PaliTutor Business Has Native American Heritage November 21, 2007
Colleen Conway , Post Intern

Photo: Umami Photography

PaliTutor is a new academic program for children and teenagers in Pacific Palisades, owned and operated by Amy Barranco, a five-year resident. Her business provides targeted instruction for standardized testing (including ICEE, PSAT and SAT) as well as tutoring in languages, reading and math. Students with complicated learning disabilities are referred to a specialist.

PaliTutor continually adjusts its instruction to students at three different levels: those who need additional review of classroom material, those who need reinforcement and more challenging assignments, and accelerated students who need to be redirected towards working on independent projects.

‘We are given detailed information about the child’s learning style and reading level, allowing us to cater the program to the child’s needs,’ says Becky Beucher, one of the program’s tutors. ‘This is coupled with frequent monitoring of the child’s progress so the tutoring curriculum can be adjusted accordingly.’

Owner Barranco has an 18-month-old son, Logan, and a significant personal background in Native American culture, which has inspired her to also offer Mommy and Me toddler classes beginning in January.

These classes will feature Native American music and dance, introducing tots to Native American instruments and regalia, while helping them appreciate the culture.

‘It should be really fun and allow me to ?incorporate history that I have learned and love,’ says Barranco, 30, whose mother is 100 percent Mescalero Apache and whose great-grandmother was born on the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico.

‘My family has always been very true to our heritage,’ Barranco says. ‘Growing up as an Indian was not always the most popular thing to be, but I learned that Native Americans are a strong, unique people with a different vision for life, in learning and their appreciation for nature.’

Barranco’s parents worked hard when she was growing up in Lakewood in order to send her and two siblings to Catholic high schools. She graduated from St. Joseph’s in 1996.

Beginning at age 14, Barranco spent her summers volunteering in classrooms on Pueblo reservations throughout the Southwest. ‘I had family there,’ she says. ‘I went there with my mother and aunt to help out, without any textbooks. It was very grassroots. I didn’t realize my family was struggling because I saw people on the reservations who lived without plumbing and running water. Seeing that, it looked like my family had so much.’

Barranco explains that her hard-working, Native American background is essentially what inspired her to accept a teaching position at Bishop Mora Salesian High in East Los Angeles while still taking classes as a scholarship student at UCLA. She was just 19 when the teaching opportunity came up at the all-boys Catholic school, and she needed money to help pay for college.

‘It was really wild,’ Barranco says, ‘but that experience was pivotal and has served as the basis of my teaching ever since.’ Basically, she worked with students who were excited about learning but did not have support systems at home to be successful, and this eventually inspired PaliTutor.

During her five years as an undergraduate majoring in archaeology and American Indian studies, Barranco spent time excavating and surveying culturally historical sites in Malibu, Ranchos Palos Verdes and the Santa Monica Mountains. Although she received two research grants from the J. Paul Getty museum, Barranco chose to continue teaching in East L.A. after graduating from UCLA.

‘There’s little funding for California archaeology and very few opportunities to become involved in a project,’ Barranco says, ‘but archaeology will always be one of my loves.’

Barranco began pursuing a master’s in American Indian studies in 2002, while also working as a curatorial assistant with the UCLA Fowler Museum of History, where she was responsible for preserving, conserving and interpreting the museum’s archaeological collections. She’s currently working on a master’s in education at Cal State L.A.

In 2006, Barranco was hired by Palisades Charter Elementary as a teacher’s assistant, and she began working with students whose parents were determined to support their children’s academic progress and wanted to see them pushed. She saw a general need for specialized education not being met in the typical classroom. Talking with parents who wanted to do more for their kids, Barranco saw a business opportunity.

‘This is a community where parents have the resources to reach out to specialists to help their children,’ Barranco says. ‘Most parents here come from strong families in strong areas where education was always a priority and they keep it that way for their kids.’

PaliTutor started this summer. Barranco’s husband, Alden, a former stockbroker, constructed the business Web site and now serves as head of marketing.

‘Parents really want their kids to do more,’ Barranco says. ‘When I was at Pali Elementary, parents would often ask me outside of class, ‘What more can I do at home? What should I check out from the library? What events and programs for kids can you recommend?”

Responding to these queries, Barranco plans to provide a blog on her Web site ( and a calendar of free educational events parents can take their kids to.

‘As for marketing in any business, its very time consuming,’ Barranco says. ‘I spend hours talking to parents, teachers and principals, asking how I can help. I ask kids, ‘What do you want to learn? What are your special interests?” She tutors in the program herself, saying ‘It gives me ideas to stay fresh, to know what supplies kids need, to stay on top of what kids are learning in their classes.’

In addition to her sister, Megan Martinez, who has been teaching four years at New City Charter Elementary in Long Beach, Barranco’s tutors are mostly students who are working on their teaching credentials at UCLA. ‘They’ve got all these great ideas,’ she notes.

Barranco is excited about PaliTutor’s progress. ‘Things unfold so quickly and rapidly. I know the students and parents are happy when they refer us to friends. When the kids are happy to see us and sad to see us go, when their desks are ready and their pens are out, then I know we are successful. Moms are happy because the homework anxiety is gone.’

PaliTutor sessions are available Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with hourly rates ranging from $65 to $85. Contacts: e-mail or (310) 720-0442