A fully disabled military veteran who not too long ago feared he would never again be a contributing member of society is back on his feet, helping academic stragglers figure things out.
Retired Col. Michael Madison spent 25 years in the Air Force as a pilot and flight instructor. On Oct. 1, he and his wife, Carin, purchased one of two Sylvan Learning franchises in Colorado Springs.
Just weeks before, Madison, 52, was undergoing a fourth spinal column surgery, this time to fuse damaged vertebrae in his neck.
"Before then, I was hardly able to do any type of work," he said.
Repeated exposure to the G-forces and acrobatic stunts while flying jets messed up his lower back, and then he suffered a neck injury in 2009, when he was working in Peru as a U.S. diplomat.
"It was years of heavy medication, constant procedures and doctors' appointments," he said.
Madison had earned a teaching certificate while in the military from Air University and said he always enjoyed flight training and related classroom instruction.
Becoming an owner of Sylvan Learning seemed like it was meant to be.
The nationwide supplementary education program provides group and individual tutoring primarily in reading, writing and math, starting with kindergartners on up. The center also offers college-entrance-exam preparation for high school students, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camps such as robotics and coding, and assistance with homework.
"I was looking for a way to contribute to the community," Madison said. "My military career was a calling for me, and I feel the same way about education as I did the military."
Madison and his wife run the south Colorado Springs territory office at 1701 S. 8th St.
The staff consists of 12 teachers and three directors.
Problems with reading affect a student's performance in every other subject, Madison said, so certified teachers work with students to get them up to grade level and beyond.
"Kids love coming here," Madison said. "Nobody makes fun of anybody, like at school, when if you're in the sixth grade and you're reading at a third-grade level, it's a snowball effect."
Students who are behind academically start acting out, sitting in the back of the room, being disruptive in class, not turning in assignments and falling further behind, he said.
"We get them excited because they see progress, and it really feels good in your heart to make a difference getting a kid caught up," Madison said. "It really opens doors for the children."
He has big dreams, too. As a small-business owner who is a disabled veteran, Madison is eligible for federal grants, which he is working on obtaining.
He wants to use grant money to help tutor students in local school districts that have high numbers of low-income students, including Harrison School District 2 and Widefield School District 3.
To do that, Madison plans to open several satellite locations in public libraries and schools, to bring the Sylvan model to students in need who can't afford the extra help.
"It's a Sylvan-on-the-go type of thing; we'd work with the school systems to identify the children who need help and either train their teachers in our curriculum or bring our instructors over there."
Sylvan franchisees - about 700 nationwide - get the tools they need to provide supplemental education but have the leeway to decide which programs they want to promote and carry out to meet the needs in their markets, said Georgia Chasen, director of franchise development for Sylvan Learning.
Sylvan students typically see up to two times growth in math and reading, she said.
"We truly get to know every child so we can teach them in a personal way," Chasen said in an email. "We build kids' confidence so they want to learn."
Madison said the opportunity has given him a new life.
"It gives you a purpose or reason to get up in the morning, knowing you're going to do good for people."