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Freedom Magazine, published by the Church of Scientology

Scientologists in Clearwater
Sharon Hillestad
Improving Education - a Freedom interview

Since the Church of Scientology established its international religious retreat in Clearwater in 1975, Scientologists have become a vibrant part of the local community.

The Church has created facilities in Clearwater to deliver the highest levels of Scientology religious instruction and counseling to parishioners from all corners of the globe. Some decide to make the sunny Gulf city their permanent home, to raise their family or start the business they always dreamed of. Today, Scientologists number more than 12,000 throughout the Tampa Bay area. They make up a diverse group in Clearwater. They come from all walks of life and ethnic groups.

In this edition of Clearwater Freedom, we interview Sharon Hillestad, mother of three and grandmother of three, and executive director of the Community Learning Center in Clearwater. As a former public school teacher and school director in Minnesota, Sharon uses her education skills to help children who have been left behind in modern schools.

Freedom: When and why did you come to Clearwater?

Sharon Hillestad with sons Hans (at left) and Matthew, daughter Holly and grandchild in Clearwater.
Sharon: I came in July 2000 because my daughter Holly is here, and she invited me to help her tutor at the Learning Center. I had taught Holly myself, but then had not been teaching for several years. Then here she was, carrying forward with the purpose I'd always had. I realized how much I missed it, and I knew it was what I wanted to do again.

Of course Clearwater's weather and environment also had a big influence on my choice. It's so much better here.

Freedom: What do you like the most about Clearwater?

Sharon: There are so many things to do: parks, theatre, a cultural center, and so many other things. I also have my work close by to where I live. I can get places fast, and I get to be around my grandchildren. I'm very close to the family I have here.

Clearwater has a small-town feel, but it's large enough to offer so much more. I've learned there's quite a bit of diversity, too, which I love. I've made a lot of friends in the community because of my work at the Community Learning Center. Clearwater has so many diverse people — it has Russians, Ukrainians, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, people of Caribbean Island and West Indies descent, and [laughs] lots of Southern folk.

I've made many friends here and we do things together.

Also, I get to work with kids all the time, which is a lot of fun.

Freedom: What do you like most about what you do?

Sharon: Seeing kids change and families grow stronger. We tutor the children, but we also teach the parents how to help their children at home. This brings the entire family together.

A former public school teacher and school director, Sharon helps children to master study skills at the Community Learning Center in Clearwater.
Last year, for example, we taught the parents of a 7-year-old boy how to tutor their son. They tutored him two nights a week, and then we tutored him twice a week. He came up from performing at a kindergarten level to his proper grade level and it was the parent's participation that really did it. At first, they were reluctant to get involved, but then they really pitched in and they feel really good, seeing the young man perform so well at school now.

If needed, we get involved with the childrens' lives. I love nothing better than seeing a kid shine through, despite the barriers life puts up.

One young man who came to the center was an obvious athlete. Sometimes he'd leave early because he said he was going to football practice. Well, as it turned out, my son-in-law saw the boy at the neighborhood football practice, but he wasn't participating. He was running on the outside of the field. Later, I asked him why he wasn't part of the football team. He said he wasn't going to be doing football anymore, as if he wasn't interested. But the real reason was that his mother didn't have the $150 to get him a membership.

I gave the boy a game. I worked out a program for him that will bring him to grade level, which includes reading a lot of books, and I told him that if he gets through that, we will get him a scholarship. Well, he was very interested in staying in football after all, and of course we're helping him to finish that program. It's obvious to all of us that this young man could become a professional athlete.

"What I like most about what I do is seeing kids change and families grow stronger."

Sharon Hillestad

Freedom: How does your work at the Learning Center compare to what you were doing as a public school teacher?

Sharon: When I was first teaching, the profession was more open. Teachers were given a lot of room to do their jobs. However, later I used to feel like I was in a big castle and they were lowering the bars around me.

I saw the classroom library go out; each classroom used to have a big library and all that got taken away. The schools are way too complicated. I definitely want to work with the teachers more, not because they don't mean well, but because they just don't seem to know what to do.

Freedom: As a member of the Church of Scientology, how has your affiliation with your religion helped you in what you do?

Sharon: I've learned to be more responsible for my life and for others. It gives me the answers to problems or where to find those answers, and I know that I can make a situation come out right.

I uncovered the education morass years before I found Scientology, but was just struggling with it. I didn't have an effective way to handle it. If I hadn't found the Church of Scientology, I would have just dropped my ideals, given up, withdrawn. Instead, I got new hope.

Especially as a teacher, I was amazed at how important learning is in the Church. I found out all about the education breakthroughs L. Ron Hubbard had made. It's actually a technology of study, it's that precise, and it's even called 'study technology.' He developed it to help Scientology students, but as we're proving at the Community Learning Center, anyone can benefit greatly.

T H E   S O L U T I O N:

L. Ron Hubbard

Education and literacy affect us all. Information about remarkable and practical discoveries in these subjects is available in one of a series of publications about various aspects of the life of L. Ron Hubbard: L. Ron Hubbard: Education, Literacy and Civilization.

Beginning with a fascinating description of Mr. Hubbard's own experiences in education and culminating in his breakthroughs in the field — some of the most innovative and successful methods employed today — this installment is both an informative publication and a highly useful tool. The study and teaching techniques detailed can be employed by parents, teachers, employers and students — anyone concerned with teaching or learning.

You will discover the 10 instructional guidelines upon which a successful education depends. And why, from the halls of industry and major corporations to single classrooms in the smallest of local towns, millions swear by Mr. Hubbard's study methods.

For your copy, write to:

Public Affairs Director
Church of Scientology
503 Cleveland Street
Clearwater, FL 34616

With study technology we know what the three barriers are to study and we know how to spot and handle them, so that anyone can learn anything. That's incredibly stabilizing and powerful in itself. We show parents this, and they begin to really understand why their children aren't learning, and even why they themselves didn't do so well in school.

More often than not, the problem is that both parents work and time is scarce. What I always like to tell the grandparents is that this is where they can make the difference. We can easily teach them how they can become tutors and so help the kids and the whole family.

From what I learned in Scientology, I changed the way I was dealing with problems in education, not just fighting the nutty things I saw, but taking responsibility for them. Now I've learned how to really fight against poor education — I teach kids and parents the L. Ron Hubbard study technology and this way, everyone wins.

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