LearningRx, a Colorado-based one-on-one brain training center, opened Monday in downtown Owatonna. Pictured from left to right: Darci Stanford, Owatonna LearningRx owner, and Sonja Harris, Owatonna LearningRx director. (Ashley Stewart/People’s Press)

OWATONNA — When Darci Stanford of Owatonna arrived home from work Friday evening, her son Bo was doing his homework.

And then, he did it much of Saturday, too.

“He was focused on it, and he was having fun. It was great,” she said. “He would’ve never done homework on a weekend before.”

Before LearningRx, that is.

Her son, 11, attended LearningRx, a one-on-one brain training center, in Savage three times a week for 26 weeks in 2016.

“It just made a huge difference in him,” Stanford said.

So much of a difference, in fact, she decided last year to start her own LearningRx brain training center in downtown Owatonna to offer programs for children and adults who struggle with learning, memory, reading, thinking quickly or paying attention.

The center opened Monday in a space above Owatonna Fitness, formerly Owatonna Fit Lab, on East Pearl Street.

“It is actually the perfect space,” said Sonja Harris, director of LearningRx in Owatonna. “What we do is equivalent to a personal trainer for your body. We’re a personal trainer for your brain.”

She said unlike tutoring, which reteaches and redelivers content not grasped the first time, LearningRx and its programs identify the root cause of learning struggles and use mental exercises to strengthen weak cognitive skills that make it possible to think, learn, read, remember and pay attention.

“LearningRx is a place that we need to find where you struggle,” Harris said. “Struggling is OK here. Getting the wrong answer, doing it incorrectly is totally good because then we know where we have to do the training.”

Stanford said the program is “an individualized, targeted program” for individuals based on an initial hour-long cognitive skills assessment.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter [program],” she said.

Because of the brain’s lifelong ability to grow and change, Harris said the program is available to anyone from “4 to 150 years old” who may be struggling with learning, memory, reading, thinking quickly or paying attention.

“We always believed the brain you were born with was the only brain you had, but you can build a better brain,” she said.

In Owatonna, she believes the center will likely see “struggling students” who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, dyslexia, autism or concussions.

“Probably the strongest appeal for me is how this is going to help young people, especially struggling students who have a lower self-esteem because they believe they aren’t smart and this is going to show them they are smart,” Harris said. “It’s going to give them a whole new outlook. It’s going to make being in school easier.”

Stanford said the center will be a source for parents that have tried everything with their children, like tutoring, holding them back a grade or given them medication, but “nothing has stuck or nothing has helped their child.”

The first step in determining what an individual’s program will look like in terms of its components and its schedule is through an assessment, Harris said, and then the individual is assigned a trainer who they will work with for the program.

“We’re here to challenge you and coach you,” Stanford said, making a note that the program is not like school, adding activities are short, “game-like” and “serve a clear purpose.”

But Harris and Stanford did say now, because the school year is winding down, is a good opportunity for parents who are concerned about their children’s performance in school to connect with LearningRx.

“Take advantage of summer,” Stanford said.

Harris said LearningRx already had an assessment scheduled on its first day of operations with an out-of-town child.

“It’s exciting that we’re already drawing people into our community,” she said.

LearningRx has 80 centers in the U.S., including eight in Minnesota, and locations in 40 countries worldwide. Stanford said the Owatonna center is the first in Greater Minnesota; the others are located in the Twin Cities area.

“It’s not very often that we have something that the big cities, like Rochester or Mankato, don’t have,” she said.

In addition to Stanford and Harris, the center employs four trainers who will be assigned to each client.

The center will host a grand opening celebration from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday. There will be brain games, contests, food and prizes as well as demonstrations on how brain training works. At 2:30 p.m., there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz.

For more information about LearningRx, call Sonja Harris at 507-414-7287 or visit www.learningrx.com/owatonna.

Reach reporter Ashley Stewart at 444-2378 or follow her on Twitter.com @OPPashley

Owatonna People's Press reporter covering Steele County, Blooming Prairie and Medford government as well as health, transportation and community happenings. University of St. Thomas graduate.

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