Meet The Team: Emma E.

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EMMA E. is a psychology major at Pepperdine University. Originally from Gig Harbor, Washington, Emma plans to graduate in 2020 and attend physician assistant school. In the meantime, however, she is a PCH tutor, a nanny, a track (hurdles) runner, and a world traveler with a passion for students, mental wellbeing, and healthcare. Get to know this PCH tutor and hear her inspiring tutoring success stories and tips for making the best out of high school and learning how to focus and study more effectively despite life’s inevitable distractions.

How did you choose your field of study?

I was originally a sports medicine major because that seemed like great way to prepare for being a PA. But I soon realized that the classes I need for physician assistant school do not necessarily correlate with that major’s required classes, so I switched to psychology. Psychology is fascinating and such a vital yet overlooked aspect of healthcare. With this new major, I am taking classes to help me understand the mind, and now I can hand pick the classes I want to take about the body as well. I think of it a little bit like a DIY program, but it is perfect for me. I am so glad that I have this option at Pepperdine because it gives me the freedom to reach the kind of professional goals I aspire to achieve.

What do you hope to do after graduating?

I am going to take a gap year. Right now I am looking at either working as an EMT in a big city, or working overseas with a program similar to the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders. Then I will attend PA school, hopefully in New York!

Why did you start tutoring?

While taking a summer class, I had some free time and needed an income. I was referred to PCH Tutors by sorority sisters who all loved their jobs. This sounded like a great fit for me because above my passion for healthcare is my passion for children. Providing personalized education to children to effectively help them learn is vital and underrated. Both in the US and overseas, children often do not receive the attention and assistance they need to succeed in school.

I was blessed with incredible teachers growing up, but unfortunately, my tutoring students frequently tell me they feel unsupported by their teachers, that the material is not explained well, and that expectations are unfair. Learning is the most determinant factor in whether or not an individual or community will thrive, which is why I feel so strongly about doing whatever needs to be done to help students learn.

What inspires/encourages you as a tutor?

Every time I meet a student who is passionate about a subject - or, conversely, comes across information that makes their brain hurt - it lights a fire inside me. All students should have access to material that they can not only master, but that also challenges them and really makes them work. When students ask me questions that are “off topic” or down a rabbit trail, I love it because it shows me that they are grappling with the material and working to understand.

Do you have any success/memorable stories?

I work with one student who really struggles to sit still and focus. He is a very bright young man, but can be challenged while trying to sit at a desk and focus on a task. However, in the few months I have been working with him, I have watched him not only master his material, but learn about his learning styles and become more self-aware.

For example, we were reviewing material for an upcoming test and normally this would be difficult for him because there was no activity or writing involved - only verbal review. He knew himself well enough to stand up in the middle of the room and hit a ball with his baseball bat while we practiced. He was not distracted, but this activity allowed his mind to focus on the material and he ended up doing very well on the test.

What do you do for fun?

I ran hurdles on the track team at Pepperdine my freshman year. I cannot run on the team this year because of my ACL surgery this summer, but I love running and being on the track. I have nannied for three years now, and I absolutely love my girls. It is an incredible thing to be welcomed into a family in such an intimate way. I spent most of my time studying, but I love physiology so I really enjoy learning about it. I studied abroad in Heidelberg, Germany, last year and I LOVE traveling! (and I love heights).

What’s something you’ve learned as an adult that you wish someone had told you sooner?

I have always been very skilled at “doing school.” Not at learning necessarily, but at figuring out how to get straight A’s all through high school. This was highly rewarded by others in my family and in society, but when I came to college, I realized my brain had never really been forced to work before. I had never been put into a situation where I had to do more than merely memorize material for test.

I encourage students that while grades are great indicators of how well you are understanding the material, never forget to dig deeper, ask questions, and explore your passions. I deprived myself of this so that I could just get As, and I wish someone would have encouraged me to be fascinated by the material.

What’s some advice you’d like to share with students?

School is not always fun, but life is not always fair. It is not fair that your teacher assigned you four hours of homework tonight and you had to stay up late. Absolutely not. But do you know what else is not fair? That my friend who lives in Swaziland does not have access to resources in her classroom and has to be taught with kids of all ages, meaning she has no personalized learning. Oh yeah: her classroom is four brick walls on some dirt. That isn’t fair either.

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Meet The Team: Katelynn Q.

