Willow Tree Tutoring – How a Personal Catastrophe Turned into a Great Opportunity

Jess Beeson in her office.

Jess Beeson had been teaching in the public schools for eight years when a tragedy struck her family—her husband developed liver cancer thanks to a childhood ailment. Because of transplant rules, he couldn’t go onto the transplant list until his tumor reached a certain size. He was constantly in and out of the hospital and Jess couldn’t keep taking time off from teaching to be with him. That crisis caused to her to start Willow Tree Tutoring, LLC, for income instead of teaching. At that time, she was working five jobs just so they could survive. Initially she was travelled all over the area, meeting with kids at restaurants, libraries, bookstores, and other public locations.

Eventually she leased a small space in 2019, and then she leased a larger space in 2021 partially spurred by the pandemic and the overwhelming need it created. This space turned into a nightmare because the landlords refused to do needed maintenance. She opened her current location in 2023, thanks in part to her work with Mary Heger from SCORE. Jess began working with Mary Heger of SCORE St. Louis in the summer of 2023, evidencing a determination to learn from her challenges, build on her accomplishments, and look to the future.

Jess grew up in rough circumstances with a substance-addicted mother. She left home at 18 and emancipated herself in order to get financial aid. She always taught with humor and carried it into her tutoring. She feels it’s important to understand the kids and adults she works with and to know how they are feeling each day.

Jess used her training, experience, and knowledge to design and develop the educational program and philosophy that make up the foundation of Willow Tree. This practice combines academics, stress management, self-confidence, organizational and test taking skills all into one personalized, efficient, and successful program. Willow Tree offers ACT/SAT Prep, College and Career Planning, and Academic Tutoring services. According to her website, “We aim to provide a space where learning and mental health can be accommodated at the same time. Everyone wants to be heard. At Willow Tree, our team has the unique ability to have this “I hear you” moment, even when the student may not have the words themselves. Sometimes kids just need to vent, and we can be the ears. Academics is the ultimate priority, but without addressing the needs and underlying cause of the stresses on the students, there is no focused foundation to build upon. Not only do we provide academic and emotional support, but we take the whole body approach to learning including providing free snacks and drinks to everyone who walks in our doors. This is why the same 3 questions are asked at every session: 1) Are you hungry? 2) Are you thirsty? 3) How was your day? If you are hungry, we will feed you. If you are thirsty, we will provide you a drink. If you are suffering, we will listen. We are here for the students. We are here for each other, and we will always be here for you.”

She and her other tutors are trauma trained so they get referrals from the Child Advocacy Center. Harking back to wanting to be heard, she had a student that she was having problems breaking through to. Finally, in desperation, she said, “I’ll color my hair whatever color you want.” The disbelieving student gave her a color, and the next time she saw him her hair was his chosen color. This started a tradition of the latest trauma client choosing Jess’s hair color. Not many teachers would go that far to reach a student, but Jess says it’s only hair and the kids are what’s important.

In 2014 she opened her second company, Beeson Editing, and in 2023 she opened her third company Jess B. LLC. Jess B. coaches and trains companies and individuals using her Be You Be Free program. Based on the True Colors Personality Test, neuroscience, and socio-cognitive research, this program helps workplace professionals and individuals increase their awareness and understanding, improve communication, and increase productivity.

She still drives an old car, her house isn’t the nicest in the city, but Jess has her own personal priorities—her six-year old daughter, her husband, and making a difference in the lives of the students she works with.

Jess Beeson is also the SBA St. Louis District Office’s 2024 Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year.

This article does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA of any opinions, products, or services of any private individual or entity.