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River City Workshops helps clients make the grade

River City Workshops owner Bella Dianne Bruce is partly responsible for the approximately 2,500 students who took her test prep courses last year receiving more than $1 million in college scholarship funds.

The local artist (seasoned locals may remember her Converse sneaker painting from the former Mudpie) and counselor taught her first ACT prep course as a part-time job while she completed her graduate degree in secondary guidance and counseling and school psychology at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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River City Workshops owner Bella Dianne Bruce offers test prep courses at local high schools, colleges and organizations as well as her new space in the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Business Development Center.

For the past 19 years, she has continued to teach test prep courses in various locations such as area high schools, UTC, the Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse’s Scholze Center for Adolescent Treatment and the College Access Center. Her test prep course offerings have expanded through the years to include the SAT/PSAT/ACT Plan for high school sophomores and local private school admissions tests.

“So many students walk in blindly to a test and don’t know how it’s written,” said Bruce. “Unless they try to learn what’s on it and learn how it’s written, they’re just going to stay with the same score they have.”

She started River City Workshops in 2003, the same year the Tennessee Lottery was established. Demand for college prep courses skyrocketed as students began putting more effort into improving test scores in order to take advantage of scholarship funds made available through the lottery.

“Test scores in Tennessee are not the highest,” said Bruce, who also teaches a growing number of courses for school administrators that focus on school assessments and curriculum.

About five months ago, she moved her business into the Business Development Center, where she just moved to a larger space overlooking the Walnut Street Bridge.

“It’s a great location, and it’s been really helpful as far as my business plan and expansion,” she said of the BDC, where she has the space to accommodate up to 75 students. “It’s nice to have all my things in one place and be capable of holding large classes.”

Most courses have around 10-20 students, but Bruce also offers small group classes for three to four students as well as private tutoring.

She said her classes differ from the average college test prep programs in their individualized approach.

“Everyone learns in a different way,” Bruce said, adding that is why her teaching incorporates the full range of learning styles and is tailored to specific student weaknesses.

She requests students’ previous test scores before the class begins to see which areas are causing difficulty for them, then changes the course curriculum to concentrate on those subjects.

Bruce said she also has access to resources such as retired tests that students would be unable to acquire on their own.

On average, students in her ACT prep courses last year increased their scores by three to five points; SAT course participants raised their scores by 250-400 points; and PSAT students improved by 40 points.

“I also saw improvement of 75 percent,” said Bruce, such as a student who raised their ACT score by 10 points.

To view course offerings visit the business’ website at www.rivercityworkshops.com.

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