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KATELYNN Q. is a senior at Pepperdine University and a PCH tutor. Originally from Kansas, she now works in the college’s office of admissions, training new students and giving campus tours. Her friends describe her as small but mighty” and she agrees she’s got a lot of sass - but lots of love, too.

What are you studying and when do you plan to graduate?

I’m studying rhetoric and leadership within the communications department and plan to graduate in 2019. I’m working toward a certificate in conflict management as well. Being able to evaluate argumentation and writing and speaking well are beneficial skills no matter what career, same with conflict management.

What do you plan to do after graduating?

Upon graduation I’m applying to a few Masters programs - including ones abroad - and I’m interested in working in different universities in teaching or administration. I love higher education and I’d love to stay on campus - primarily a residential campus - and eventually hold an administration role at a university.

Why did you start tutoring?

I learn best by verbally processing; it may sound weird, but I learn information better by teaching it. When people do that it helps solidify certain skills, so I love helping students do the same with their studies - it excites me.

What inspires you as a tutor?

I’m most inspired when I see a student improve on something they’ve been working really hard at, take ownership of their classwork, and come to their own realization of it.

What’s some advice you’d like to share with students?

When you’re on the college and career search, there are a lot of good searches out there, lots of right options. People get caught up in choosing the right one and it gets debilitating. Keep an open mind and be open to where you’re at.

Do you have any time for fun?

I really enjoy HIIT - high interval intensity training - classes, walks, shopping and finding good deals. I like cooking and having people over; I make a pretty mean charcuterie board and homemade pizza. I’ve also always been big into musical theatre - the most challenging character I ever played was Peter Pan but probably my favorite was Cinderella - those are very different roles.

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Insider Tips On How To Impress A College Application Evaluator

 Photo by Brandon Dowling

Photo by Brandon Dowling

Editor’s note: This PCH Tutors contributor is a former college application evaluator. Although they no longer read evaluations for this university, they have requested anonymity in providing these valuable insider insights for college applicants.


As a former college application evaluator for an elite liberal arts college, here is my advice for high school students who are planning to apply for or who are currently applying to college. These tips will help you make the most of your high school preparation time, get an idea of what to avoid when applying to colleges, and even help you attract the attention of your reach universities.

1. Don’t take it personally.

Seriously, that is the last thing you should be thinking when you get your rejections (and acceptances!) back. Every school to which you apply has a number of specific, nit-picky criteria that dictate how they evaluate candidates, which is why whether you do or do not get in doesn’t have much to do with who you are as a person. Do not base your self-worth on whether you do or do not get into a specific university. In fact, you shouldn’t be basing your self-worth on what anyone else thinks about you, let alone an admissions officer you’ve never met. Easier said than done, I know, but you have to be confident in who you are as a person even if you only get into your safety school. All of which is not to say there aren’t ways you can improve your chances at getting into your reach schools.

2. Your grades are the most important part of whether you get in.

Yup, grades matter. If your grades aren’t up to the standards of the school to which you are applying, you will not be admitted. It’s harsh, but true. Study up.

3. Take AP Calculus.

Colleges may not tell you this - and your college advisor may not know this - but taking calculus is essentially a requirement for getting into an elite school. Whenever I looked at a transcript and saw a high-performing student opt for AP Statistics senior year, their chances of getting in dropped precipitously. In very special cases, a student who takes AP Stats may get in, but don’t assume that’s you.

4. Take the hardest schedule available to you.

Take as many AP courses (or whatever your school’s equivalent is) as you can, and take the harder ones. Getting a better grade in AP Environmental Science will look less impressive to admissions officers than getting a slightly lower grade in AP Chemistry (but try to get an A in AP Chem anyway). If you go to a school that only offers four honors courses and that’s the hardest schedule you can take – take it, because admissions officers will notice. The most important thing to an admissions officer when comparing prospective students’ different high schools is not which one has the most APs but instead which student took on the hardest schedule based on what was available to them.

5. Use your essay to show your personality.

After grades, the essays were the most important aspect of the application for me when I read someone’s application. If the school asks for an optional second essay, write it. Show who you are through your writing. An essay that puts you on display can take all kinds of forms – it doesn’t need to be directly about you (though it certainly can be), but it should show the admissions officer who you are. Don’t write about how much you love volunteering because you think that’ll ingratiate you with the admissions committee. Write about what volunteering means to you if and only if it’s a central part of who you are and helps you show your personality. Don’t be boring. Have fun with writing your essays! You’ve spent your entire high school career writing essays about the American Revolution and Hamlet – colleges want to hear about you! Write about you, and enjoy the break from your academic papers.

