Sylvan Learning helps students improve academically, build self-confidence

The new Sylvan Learning Center in Torrey Hills Center.
The new Sylvan Learning Center in Torrey Hills Center.
(Chad Denham)

The new Sylvan Learning Center is now serving students in Torrey Hills Center, helping to build solid academic and emotional foundations for the future. The center offers personalized tutoring and test prep for K-12 students with tutors that form connections with students and inspire an eagerness to learn.

Getting into the education space was new for owner and executive director Chad Denham. During the pandemic someone asked him what his passion was: “I had been in corporate sales for a long time but it wasn’t what I loved,” he said.

Denham had watched his son doing hours of Zoom school and as he struggled, he tried to help teach him—he saw there was going to be a big need for help in education in the coming years. Denham himself had grown up poor in Chicago and he doesn’t think he would be where he is today without the mentor who reached out to him in the sixth grade: “It changed everything for me and I wanted to do something that I could feel fulfilled and happy about,” he said.

Denham opened his Sylvan center two years ago with a small office on High Bluff Drive in Carmel Valley—they quickly outgrew the space and moved to Torrey Hills in October 2022. “It was incredibly difficult to find a space,” he said. Once he eyed the Torrey Hills spot (the former Edible Arrangements) it took eight months to get the lease signed, six months for city permits and six weeks to build out the space.

His center also has a satellite inside the Rancho Family YMCA in Rancho Penasquitos.

Sylvan Learning in Torrey Hills Center.
(Chad Denham)

While Sylvan is a franchise, owners have some autonomy—Denham loves self work and growth mindset so he incorporates the theories and themes of Angela Duckworth, Brené Brown and Carol Dweck. He is thoughtful about the teachers he hires—he doesn’t hire any teacher who doesn’t talk about growth mindset or emotional intelligence. He wants teachers who can understand why kids are feeling hurt, frustrated and annoyed and help them find ways to work around that.

“I probably have the best staff that I could ever hope for,” he said.

Primarily they help kids that are emotionally and mentally struggling with their education, “Everyone needs a little bit of help with everything right now,” he said. The big three are the fundamentals of reading, writing and math, those that got missed out on or lost during the pandemic. Tutors can identify what students are missing, fill in the gaps and get them caught up and make them stronger.

Students come in for an assessment and Sylvan creates a specialized plan just for them: “No two kids that come through do the same program.”

Denham said many of the high school students who come in are feeling the immense pressure of attending schools in a very competitive area. A lot of the students show up with shame and they don’t want to be there but after a month or so, they don’t want to leave. Since opening Denham said they’ve had some great success stories and it’s been amazing for him to see student transformations and students who are excited to be a part of Sylvan’s learning program, forming positive connections with their tutors. He often receives grateful messages from parents.

One of his recent favorites was a text from the parents of a little second grade girl who did not want to read. After about eight weeks, they texted that their daughter came into the kitchen one day with a book, sat down and started reading and wanted them to listen.

Stories like that make him feel really lucky about his own transformation and career switch.

“In my old job there were days I didn’t even want to turn on my computer,” he said. “Now I can’t wait to work”

Sylvan Learning is located at 4653 Carmel Mountain Rd Suite 304. Visit