BROOKINGS – The wellbeing and education of children matter to sisters Colleen Halbur and Michelle McGuckin; that’s no surprise with 16 children between the two of them. 

Along with their husbands, they took ownership of the Brookings Sylvan Learning Center in December 2018.

The sisters themselves come from a large family and grew up on a farm outside of Milbank. Halbur is the oldest and McGuckin the second oldest of 10 children. Only 18 months apart in age, they were always paired up throughout childhood and have gotten along well.

The sisters have worked together before in various capacities. As children, they frequently did chores together, and in high school, they worked a few of the same jobs together.

When it came time for college, Halbur went to South Dakota State University for her communications major, while McGuckin went to Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio for an accounting degree.

After college, Halbur went on to work for the Boy Scouts of America and SDN Communications in Sioux Falls. She and her husband Scott are raising 10 children. McGuckin moved to New Jersey with her husband, Bill, where they’ve raised their six children. All this time, however, the sisters have kept in close touch.

The McGuckins moved back to South Dakota Dec. 31, 2017, moving into the same neighborhood as her sister and her family. McGuckin said they made the move to be closer to family and for the better family environment in the state.

The two families purchased rental property together, and eventually, they were informed that the owner of three Sylvan Learning locations was looking to sell.

“We met with the then-owner, and we toured the facility, and I went to the corporate headquarters in Baltimore and learned more about the Sylvan franchise through them,” McGuckin said.

She said that as they learned about Sylvan, this was something they could get passionate about. 

Put simply, Sylvan Learning offers students and parents a personalized learning experience in order to maintain a student’s grade level, prepare him or her for upcoming challenges such as ACT tests or improve his or her academic achievement. With a student to teacher ratio of 3:1, they said they are able to provide children with the care and attention they need, and multiple assessments track their progress.

As such, the staff at Sylvan Learning in Brookings work hard to make this helpful place not feel like a form of punishment for a child in need of extra attention.

Barbara Rounds, the Brookings Sylvan director, said she works hard to add a personable touch to make the kids feel welcome and at ease. She said she jokes around and teases and plays with the kids. She finds that these students typically need a boost in confidence, so they need to work on that just as much as boosting their grades.

Halbur said that one trap kids fall into is comparing themselves to other students in school and how they’re doing, deeming themselves failures when they don’t achieve the same results. One of the perks of Sylvan is that such situations don’t happen because the kids are on their own individual lesson plan; they can’t compare themselves and their achievements to the others there.

Not only do Halbur and McGuckin believe in what Sylvan does, they’ve made use of it for some of their own children.

Eight weeks after they started looking into taking on the Sylvan Learning spots in Sioux Falls, Mitchell and Brookings, they signed the paperwork on Dec. 1. With that, the sisters became the new business owners, and their husbands were their investors.

Balancing their family lives and their new roles as the faces of these three Sylvan Learning locations was a bit of a challenge, but having competent and passionate staff in place helped ease them into the swing of things.

“It’s not without its challenges, but it has been exhilarating and rewarding,” Halbur said.

Right now, they’re getting ready to help students through their ACT prep classes. When that’s done, they’ll start preparing for summer and their summer courses.

Overall, their goal for now is to promote themselves and to let people know who they are and what they have to offer the students of Brookings. In spite of their ideal location across the street from both the Children’s Museum of South Dakota and the Brookings Public Library, they’re often overlooked. Regardless, they plan to work to boost the number of students they aid and to grow.

Sylvan Learning in Brookings can be reached at 697-5683.

Contact Eric Sandbulte at

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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