6. Pick your recommenders carefully.

Get to know your teachers! Believe it or not, a lot of them are really interesting people and it’s worth talking to them. Ideally, you should be close enough to one humanities teacher as well as one math and sciences teacher so they can write you a great recommendation that truly speaks to your strengths as a student and a person.

Additionally, make sure to choose teachers with whom you have a good rapport (even if they don’t know you as well as they might). Teachers do write bad recommendations for students they don’t like. Above all, don’t choose a teacher who doesn’t know you; generic recommendations will significantly damage your chances of getting in and make admissions officers think you had no impact at your high school.

7. Don’t include a long list of clubs on your extracurriculars resume.

List only the few that you were actively involved in, if any.

8. In the end, which college or university you attend doesn’t matter as much as you think it will.

It’s up to you to get the most out of your college experience. Sure, Harvard may be an excellent name to put on your CV (and if that’s what you want out of your college experience, then, by all means, go to Harvard if you get in), but if what you want the most out of your college experience is a meaningful experience, you can find that at almost any school. Every school – public, private, big, small, “prestigious,” whatever – has something to offer the student who wants to get what they can from their time there.

The most important thing that happened to me during college was signing up to take a class with the professor who would become my advisor (and with whom I am still close) my freshman year. I had no idea where that road would lead, but that choice was easily one of the most important ones I’ve made in my entire life.

Know that you can do everything you can to try to pick the best fit schools to apply to and attend, but chance - and your initiative at whichever school you matriculate - is what is ultimately going to make the difference to your life.

Meet The Team: Alex S.

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Alex S. is a PCH tutor from Fresno, CA, and a junior at Pepperdine University. He is majoring in biology and planning to graduate in the spring of 2020. He admits he didn’t necessarily expect to fall in love with both biology and tutoring, but it all makes sense once you get to know him and his love for problem-solving. Find out what makes Alex thrive and how he hopes to use both his biology degree and that love for creating solutions to help reduce global pollution and impact world health.

What are you studying?

My major is biology, and I’ve been focusing my undergrad research on cellular biology. When I was in 11th grade, I took one AP bio class and just loved it; in fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I loved it. From that day on I knew I was going to be a biologist. I think part of the reason I fell in love with biology is because I’ve always loved problem-solving; if you put a puzzle in front of me I want to solve it and I go after it with a single-minded intensity. Biology is kind of a puzzle in that way - you’re trying to unravel how something works and figure out exactly how something is going on.

What is something you’d like to do after you graduate?

As of now, I see myself going to grad school for research. I want to do cellular research, probably in the fields of medicine and climate change, and I’m looking into exciting opportunities in those fields. Some of the research I’ve been doing at school is on pollution's effect on the human immune system. Pollution is currently the main environmentally-related cause of human death worldwide, so I think that’s topical, and important to get sorted out. Personally, I feel convicted in this area.

What inspires you as a tutor?

Problem-solving is a big part of why I love tutoring. Helping kids figure things out is kind of a problem/solution in its own way. I also love the spare moments between problems, getting to know students and learning their idiosyncrasies - how they act, and who they are as people. It’s fun to bond with them and you end up being a tutor but also a little bit of a friend or mentor even within that authority structure.

How did you decide to start tutoring?

I spent a month one summer in Taiwan teaching English to middle schoolers, which showed me a love for teaching I didn’t know I had. I signed up to go on the trip because I was interested in Chinese and had studied Mandarin for four years in high school. But when I got over there, I was like, wow, this is great, it’s really fun!

Now when my friends have trouble in class, they come to me and I’m the one who teaches them how to solve the problems. So tutoring is a natural fit.

Do you have any tutoring success stories?

There was a student I worked with for a long time who had a lot of stress in their life - but I think my consistent presence around them while acting correctly and kindly despite the tough environment helped to mitigate their stress, and the student’s grades improved.

What’s some advice you’d like to share with students?

Try new things - really just broaden your horizons and don’t let yourself be held back by social constructs or fear. Put your finger in every pot and try everything that might interest you, because you might never know what you’ll like until you find it. Sometimes we don’t end up finding our true passions until we experience things we’d never have guessed we’d love.

