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Name: Tatyana Yukhtman
Job: CEO, Groza Learning Center
Favorite music/musicians: Depends on the moment. It goes from Sinatra to Bob Marley.
Favorite movies/actors: I am a very big fan of very cliché romance movies with a happy ending. I feel that we have enough drama in the world and in our lives, and my movies have to be happy and exciting. From “What A Girl Wants” to “You’ve Got Mail” – all the fun, goofy, very romantic stuff.
Favorite books/authors: From a business standpoint, I love Howard Schultz’s books, I love Tony Shea books. There’s so many I absolutely love and enjoy. Danielle Steele.
Favorite TV shows: “Lucifer”
Favorite travel destinations: Loved Bora Bora and Tahiti. Loved Italy, loved Hong Kong, I traveled throughout China and fell in love with Hong Kong. Architecturally, I’m blown away with Barcelona. We traveled all over the world, and every place has something special. Last year we went to Australia and New Zealand, where we went to the coral reef.
Somewhere you’d like to go next: Thailand, India, and I’d like to go back to the Philippines.
Favorite food: Sushi. I could have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Favorite drink: White Russian.
Favorite Calabasas spots: Calabasas Commons, Gillette Ranch
What was your childhood like?
I actually grew up in Ukraine – I was born and raised, and I left Russia when I was 11 years old, I lived in Italy for a year, and then I came to the United States when I was 12 years old. I didn’t speak English at all – I didn’t even know what ‘hi’ meant – and my very first school was West Hollywood, where all the Russians used to go to. If they came to Los Angeles, they would hover over West Hollywood. That’s where I started at 12 years old, not speaking the language at all, not knowing anything about the world.
Was this around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union?
It was right after, yes. Thanks to Gorbachev, we were able to escape.
What brought you to Los Angeles?
My mom wanted to be with her family, and my uncle lived here with his family.
How did you learn English and succeed in school?
It was literally taking you into the deep side of the ocean and throwing you in there, and you kind of have to learn to swim, or you drown. So that’s pretty much what it was. You want into school, and you have to figure out what to do, and how to do things. So you do. You don’t have another option.
Did anyone teach you on the side, or did you teach yourself?
The first year I was in ESL, and I went into the beginning class, and then they thought that I was so advanced, did such a great job, that straight after the first year, they put me in the regular class, which was horrible, because during that time, I missed out on so many learning opportunities: grammar, and things that I should’ve learned, like the alphabet. I had to learn the alphabet in 11thgrade, when my 11thgrade teacher said, ‘I just need you to alphabetize these words,’ and I looked her and I said – I spoke English by then – ‘I don’t know the English alphabet.’ So I had the alphabet in 11thgrade. Imagine having to learn Shakespearean plays – it was ‘Taming of the Shrew’ at that time – I remember it so well. There were vocabulary words we had to learn at that time and put them in alphabetical order, and I had no idea how to do it.
Do you think that these experiences inspired you to want to help people succeed in school?
It taught me how to be independent, it taught me how to get out there. It doesn’t matter what happens, didn’t matter where you come from – it taught me how to get up and make things happen. What I see every day and the reason I’ve been in education for over 20 years is because that’s what I love to inspire in our students. Regardless of how old they are, regardless of who they are, I think you’ve got it. That’s my motto. To be able to inspire confidence in them. It’s okay to fail, it’s okay that you’re having a hard time right now, but you can do this. I have faith in you. You’ve got this. To be able to teach the kids this, it’s really important.
What was your career path?
I wanted to be a pediatrician since I was four years old – I knew I wanted to work with kids, and by 19 I got the idea that I wanted to have a child, and all my friends were telling me, ‘Before you have a child, you have to go into different schools and you have to know what the schools are about, and you have to get your child on the waiting list of a good preschool.’ So I started looking around, and I didn’t like what I saw: too much care, and not enough education. So what I did was I built my own infant care, and my daughter was born into my infant care, and today I own a K-12 tutoring homeschool and tutoring and test prep so that I can have all these other kids.
So it’s a school?
We have three different programs: we have all-subject tutoring for students from preschool all the way through college – we support them with academic programs in all subjects. And we have test prep, and we provide test prep for many different programs, like SAT and ACT, school entrance exams – there’s all these different tests that are out there, and we provide the support and prep. And not only getting them ready for the test, giving them an opportunity to become strong learners. We teach them about how they are learning, we teach them about their mentality, who they are as learners, we teach them study skills, executive functioning, and it’s all part of the test prep programs. In addition, we have a K-12 homeschool program, and the homeschool program allows students from kindergarten all the way through high school to attend their programs. This can be someone’s full school, or it can be supplemental, or it can be both. We have some students from local high schools who did not do well in math and need the credit recovery, so they will actually come to us, and we’ll provide a credited recovery program for that. But, let’s say that a student doesn’t do well in a traditional school, or the parents want to do homeschooling because they’re traveling the world, and they don’t want to be stuck to a certain schedule and calendar. So what they will do is they will pull their children from a traditional school, and not put them into homeschool. Traditional school doesn’t work for everyone. It was built for factory workers, where you followed orders. But if your child’s an out-of-the-box thinker, if they’re a critical thinker, if he/she needs that extra room to be able to understand why they are learning what they’re learning, then a homeschool program like ours is amazing. I’ve seen kids who have failed all their traditional subjects that are now doing phenomenal.
