A Learning Trek Academy student - Photographed by Julie Linnekin

Denise Tenyer started Learning Trek Academy with one goal in mind: to make literacy learning fun for young children. She’s been doing just that for over twelve years now, and has inspired countless preschoolers and kindergartners on their learning journeys. As they travel the road from Alphabet Adventurers to Reading Rangers, her students become readers, building all-important confidence along the way.

After helping so many little ones grow, it’s now Denise’s turn: She is expanding her program by adding a second classroom and a second teacher to enhance the Learning Trek Academy experience. Starting in January of 2014, Learning Trek will offer even more fantastic reading and math classes!

Denise Tenyer, Learning Trek Academy Founder - Photographed by Julie Linnekin
Denise Tenyer, Learning Trek Academy Founder, with flyswatters at the ready – Photographed by Julie Linnekin

Denise Tenyer just “gets” children. You can see it the moment you walk into her colorful Learning Trek Academy classroom: Some kids are baking alphabet “cookies,” others are creating words on a magnetic easel, and still others are fishing for letters. All are happily engaged, and learning though play.

Denise wouldn’t have it any other way. “If it’s not fun, it’s not part of the curriculum,” she says. But don’t be deceived by the giggles emanating from the classroom; there’s serious learning going on. Denise just knows how to make it feel like extra special fun. (Fun that my own boys, Learning Trek alums who are now 8 and 5 years old, still rave about.)

She might give the children flashlights, and encourage them to “discover” letters on the ceiling. Or hand out flyswatters, and let the children swat a “bug” with a letter, diagraph, or blend on it – which they’ll practice aloud before swatting another. Who knew learning could be so uproariously funny?

Building words at Learning Trek Academy - Photographed by Julie Linnekin
Building words at Learning Trek Academy – Photographed by Julie Linnekin

Denise is a mother of three, and a certified K-9th grade teacher who began her career in Bellwood, Illinois, teaching sixth-grade students at risk. Her students were, on average, two years behind their grade level, and many lacked core literacy skills. She learned firsthand that what children need most is confidence in their early literacy learning.

“Education is like building a house,” Denise says. “If you don’t have a strong foundation, the structure will be weak.” When early skills, like phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate individual letter sounds), aren’t reinforced, learning to read is a very difficult task.

While critically important, these foundational skills aren’t learned on a specific timeline. Denise is quick to tell parents that children develop early literacy skills on their own unique continuum–and this is more than okay. “Children will be receptive to learning a new skill when they are developmentally ready to do so,” she says. “No amount of  worksheets or flash card drills will change that.”

That’s why the Learning Trek Academy curriculum–which Denise designed and continuously improves upon–is based on cumulative skill development, rather than segmented by age. You’ll find mixed ages in each group except Kindergarten Reading and Math Enrichment.

Phonics phones help children hear distinct sounds - Photographed by Julie Linnekin
Phonics phones help children hear distinct sounds – Photographed by Julie Linnekin

The one-and-a-half-hour Learning Trek classes are limited to just six children per class, so you know your child will receive lots of personalized attention. And Denise bridges classroom lessons to home learning by providing parents with weekly newsletters, games, and worksheets to reinforce their new skills (and by worksheets, I mean super fun cut-and-clue projects, or a sheet with holographic scratch-off stickers that reveal a letter or word – no boring stuff here).

Denise runs classes in the fall, winter, and spring, and offers Summer Fun Camps in July and August. Her classes fill up fast, but she won’t compromise on her six-student maximum. “It’s so important to keep it small–numbers really do matter.” After years of high interest and consistent enrollment, Denise began to consider expanding.

When Chris Halvey, a Barrington resident and mother of two, expressed interest in working with Denise, it just felt right.  Chris had enrolled her son in Learning Trek classes for enrichment when he was in preschool, and was thrilled with Denise’s approach. So in January of 2013, when her youngest was in kindergarten, she told Denise she’d be happy to help out. “I wanted to learn from her, and the timing was really serendipitous,” Chris says.

Chris Halvey and Denise Tenyer - Photographed by Julie Linnekin
Chris Halvey and Denise Tenyer – Photographed by Julie Linnekin

Chris has worked with Denise for nearly a year, learning the curriculum, assisting in the classroom, and observing Denise’s techniques. “She consistently blows my mind with her fluid and dynamic approach,” Chris says. “She has a teaching background, but she has more.” Chris has lots to offer too, with an ever-present smile and patient, encouraging manner.

After seeing Chris interact with Learning Trek students, Denise knew she had found the right person for the job. “Children just gravitate to her. She’s learned the curriculum so quickly, and we work really well together.”

So it was only natural that, when Community Church of Barrington pastor Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque offered Denise the opportunity to rent an adjacent classroom, she couldn’t wait to sign the lease. “Zina and everyone at the church have been so wonderful to me. I couldn’t ask for a better location.” (Learning Trek, located in the church’s basement, is easily accessible from Russell Street in the Village and has ample parking – a lifesaver when you have little ones in tow.)

Chris Halvey claps out syllables with a Learning Trek student - Photographed by Julie Linnekin
Chris Halvey cheers on a lacing Learning Trek student – Photographed by Julie Linnekin

Denise anticipates that, for the first year, the two classrooms will offer parallel programming. To ensure continuity and aid the transition, Denise will introduce the lessons in each classroom, and Chris will reinforce the lessons. The curriculum will be identical; the only difference will be the opportunity to teach twelve students versus the current six.

Chris is excited to be part of Denise’s vision of growth. “I know that this is going to be successful, and I’m so happy to be part of the winning team.”

Rebecca Peterson, a former Barrington resident and mother of three boys who participated in Learning Trek classes from age 2 and up, is thrilled to hear of the program’s expansion. “It’s such a gift to the community. It’s the highest-quality reading program I have ever seen.” (Read more of Rebecca’s insights on Learning Trek here.)

Enrollment for Learning Trek Academy’s winter session is going on now! The session starts on January 13, 2013. For more information on program offerings, click here. Don’t hesitate to contact Denise to discuss the proper placement for your little learners – she would love to talk with you! You can reach her at 708-341-3915 or 847-304-1215.

We think you’ll agree that there’s just too much cuteness in these photos by Julie Linnekin – we can’t leave any unseen! Here’s a “greatest hits” of Learning Trek fun and games.

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Learning Trek Academy
407 S Grove Avenue
Barrington, IL  60010



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