What are some of your hobbies outside of tutoring and biology?

I love to go on adventures. That might be weird and vague to say, but specifically I love hiking up mountains, swimming in the ocean or any rivers, and cliff jumping. I’ve dirt biked for more than 10 years. I also love philosophy and reading Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli and Milton - I enjoy discussing those types of things as well as human history and anthropology.

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Meet The Team: Lauren W.

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Lauren W. is a PCH tutor and senior at Pepperdine University, double majoring in business and economics. Originally from Henderson, Nevada, Lauren moved to California when she started college and has become an avid surfer. “I’m not afraid to do anything,” she says, and you can see it in her determination to learn and her passion for finding the best ways to encourage students to study confidently and gain academic independence. Her goal before graduating in the spring of 2019 is to skydive: “There’s nothing to lose!”

What are you studying, and why?

I pursued economics in college because I had a teacher in high school who’d been a professor at Berkeley years ago and he had such a profound impact on me. I took macro and micro economics in high school, and he told me I should take econ in college. I hadn’t thought about that before, but I took another macro class freshman year, and that professor also suggested pursuing it as my major. I chose to double major in economics and business, and I’m super pumped about the decision.

What do you plan to do after graduating?

I’m aiming towards getting a position in a financial division somewhere, possibly as an analyst to compliment what I’ve been doing in business and economics: data research, learning about consumers and markets, that sort of thing. I want to start somewhere where I can get the best knowledge and have the same feeling I have in college, where people are still teaching me and I’m not just a number.

How did you choose a college?

I toured Pepperdine on a college visit with my mom who, when we went, warned me: “Don’t look at the ocean, you’ve got to look at the school!” I wasn’t sure I’d like Pepperdine, especially since I’d visited a lot of other great universities. But on my tour I just fell in love with the Christian community - coming from a Catholic background, it meant a lot to me, and I later found out the warm welcome on campus wasn’t a facade. Pepperdine has a great community and great university standing; it upholds its values and it’s small, so you get to really know your professors which helps build a better foundation for understanding the courses.

What inspires you as a tutor?

I love tutoring partly because of the great professors I’ve had as great mentors and teachers - nothing makes me feel better than when I have a professor who is super passionate and takes the time to explain something. Tutoring compliments what I’ve been exposed to - I love tutoring and I’m blessed with the students I have.

I have multiple professors from the business world who come straight from their 9-5 business jobs and teach night classes. You see that and realize they must really love working, and that teaching is a side passion. So you feel a lot of drive and motivation from those people.

Why did you start tutoring?

I did pretty well in the beginning economics classes freshman year, while some kids had never experienced it before - and many were just there for the gen ed. My mind processes in steps and I do them in my head for every problem I do, even in economics - after all, there’s a lot of math. So when I studied with friends, they always ask me to write the problem on the board, then I’d explain it, and they’d say, “huh, that makes sense.” I felt accomplished when they said I helped them understand: I’m good at explaining myself, and if I’m passionate about something, I feel like I want to relay it.

What do you love most about tutoring?

I love when I have a student who comes home with a 98 grade and says they’re going to get a 99 next time. One of my very first PCH students had a learning curve when she entered high school and it was really hard for her to get acclimated to her studies. She typically wants to go from subject to subject quickly and gets distracted, losing her train of thought. Finally, I found a way that worked best for us to study: we stand and just talk about the topic at hand, then we sit down and take notes about what we just discussed, then she teaches the material back to me. I have seen such a good turnaround, and she is now now applying for colleges and is doing super well in school. She told me she might even apply to her “reach” schools, showing them the improvements in her grades from freshman and sophomore year to her junior and senior years. I love that I’ve helped her become independent. Lots of students forget that how they do in school is not just because we tutors help them, and seeing them do well on a test on their own is so rewarding.

What’s some advice you’d like to share with students?

Don’t procrastinate, get it done - even when it comes to typing things out instead of using voice apps. Don’t cheat yourself - you’ll regret it when you’re older. I always tell students that whenever I’m in a class and assigned homework, if I have 15 mins before the next class, I start the homework immediately because the material is fresh and you can start snapping it out and honing it. Also, it’s better to study over a week in increments than cram it into two days. Flash cards and storytelling are the best ways to study. I think it’s great when you’re able to teach your parents or friends about something you’ve learned because you really understand it when you’re able to do that.