To what can you attribute that success?
Being able to listen to the child, and hear them. Being able to have the child understand why they’re learning what they’re learning. Do you remember learning in algebra class those equations, and you would sit there thinking, ‘Why am I doing all this?’ and ‘Where am I ever gonna need to know this?’ Or having to put essays together, and having to think about ‘Why am I doing all this boring work? I don’t care about this stuff.’ But imagine if somebody would tell you you know what – you’re interested in building a fashion empire. That sounds good. Let’s figure out what it takes to build a fashion empire. Let’s read about it. So now we’re doing reading comprehension. Let’s write about it – the thing that you read about. Now you’re doing it again. So being able to correlate life skills and skills that are needed in a day-to-day life. They understand now why they’re learning what they’re learning, and it makes a huge difference.
You’re also a test prep center. What do you think about standardized tests?
I can’t stand them. I don’t think they measure the kids’ intelligence, or who they are and what they can do. However, there has to be some kind of measure. If you are an admissions officer at a private school or a college, you have 300 applicants applying for one spot, and let’s say ten of them are very similar in their background, their grades, who they are as people: you have to have some kind of differentiation. I don’t know what the answer is. I know that the colleges have a very hard job to figure out what that answer is, because to be able to identify what type of kid they want at their school and how – I don’t what that answer is, but I know that it’s a tough one. I also know that at this point, even if a school is test-optional: test-optional is not really optional. The students still have to be able to show that they can test above everyone else. So we still need to work on it, whether I believe in it or not.
What have you done during coronavirus?
We spent a great deal of time before corona having students do classes online. When the corona started we put everyone onto – we don’t use Zoom, we use a different portal that allows us to have very interactive whiteboard technology, so we can have a really good experience with students. We’ve been doing a lot more assessments for the students, giving them an opportunity to understand what these students have missed in the last half a year. So now we’re trying to do catchup with a lot of the time: let’s figure out what you haven’t learned, and let’s close those gaps to move onto the next grade.
Some of our students have – I don’t call them learning disabilities, I call them learning superpowers – and they can’t learn through the teachers telling them what to do. So many types of students can’t be on computers – they just can’t learn. So we’ll have an instructor come to the house for a one-on-one, which you cannot do when there are 20-30 other kids on Zoom, the kid can’t concentrate. So we would do a 1-1 to teach the curriculum they need to learn. We also have kids with ADD and ADHD – they can’t possibly sit in front of a computer for two hours or three hours or five hours and focus. So again, going back to 1-1 is very important.
Do you have children in Calabasas schools? How do you think the schools are doing?
My 12thgrader wanted to stay at CHS, because it’s his last year, and he wants to continue with his friends. With my middle one, we decided that we’re gonna leave them in Calabasas schools for a couple of weeks, to see how things are going, and if it doesn’t work out, we’re gonna pull him out. But we’re trying to keep them with the same friends.
All of our educators – every single one – I know have been doing their best in these uncharted waters. Being an educator, I know that it’s not easy to have 20, 30, 40 kids in front of you, some of whom you’ve never met in person, keeping their attention, understanding them, give them focus, being able to teach them in the way that they learn when they’re staring in front of the computer and they have their cell phones, they have their Gameboys. It’s not easy. My hesitation to our superintendent and teachers – I know that they’re trying their best, and I’m very grateful to them, as an educator and as a parent.
What brought you to Calabasas?
I’ve been in Calabasas for eight, nine years now. I moved because my daughter went to Calabasas High School and so we moved over there when she fell in love with that high school so she’d have an opportunity to go. I fell in Calabasas – I absolutely love the atmosphere, I love the people, I love that it’s a small community and people know each other, I love the fact that we can walk places, and people listen, and they’re still smiling. I love that it’s much more healthy eateries – I fell in love with it, I fell in love with the community, I really really did.
How has it changed since you moved there?
I think it has gotten better – especially after the Woolsey Fire, people are much more cautious about fires, the dry grasses everywhere, people are much more attuned to that. I think people are much more careful and thoughtful about who they are and what they are and the fact that everything can be taken from you in a second. There’s more of a sense of camaraderie and community, from what I see.
What are some challenges it faces?
I would love to see more places to hang out in Calabasas for the locals. I would love to have places where we could pick up healthy food after 6:00, because by 6:00 everything seems to close down. So if we could have one or two places outside of Starbucks and McDonalds to stop and pick up healthy stuff, I’d love that.
This article originally appeared on the Calabasas Patch