Private Schools: Survival Guide: How To

Turn in an A+ Essay
Armed with an interesting topic, Miranda Hines’ pen is fearsome. Her skills earned her sixth place in last year’s regional Power of the Pen competition.
“I wrote about a kid who went to a pet shop to buy a bird, only to realize it had been sold to someone else minutes too early,” she says. “I had a lot of fun with that topic.”

This eighth-grader actually welcomes essay assignments for her classes at Old Trail School. Follow her advice, and you just might too:

Have lots of ideas.
“Don’t just run with the first idea you get,” she advises. “If you do not like writing, pick a topic you enjoy. Know where you want it to go before you start writing. Jot your ideas on paper and further expand them.”
Plan ahead. Writers should research their topics early and at length, she urges. “Don’t wait till the week your essay is due. It’s better to have too much information than not have enough.”
Let your mind stray. What about when writer’s block strikes? Hines treats this nemesis with a measure of indifference. “When I get stuck,” she says, “I force myself to think of something other than writing. That’s usually enough to jog some kind of a new idea into forming, and then I’m able to start again.”

Lori Valyko Weber

Score Well on Your ACTs and SATs

Elizabeth Coquillette, of Hathaway Brown, conquered one of many high school students’ biggest fears — the dreaded ACT —with a perfect score. Her strategy? “So many people get all stressed out about their percentile and forget that this is just a snapshot of your mental activities on one Saturday morning,” she says. “Don’t put too much stress on yourself. Right there, that affects how you’ll do.” The senior shows us how to get ready for the big day:

Practice, practice, practice. Coquillette says different methods work for different people, but her favorite way to prepare is to take practice tests. “I’m not a fan of test-preparation classes,” she says. “I like to sit in my room, take tests and check my answers.”

Eat up.
She takes high-protein, high-energy snacks such as nuts or granola to the test center to eat during breaks.

Get some shut-eye. “Everyone has heard it before, but be sure to be well rested,” she counsels. “These tests are draining. I’m really tired when they’re done, so I make sure that I sleep well and eat breakfast.”


Balance School and Activities

TV and video games? Forget them. Lamar McKnight from St. Peter Chanel High School is not an ordinary teen. This senior plays varsity basketball, paints, draws, works and gets good grades. He juggles all these responsibilities by paying attention to how he spends his time. “I want my activities to build the future I want, so I find ways to balance things and weave them into my days,” he says. The multitasker gives us some tips on how to stay focused:

Redefine social time. “When I have to cut back on something,” he quips, “it’s usually my social life. Balancing all my interests consumes my time, but I honestly enjoy what I do so much that sports, art, school and work have become my social life.”
Tackle big tasks first. He encourages students to remind themselves of what is important to them and then plan their days. Students shouldn’t put little things in front of big things, he advises, suggesting they tackle difficult projects such as big homework assignments before handling things like texting friends.
Stay on schedule. “Repeated efforts add up,” he says. “Doing homework every day adds up to several hours by the end of the week, so don’t skip a day to do something that doesn’t contribute to the future you want.”


Encourage Your Child without Being Overbearing
As the mother to Hannah, 10, and Kaylie, 13, both Laurel School students, it’s Vikki Patacca’s job to walk the line between being their cheerleader and micromanaging their lives. Patacca is careful to listen to her girls’ aspirations and help them make decisions they can live with and grow into. “When [Hannah] told me her heart wasn’t in taking piano lessons anymore,” Patacca says, “I had mixed feelings, but I had to let go of my wishes for her and help her cultivate her wishes for herself.”
Create a space. “It’s important to have a safe space where kids can learn and express themselves, both at home and at school,” she says.
Take time off. Patacca encourages her girls to honor their commitments, yet realizes that sometimes the wisest decision can be to simply take an evening off from practice. “It’s my job to know when to push them and when to back off,” she says. “If it’s a constant struggle, reevaluate the activity. Is it worth it?”

Be in the know. “Stay abreast of the school’s expectations, when projects are due and consider how many activities your kids can realistically handle,” she says.

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