Teaching is not a profession that Sarah Christiansen expected to pursue.
As a child growing up in the Virgin Islands, she hated going to school.
“I had a difficult time listening and writing. I struggled with comprehension.”
She couldn’t picture herself as a teacher.
Christiansen, these days, lives in rural Pasco County where she tutors students – usually working with them on mathematics – inside a tree house in her backyard.
A few yards away, a second tree house is nearing completion.
The treehouses are taking her Yes You Can Tutoring service down a new path.
For nearly 10 years, she has taught in her home, at 13050 Curley Road, near Dade City.
Students could enjoy window views of the woodlands and open spaces, and sometimes a walk in the woods for a timely break in studies.
Christiansen now is moving students even closer to nature.
“There’s something about a tree house that everybody loves,” she said. “You’re right in with nature. It’s a really nice feeling.”
Research has found there is a link between nature and learning, she said.
“Environment plays a key part in the learning process,” the tutor said. “Nature reduces mental fatigue. I know it did for me.”
In addition to one-on-one tutoring sessions, the tree house will be the setting for a summer math retreat for girls in July.
It’s her third summer camp, but the first all-girls camp.
There is a stereotype that women don’t do well in math, Christiansen said.
“It saddens me,” she said. “We have to empower our girls. I just want to let them know they can do this.”
The tree house in her backyard is life coming full circle.
Traditional schools and home-schooling were never the right fit for her in St. Croix. But, as a teenager, she connected with her teachers at an alternative school with outdoor classrooms, in gazebos.
Teachers usually instructed only five or six students. The largest class size was about 15 students, Christiansen recalled.
“I loved the outdoors,” she said. “I was able to excel.”
She earned her high school diploma, and went to the University of Virgin Islands for two years. Her father, who taught marine biology, insisted she was meant to be a teacher. She didn’t agree.
Her life path included marriage, family and a home-based business as a clothes designer of sarongs. At one time, she had a kiosk at University Mall.
A life-changing event turned her life around.
Her son was diagnosed as borderline ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). She zeroed in on how to help him. She researched and studied the disorder, and then decided it was time to go back to school.
Christiansen enrolled in Saint Leo University in 2000, setting a goal of becoming a special education teacher. She worked in the Pasco County school system for nearly nine years.
Then, she returned to St. Croix to care for her father until his death.
While there, she taught at a small private school.
She was expected to teach subjects she wasn’t familiar with – health for one. And, administrators also tossed in drama.
“Because they said you’re dramatic,” Christiansen said. “I could sink or swim.”
She swam, and relied on some advice from her father.
“He told me always be kind to every child. You never know their background or what’s going on in their home.
“He treated every child with respect,” she said.
Back home in Pasco, Christiansen decided against going back into public schools. She wanted to do private tutoring.
Her attitude was: “Okay, God, I’m going to put this in your hands.”
“It was kind of a gamble,” she said.
Alexis Sandoval is one of her student successes.
She came to Yes You Can as a high school student before the tree house was built.
Sandoval appreciated the quiet rural setting of Christiansen’s home.
“I was failing, and I wasn’t going to graduate,” said Sandoval.
She gained confidence with one-on-one tutoring, and learned “to think for myself,” she said.
Today, she is at Pasco-Hernando State College where she makes A and B grades. “I was never like that in high school,” she said.
Long-range, Sandoval plans to open a restaurant.
Her older sister Karissa Sandoval, 25, also received tutoring from Christiansen after failing repeatedly to pass the reading portion of the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test). It is a requirement to earn a high school diploma.
She has since passed the test, and is in school now to become a nurse, Christiansen said.
Helping children find direction and purpose is part of the tutoring process, she added.
“We’re put here on this Earth for a reason,” Christiansen said. “You have to have a purpose, what you’re meant to do.”
For more information, visit YesYouCanTutoring.com, or call (352) 585-6327.
Published June 21, 2017