Dear Parents:

Are you stressed yet?  Of course you are.  Your son or daughter is a high school junior, and the SAT/ACT season is upon you.  You’re drowning in a sea of test preparation options, registration deadlines, and confusing references to Merit Scholarship.  And this year to make matters worse, there’s the New SAT to contend with.  What does it all mean, and what are you supposed to do about it? 

Some common questions are:

Q:  Should my child take the SAT or the ACT?                                                                                    
A:  The new SAT has been completely redesigned.  There are bound to be glitches – big ones – in terms of implementation, content, and scoring.  Until those are ironed out, we don’t want our students to get caught in the crossfire.  The stakes are too high.  So for the remainder of the 2016 Spring Semester, we are encouraging students to take the ACT.  

Q:  Do all colleges accept ACT scores?                                                                                                 
A:  All four year colleges accept ACT scores.  In fact, in 2012 the ACT overtook the SAT in popularity.  

Q:  Does it pay to enroll my child in an ACT/SAT Preparatory course?                                          
A:  Effective ACT/SAT preparatory courses are an intelligent investment.  The key word here is effective.  Quality one-on-one test prep programs consistently and significantly raise student scores. Test prep boot camps and most large group classes can’t produce those results. 

Q: There are so many test prep books and on-line programs available.  Can’t my child just study on his/her own?                                                                                                                      
A:  Most students are certainly capable of studying for the ACT/SAT independently, but very few have the mature self-discipline to reach their goal on their own.  

If you have any other questions, I would be delighted to answer them.  For 21 years, my staff and I have enabled our students to achieve successful ACT/SAT scores by working with each student individually. Our students have been accepted to Brown, Cornell, Columbia, NYU, Northwestern, Bard, USC, Stanford, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and many other highly ranked schools.  We can help your child reach his or her potential.


April Garrett
MA. Ed.

    22815 Ventura Boulevard #170  ♦  Woodland Hills, CA  91364  ♦  (818) 710-9039  ♦

Time To Act

death to stock photo

death to stock photo

I loved elementary school.  My classmates did too.  We learned cool stuff there.  We made friends.  We had recess!  We had homework, but not much.  We had tests, but not many. We were pushed, but never harder than we could handle.  My generation born at the tail end of the Baby Boom was allowed to develop in our own time, to experiment, and to take risks.  Anxiety wasn’t part of our vernacular.  No one expected that who we were at eight years old would determine who we would be at twenty and certainly not at forty.  Wow, have things changed. 

The national crisis of under-served and at-risk public school students confronts us every day in real time and in the media.  This is a pressing issue I intend to address in future blogs.  But today I want to talk about a far less publicized yet equally dangerous crisis afoot among a different student population – the over-served and at-risk.  Children at the top public and private schools across the country are envied for their privilege.  What few people realize is that they’re also literally dying for it. (The Silicon Valley Suicides)  For many of these high-achieving children, the pressure placed on them at school has become unbearable.

I just got off the phone with Michelle, a mother who described her fifth grade daughter, Olivia, as “paralyzed with anxiety.”  The words fifth grade and anxiety shouldn’t even be spoken in the same sentence.  And yet, there they were.  And there they have been with increasing frequency for twenty years.

In the best of all possible worlds, ten-year-olds shouldn’t be anxious – ever.  Ten is the perfect age.  It’s the time when children have a solid grasp on reality, but wonder still prevails. When they can think critically but don’t respond cynically.   When their capacity for compassion hasn’t been crushed by heartache.  When they are intellectually curious and can satisfy that curiosity with an impressive degree of independence.  When they have begun to be socially savvy, but that hasn’t impaired their spontaneity.  In other words, ten-year-olds are awesome!  

Sadly, there is no best world, and children bear the brunt of that reality.  Neglect, abuse, divorce, racism, and sexism are just some of the forces which create anxiety for our kids.  School should be a safe haven from all that.  School should be the place where children are free to flourish intellectually, emotionally, and artistically, unencumbered by what a mess the adults have made of the outside world.  Not only should school be that place; it can and must be.  But I now regularly meet with students and their parents for whom academic anxiety has become a daily part of their lives.  How has school become the source of so much psychic pain, and why isn’t something being done about it? 

The picture Michelle painted was all too familiar.  Her sweet, joyful, talented, and extremely intelligent little girl, who has always adored school and loved to learn, had been welcomed back to school by her teacher’s boastful admonition, “Fifth grade is a killer year.  We really lay it on thick to prepare you for sixth grade, which is brutal.  Few of you will survive this year without deep psychological wounds, deadened intellectual curiosity, and dwarfed creativity.  May the best ten-year-old win.”  

Okay, so I exaggerated a little.  But it’s now common to scare the hell out of kids ostensibly to ready them for the future.  Kindergartners are terrified of first grade.  Middle schoolers are terrified of high school.  College students are terrified of what awaits them after graduation.

