of operation, and that was mostly primary through early middle school students. Currently, The Learning Center has over 60 participants ranging from age 4 to adults.
The Learning Center has a twofold purpose. It's not only about helping students catch up, but also enhancing classroom studies. Although the center's eight tutors concentrate a lot of their time on math, reading and writing, enhancement classes also offer participants opportunities to learn more about subjects like science, geography and foreign languages.
"It's very individualistic here," Cornett said. "We match the needs of the child. "And we want to stress that this isn't a substitute for education, but an enhancement."
When you walk into the doors of The Learning Center, what most will notice are the small sizes of the tutoring groups, along with a laid-back atmosphere that makes the tutors more comfortable to teach and the students more eager to listen.
"It's not structured," Cornett said. "The students feel free to really communicate their needs and share their fears. They're not as apprehensive as they are in a regular classroom - I guess because our numbers are so small, and that eliminates a lot of peer pressure."
Tutoring sessions are made available at The Learning Center on Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Enrichment programs are offered on Wednesdays for students, as Cornett put it, "who are not struggling but want to get ahead."
"Enrichment classes keep students challenged and stimulated," she said.
Harlan County's growing Hispanic population comes to the Learning Center on Mondays. Not only are the children tutored, but adults who are having a hard time grasping the English language come for help, too.
Local resident and Hispanic native Elma DeLacruz acts as the center's interpreter, assisting the adults with learning basic sentence structures that will help them to better communicate at the doctor's office, grocery stores and other daily living responsibilities.
A recent evening class also introduced locals to speaking Spanish. Cornett is also pleased that the center was able to help high school as well as college students prepare for the ACT, pointing out that one engineering student, in particular, needed some extra help with calculus.
"We recruit the tutors, or they come to us wanting to help," Cornett said. "And they are all certified instructors. So not only do they want to be here, they come here experienced, recommended and devoted."
Bennett said one of Cornett's missions as The Learning Center's director is to facilitate a team-approach in a child's education process by establishing good communication among the students' school, home and the center.
Grieshop said the overall goal of The Learning Center was to reduce the school dropout rate in Harlan County. She said 33 percent of Harlan Countians have not completed school.
"We're talking about one-third of our population," Grieshop said. "A solid foundation in education enables children to be what they want to be and to realize their potential. It gives them a chance in life."
In an economically challenged area such as Harlan County, Cornett said education is often the only way out.
"Education is a pathway of hope for our children," Cornett said. "We, as a community, pay for bad education, because if these children are not in school, they're breaking into our houses, stealing our things and hurting our people."
There's an enthusiasm for learning that is also evident at The Learning Center. Grieshop said the children come "bouncing" through the doorway and hardly ever want to leave.
"One boy even started crying when his mother came to pick him up," she said. "He enjoyed being here that much."
Tutoring classes at The Learning Center come with a fee, but the women stress that no one is ever turned away if they can't afford to pay. Cornett said the center will soon be offering sponsorships to the county and city school districts as well as the Harlan County Christian School.
"I love being here as much as the children do," Cornett said. "There's a wonderful support system here and a shared belief in the power of education. We truly believe that all children can learn, and there's a genuine love and concern expressed here for human beings."
For more information about The Learning Center, contact Cornett at 573-3570.