A friend who visited Tom Earley at his new business location was impressed.

“Wow, this is wonderful,” he told Tom. “But I probably won’t need you. My kids are pretty bright.”

The business – co-owned by Earley and his wife, Heather – is Absolute Value Tutoring, which opened recently in the Galleria of Mt. Lebanon.

The Earleys like to stress that their operation’s nature may not be exactly what Tom’s friend and other folks tend to envision.

“When people think about tutoring, they think that it is for children only and it is for children who are struggling,” Tom said. “We have found that is the lowest percentage of our students.”

He’ll compare Absolute Value’s educational offerings to a popular artistic pursuit.

“Somebody who takes music lessons is usually not behind in music. They’re trying to get a foothold or gain an edge,” he said. “The students we have are usually overachievers, and we have them from all ages.”

As for what Heather, Tom and other members of the Absolute Value faculty do offer, it’s pretty much a case of: You name it.

“We get a lot of requests saying, ‘Can you teach this?’ And they give us some random subject because they’re interested in it,” Tom explained.

For example, COVID-19’s limiting of personal contact prompted inquiries about how to make effective use of Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms. Teachers, too, have been seeking guidance on instructing their students through virtual means.

“A lot of people need to be brought up to speed with this technology,” Heather observed, “because it’s probably not going anywhere.”

She embarked on what became Absolute Value about five years ago, by helping her and Tom’s own children and their friends.

“Initially, I started tutoring just English, because that’s my background. But then I started teaching the actual study skills: How are we learning?” she said. “The kids are given so much information, and they’re not taught how to process the information, how to manage the information, how to manage their time.”

Heather credits her education at Sewickley Academy with providing the foundation to address those types of issues:

“They taught us how to be critical thinkers. They taught us how to be active learners and make connections with what you’re learning. That’s what helps it stay there.”

As such, SAT preparation has been a longtime staple of Absolute Value Tutoring sessions, which took place in the Earley home until Heather and Tom decided to take over a Galleria space that caught their eye.

They took over the lease on March 1 and didn’t even have time for a public opening before widespread closures related to COVID-19 took effect.

“When we shut down that first month, we truly thought maybe we should just close up shop,” Tom said.

But then the requests starting coming from others seeking their own ways to cope with situations arising because of the pandemic. He gave the example of a company in Chicago:

“They want to start setting up meetings for their advertising department so that they can do internal training better and product selling better, because it’s all online now.”

The Galleria location is set up with technology at the forefront, providing instruction on-site or virtually, whatever the customer’s choice. And the Earleys’ preference always is for smaller class sizes.

“There will never be a ton of people in this space,” Heather said. “It lends itself to social distancing.”

Absolute Value also lends itself to the needs of people who choose to educate their children at home.

“There’s a whole community of parents who coordinate and get together with homeschooling, but they also find a need to leave their homes,” Tom said. “It’s very difficult to just teach the children all the time in the same environment. So they are always looking for outside spaces that are academically friendly, and they only want a small group of people.

“And they also want to reach out and have somebody else teach their material,” he continued. “We’ll coordinate, and we can help them do a lesson plan that supplements what they’re doing.”

The Earleys always are ready to enlighten folks about Absolute Value. And after Tom’s friend learned more during his visit, he had this to say concerning tutoring for his kids:

“All right. See you in a couple of years.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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