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Doyle opens up learning support to children who need it most

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Scholars educational director Alika Smith, left, and founder Doyle Butterfield (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Doyle Butterfield remembers school as “horrible”.

Teachers labelled him lazy; he would make himself throw up to avoid having to read out loud in his class in Brampton, a city just outside Toronto, Canada.

“My parents were Bermudian, but we moved to Canada when I was little,” he said. “No matter how hard I tried, I just wasn't making the grade. My parents were frustrated. I was dejected. My parents eventually realised that the problem was too big for them to handle on their own.”

He was eight when his parents took him to SickKids Hospital. Specialists found he had dyslexia, a learning difference that causes difficulties with reading and spelling, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and fine-motor-skill problems.

Back in school, some teachers made accommodations for him while others rolled their eyes. In high school he was allowed to take verbal instead of written exams and was allowed to type essays rather than writing them by hand.

“School got easier, but I didn't get much better,” Mr Butterfield said.

One day in high school he had a breakdown with a special-education teacher.

“I told her I was dumb and stupid. She said, ‘You are not dumb. You have strong verbal skills, auditory memory and excellent problem-solving skills.’”

Her words made a difference.

“My parents had told me I wasn’t stupid, but they have to say that, don’t they? It meant a lot coming from someone else.”

The special education teacher also taught him tips and tricks to get around his challenges. Mr Butterfield still uses a ruler to help keep track of text when he is reading.

“I have an app to read back to me what I have written, otherwise the stuff I send out would look horrible,” he said. “My tutor also taught me to read everything through three times before handing it in.”

Reading time at Scholars: Zhara Trott, left, Alicia Macedo and Jaylah Romotar (Photograph supplied)

Mr Butterfield studied hospitality at the Bermuda College and then became an entrepreneur. One of his first businesses was Guardian, a paper-shredding operation.

“Things were going really well with that. Then one day I saw this kid sitting on a wall. He was young, Black and male.”

Something about the way the youngster seemed to be going nowhere made Mr Butterfield remember his own childhood.

He sold his company and opened Oxford Learning Centre, a chapter of a larger organisation that offered tutoring services in the US.

Over the course of a decade he learnt a painful truth: academic support is a luxury for many families in Bermuda.

“Often it was the kids who needed the help the most who could not afford it,” Mr Butterfield said. “We had to turn away so many students.”

So in 2021, he closed Oxford and reopened a year later as Scholars, an academic support centre that is a branch of a larger programme that began in Canada. Mr Butterfield also launched Peak Potential, a charity aimed at making tutoring and academic enrichment more available to children.

Scholars currently has 45 students who come on weekends or after school, and six teachers.

The programme uses the Canadian Cognitive Abilities Test to determine the help students need.

“We used to charge $350 for an assessment,” Mr Butterfield said. “Through Peak Potential, we can offer them for free for everyone.”

Scholars students firing foam rockets using soda bottles (Photograph supplied)

This summer Scholars students made bottle rocket launchers.

“They filled a plastic soda bottle with water to stabilise the mechanism,” Mr Butterfield explained. “There was a tube attached to the bottle that led to a smaller empty bottle. One student stomped on the empty water bottle to force the air into the tube holding the rocket to launch it into the air.”

Keeping students feeling motivated and competent is hugely important. It helps to move learning forward, he said.

Mr Butterfield has seen the benefit it has had on his 17-year-old son, who also has dyslexia.

“The apple does not fall far from the tree,” he said. “Having dyslexia myself made it easier to deal with my son’s dyslexia. I could identify with what he was going through so I was not using those terms like ‘lazy’ that so crushed me. Parents and teachers use that sometimes but they do not know how much the child is trying to make it happen.”

A week of celebrations will take place at Scholars from October 16 to 21.

“We will be bringing in people from head office in Canada,” Mr Butterfield said. “We will finish that whole week off with a charity golf tournament to celebrate. We are looking for a title sponsor for that.”

For information about Scholars, visit www.scholarsed.com/locations/tutoring-bermuda/.

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Published September 12, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated September 13, 2023 at 8:12 am)

Doyle opens up learning support to children who need it most

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