Olivia and her classmates, like millions of children across the country, carry so many textbooks that their backpacks weigh more than they do.  We’re raising a generation of children with scoliosis.  And have you read those textbooks?  They’re horrible -- flat-footed, mind-numbing, and even dishonest (Texan mom wins fight against textbook that 'erased' slavery. ) 

The axiom that we learn from our mistakes has been taken to such ridiculous proportions that scholastic mine fields are intentionally set for the kids.  Tests are cranked so far above even the most gifted student’s level that failure is guaranteed.  

Olivia, the reigning spelling bee queen at her school, failed a spelling test including the words eudaemonic and insouciant , notably both qualities her teacher lacks, and neither of which Olivia was told to study. 

Schools have now taken it upon themselves to “prepare children for the real world.”  I’m not talking about preparing them in the way of nurturing critical thinkers and conscientious citizens.  I’m talking about exposing them to images and information that they’re developmentally unprepared to process all in the name of readying them for the adult world.  Olivia’s science teacher showed the class a film about flesh eating diseases.  When was the last time your “real world” threw you in the face of necrotizing fasciitis?

We the parents and the reasonable educators are the first and potentially most powerful line of defense against the anxious tide flooding our schools.  It’s time to act!

If you want to read about a school that’s doing it right, check out New Roads School  And if you know of other great schools, please share them here.

An Introduction...

Let me introduce this blog by telling you something that happened to me a couple of days ago.

I was at the dog park watching my 11-month-old Golden Doodle, Klezmer, play in a mud puddle with another now equally filthy dog, when said pup’s owner, Stacey, and I started chatting.  We talked about our dogs, of course, and how gross our cars were because of them, and how we didn’t care how gross our cars were because what’s more important, a happy dog or a pristine car.  And then we moved on to our kids, and how gross our cars were because of them, and how stressed we both were because school was about to start.  In my experience as a mother and as an educator, nothing is more stressful than having kids in school.  NOTHING. I’d choose a mountain of work deadlines combined with an IRS audit and a mammogram over being party to my children’s travails in school.  It didn’t used to be like that. Parents had very little to do with the day-to-day details of their children’s education.  I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t even know what grade I was in, which would explain her surprise when I invited her to my high school graduation.  I liked school.  So did my friends.  Sure we worked hard, but no one was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  

Stacey and I bonded over our sympathetic anxiety for our children and our frustration with public school systems, so our conversation was more open than one would expect of two essential strangers.  She told me that her son, Jake, was a talented musician and a bright, curious learner, but he had always struggled in school despite the accommodations afforded him by his IEP (Individualized Educational Program).  I asked what his diagnosis was, and she replied that no one really knew but that he was a slow reader, had difficulty understanding or remembering what he read, and found taking notes from the board an almost insurmountable challenge. I inquired about Jake’s auditory skills, and she said that they were exceptional. Even as a preschooler, he was able to recognize musical phrases long after he had heard them originally and in another context.   Could he repeat lines of dialogue verbatim from movies or television shows he had seen only once, I asked.  Yes, she said, visibly surprised that I had anticipated her son’s special gift. Does he lose his place on a page, does one of his eyes appear to cross even subtly, can he throw a ball much better than he can catch one?  Yes, yes, and yes!  “How could you possibly know all that?!  You’ve never even met him.”

After I assured Stacey that I hadn’t somehow planted a nanny cam in her house, I explained that I was an Educational Specialist and that I thought Jake had a visual processing issue.  This would have to be confirmed with an official evaluation by a developmental optometrist, but I was confident in my assessment.  

In my over twenty years of experience, I have found that visual processing disorders, like so many learning disabilities, don’t display in isolation.  Rather, most learning disabilities are part of a constellation of seemingly unrelated characteristics. Why children with visual processing disorders are often musical, for example, I couldn’t tell you, but the correlation is consistent. The same goes for their extraordinary auditory memory and even in some cases their long limbs. So in response to why I knew so much about a teenager I’d never met, all of the attributes I’d mentioned were part of a larger puzzle.  Once I had a couple of the pieces in place, I could make a reliable guess.  And the really cool thing is that visual processing disorders are remediable at any age through specialized vision therapy.

Stacey was both delighted and baffled by the news.  She didn’t understand why none of the other specialists Jake had seen, and there were a lot of them, hadn’t nailed the diagnosis.  This was a game-changer.  Jake’s ego had taken a beating because he couldn’t be in the honors and AP classes his best friends were in.  Now there was a realistic hope that he might be able to join them in another year.  Jake would be thrilled to learn that there was a name for his problem as well as a solution.  Then Stacey said it – the refrain which in one form or another I’ve heard again and again – “I wish I’d met you years ago.  Where have you been all this time?”

And that brings me to the purpose of this blog.  I want to let all you parents out there know: I’M RIGHT HERE WHENEVER YOU NEED ME. I’ll write about educational issues that are on my mind, and hopefully you’ll write back with responses, questions, answers, and ideas.  I want to be a parent and an educator who hears you when no one else seems to, who either has answers to your questions or can guide you to someone or something that does, who supports you when you’re ready to pull your hair out because it’s taken your son two hours to do one math problem or when you think your daughter’s English teacher sucks – and you’re probably right – but the school is unresponsive to your complaints.  You name it, I’ll tackle it.  I can’t wait!