How do you think you honed such good study skills?

I played singles tennis for 10 years, from age eight to 18. That’s how I think I got my schedule for life because by the time I got to high school I had to be so strict. I woke up every morning at 5 am to work out, was at school by 8 am, then I had 30 minutes after school to do homework - I’d run to Starbucks, get a sandwich, and study really fast. Then I’d get on the court and play four hours every day. I’d go home where I’d have an hour to relax and do my work. I also had to drive myself to all those things starting sophomore year - I had to create my own schedule and be responsible for myself. I look back and I’m like, how did I not pass out? I don’t know how I did it, because now I have 10 am classes in college and I’m still drained! But it was great, and such a privilege to be allowed to grow and become an adult. I learned time management, all of it.

Do you have any time for fun?

I picked up surfing my freshman year with a friend and we made a pact to go surfing at least once a month. I now go every Friday and sometimes on the weekends. Well, I do skip January and December - it’s too dang cold, but in February I start dipping my toes in again. It’s not every day I’ll live in a crazy beach town and the water’s right there - it’d be a sin not to! It’s my de-stress zone. I’m also pretty religious; I go to youth groups at Calvary church; that also centers me and gives me a peace of mind. I always walk out feeling great and I love taking friends with me. I also play on the club tennis team at Pepperdine - it’s really fun.

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Meet The Team: Zack K.

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Zack K. is a PCH tutor and UCLA senior from Livermore, California. He studies biochemistry, competes on the men’s rowing team, and does stand-up comedy. Zack has a passion for science, helping people learn how to problem solve, and… dogs.

Why did you choose to major in biochemistry?

There’s always something new to be found in science. You never reach the bottom of the rabbit hole, so that’s exciting to me. Biochemistry, specifically, has relevance in improving the human condition; if you understand of what is happening inside living organisms on a micro scale - the smallest part of its essence - you can build up from there to inform the quality and functioning of living organisms.

I had the opportunity to work in an organic chemistry research lab at UCLA and it excited me to think I could be one of those scientists I read about who are finding a better understanding of the world around us - to not just read about Nobel prize winners finding things and changing the world of chemistry or biology for decades, but to also have the opportunity to alter how scientists investigate the field.

What do you hope to do after graduating?

After graduating in the spring of 2019, I plan to work for a year in a research lab, then go back to school for a PhD in chemistry. I want to develop pharmaceuticals - ideally new products for diseases that have no cure yet or to create more effective cures and make them more accessible to patients.

Why did you become a tutor?

I found it frustrating when I had teachers and TAs who didn’t have a real grasp on how to connect with students and explain things in different ways. I often had to teach myself, and I realized many high school students may have similar problems not being able to connect with teachers. I figured, if I have the opportunity to give some of my time to try explaining topics to these students in different ways and spend individual time with them, it could make the experience of education much more enjoyable. My hope is that if I can convince people that education doesn’t have to be difficult and distant, it can be a more intimate and meaningful experience.

Why do you take your tutoring so seriously?

One of my favorite quotations is from Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further, it’s only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In a similar way, I want to enable those who come after me and use the understanding I’ve worked to attain by giving it back to a younger generation. If I can help a student understand a topic they’re studying and enable them to reach far past what they could do previously, that’s one of the most rewarding things I can feel as a tutor. Plus, I can feel it every day, every hour session I go and work - it doesn’t have to be after years of work in a lab. Doing this feels like I’m contributing to society’s ability to achieve greater things.

What do you love best about tutoring?

The most rewarding experience in tutoring is when a student is able to leave the training wheels behind - when I can stop asking so many questions and they can do things on their own. A tutoring technique I like is to rephrase the topic as a real-life analogy and apply the concept to a more accessible scenario. Once, I was teaching a student how to interpret data using an analogy involving the popularity of something at a zoo. Before I finished, it suddenly clicked with the student; he ran with it and completed the entire scenario - thereby understanding how to solve the problem - by himself! It was a beautiful thing to witness: he felt that he was able to figure it out on his own, and that experience felt much more real and valuable for him.

What’s some advice you’d like to share with students?

