This is the first of three posts in a series about my family’s experience helping my teen prepare for the SAT and ACT with Academic Approach. We received three free sessions but have enrolled for many more, which we will be paying for out of pocket. I have not been compensated for these posts and all opinions are my own, or that of my teen.
My teen daughter and I have a lot in common. We look alike, we both enjoy old episodes of Friends, and we love cookie dough ice cream. While we share many similarities, we’re also very different. That’s most apparent in the academic realm. My daughter is the opposite of me. She’s more laid back, does not have a strong affinity for reading, and my dream of being a professional student is her nightmare. She also does not share my affinity for standardized testing. In fact, it elicits a strong negative reaction from her.
It’s always been clear that her approach to the SAT and ACT, the big kahunas of the standardized testing world, would be different than mine. That would be true even if we were carbon copies of each other. The landscape of standardized testing for college admissions has changed dramatically in the two plus decades since I graduated from high school. Vocabulary analogies are out, foundational documents are in, and that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. I knew we would need a new approach, one that involved outside help as recommended by experts in this article, but I didn’t know what that would look like.
For a while, that wasn’t a pressing issue. Then I blinked, and suddenly they were front and center. I read an article on Grown & Flown a few months ago suggesting that an effective way to ease the stress of junior year is to start SAT/ACT prep during the summer between sophomore and junior year. For my daughter, that means now.
Then I started thinking about what kind of preparation would be best for my teen. She’s smart (yes, I’m biased) and she does well in school, but there’s always room for improvement. Ideally, we would find help that would apply to those areas and also benefit her on standardized tests. And I felt strongly that I wanted to find someplace/someone who would see her attributes and celebrate those rather than just focus on what she wasn’t doing well. Knowing her as I do, and having seen how she does in a variety of environments over the past 15 years, I was pretty sure that one-on-one tutoring was the way to go.
Enter Academic Approach. It offers one-on-one tutoring that’s focused on achievement, both on tests and developing academic skills that lead to success in the classroom, too. They offer an individualized approach in keeping with their philosophy that tests are standardized, students are not. I’m pretty sure parents of multiple kids know full well that kids are very far from standardized.
I’ve spoken with Matthew Pietrafetta, CEO & Founder of Academic Approach, a few times for different articles, starting with this piece from 2014. Each time we’ve talked, I found myself nodding in agreement as he explains his philosophy on a given point and appreciating his perspective. He founded the company in 2001 and has a unique combination of the wisdom that comes with experience and enthusiasm.
I filed that away in the back of my mind, and late this spring, when we started looking around, I did some additional research, this time from the parent perspective. I also had my teen do her research and made sure that she was fully on board.
She said she wanted to be successful, knew that it wasn’t something that’s easy to do on your own and that she didn’t have the motivation to rock Khan Academy all summer on her own. Instead, she needed a combination of extrinsic motivation and factual instruction from someone positive and knowledgeable. Looking at the options, Academic Approach was her front runner and mine. Sometimes we really are alike!
I was a little surprised that one of her reasons is that their office isn’t in our hometown. She wanted it to be less social and felt somewhere she wasn’t bumping into people she knew would help her focus. I was a bit surprised, but happy to go with it.
The next step was doing a diagnostic test to get a baseline on where she’s at, how her strengths are showing up on the test and what are the areas that need more attention. She took the test on a weekend morning and then met up with me and my college roommate who was visiting from out of town for brunch. I was worried that she’d be cranky after hours of filling in bubbles and working her brain hard.
To my surprise, she showed up in a lovely mood and with a smile. “They were so nice!” was the first thing she said. She had happily absorbed the positive vibes of the office and was spreading them. I breathed a sigh of relief, both for what that meant for the short-term (pleasant brunch) and for the long-term (we found a good fit for the coming year!).
Teens, however, can be fickle. I tried to keep my hopes for the latter in check. A few days later, my teen and I had a meeting with Andrew Ferguson, Director of Client Relations, to go over her results and talk about what kind of tutor would be the best fit for her. I love that he started out getting to know my girl. He asked a lot of questions about her perceptions, her personality, her likes and dislikes. I loved being present for that conversation.
“I’m an introvert,” she told Andrew after they’d been talking for a while. He expressed some mild surprise and said she didn’t come across that way. I wanted to say, “That’s a credit to you” and explain that he was a personable, kind person who respectfully asked good questions who was easy to talk to, but I bit my tongue. This wasn’t about me.
And Andrew made it clear it wasn’t about him, either. It was about my daughter. After talking for a while, he said he’d be in touch with a few tutors for us to consider. Sure enough, he had the bios of two remarkable young women in my in-box in short order.
One thing I should have probably realized before that moment was that her tutor would also be a role model for her. These were people who had impressive accomplishments and new goals that they are currently working toward.
I loved that either one would not only be someone who could help my daughter improve her reading comprehension and advanced math skills but also offer insight into different academic paths and possibilities she hadn’t yet considered.
As you can tell, we really liked both options. It’s so nice to have options and feel like you can’t go wrong, especially when it comes to parenting. I asked Andrew for additional insight given that he knew them and my daughter. He did, and soon we were connected with Hannah.
She was great over email, responded promptly and clearly and with energy. I wish that everyone responded to my emails like Hannah. And the following week, my teen had her first 90-minute tutoring session with Hannah. I went with her to introduce myself and say hello, and Hannah was even more impressive in person than she had been electronically.
Most importantly, my daughter liked her a great deal. They’ve covered a lot of ground in their first few sessions. Hannah explained what they were doing and why, which is invaluable when it comes to getting my teen to do, well, anything. There needs to be a good reason, and Hannah gave her plenty.
My teen didn’t balk at the homework Hannah gave her. It was a manageable amount, so she still has a summer, which is important, too. I was upfront that we had a lot of travel scheduled this summer and Andrew and Hannah have both been encouraging and accommodating.
I thus declare our journey to and first weeks of tutoring with Academic Approach a success. I’m hopeful that this will be a positive process. Check back for the next post in the series when I’ll let you know how it’s going.