Many of us fall into the trap of believing there are different species of students - dumb kids, smart kids, etc. - and that you’re predestined from a young age to either be successful in school or not. But the key to understanding wildly successful people is knowing we all came from the same starting point in knowledge and understanding. Everyone has the same ability and potential to achieve as anyone else. Nothing is saying we’re predestined to not be able to surpass a certain level.

What’s something fun we should know about you on a personal level?

I would love to meet your dog!

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Meet The Team: Laura K.

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Laura K. has been a professional tutor for five years and has worked with PCH tutors for a year and a half. She originally hails from Geneva, Switzerland, but moved to Los Angeles and graduated from USC in 2013 with a B.A. in Cinema-Television Critical Studies. She worked in the Hollywood film industry for three years before deciding to go back to school and pursue a career in medicine, while also tutoring. She is currently in the process of applying to medical schools for internal medicine while working part-time in a research lab in the transgender surgery department at Cedars-Sinai and helping to create a self-help group for post-op trans patients.

What prompted your decision to make a radical career change?

I was unhappy professionally and hit a point where I couldn’t do anymore. I quit my job and went to Colorado to work as a ski instructor while I was figuring it out. About the same time, the first Ebola crisis was happening, and I kept seeing articles about horrible things related to that, and images of doctors helping patients. I was sitting in Aspen and started thinking, “I want to do that; I want to go and help other people that way.” I had always been interested in science, but that moment helped me realize that’s what I wanted to do. I took courses on Coursera - epidemiology and anatomy - and loved them. So once I finished my job in Aspen I came back and became a full-time student at Santa Monica College. I’m so happy with that decision.

Why did you become a tutor?

I tutored all throughout high school; when I went back to college I wanted to tutor with PCH Tutors so I could strengthen what I was learning in school and use it as a way to prepare myself for the MCAT and formalized post-bachelor’s program. I first started tutoring in the courses I had just completed at SMC - I knew the material, it was fresh and it was a way to solidify what I’d learned in class. After all, you don’t learn something as well until you teach it.

What do you love best about tutoring?

I approach classes differently with different students - I love trying to find creative ways to make material stick with the student. Whether it’s acting out something because that student learns best through movement, or whether it’s creating quizzes - the challenge of adapting to a student’s needs is really fun. I love watching students make it over their hurdles. As a tutor, you’re typically brought on to help a student who is having trouble doing something. You already know they can do it, but to help them realize they can do whatever it is they had a total mental block over is super rewarding.

What has been one of your most memorable tutoring experiences?

One of my students had to do a research project for school so we used the opportunity to get her used to doing research at a college. We went to the UCLA library and turned it into a whole afternoon excursion. She took the lead on research and I sat back and marveled that she’s getting ready to go to college! It was really exciting - and she wound up getting an A on the project.

What’s a fun fact about you?

I am a competitive downhill skier - I competed through high school and college, and I’m a certified ski instructor. I really enjoy both road and mountain cycling. I’m also really into cooking: in fact, I just made coffee cake! But homemade pastas and sauces are my speciality because my parents enrolled me in cooking school all through high school, and two of those years focused specifically on Italian cooking.

What’s some advice you’d like to share with students?

It’s easy for students to get overwhelmed by larger projects. It helps to break a larger project into smaller, more attainable goals and check those off one at a time.

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How To Help Soothe Back-To-School Anxiety

By Hadley Tarantino, Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

  Photo by  Brandon Dowling

Pool days, vacation trips, and leisurely mornings dwindle down as summer folds and another academic semester looms. Unfortunately, heading back to school often brings with it common worries like, “Who will be my teacher? Will I be in the same classes as my friends? Am I signed up for enough clubs and extracurricular activities? Will I pass my tests?” Back-to-school anxiety derives from the pressure and fear of facing the unknown. It’s valid, and manifests in a variety of ways for students and parents alike: complaining, lashing out in anger, and quietly withdrawing from others, to name a few. If you’re a parent needing to help soothe an anxious child or high schooler, or perhaps just need to relieve your own anxiety, here are five key ways to free up your headspace and put your student — and yourself — at peace during the back-to-school season.

1. Validate Their Feelings.

Encourage your child to share their fears and thoughts with you. Validate them by explaining that many other people experience those same thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge that these feelings are real. Parents shouldn’t feel the need to immediately jump into problem-solving mode, unless the child specifically asks for help. Although parents should definitely be prepared to listen and validate the feelings of their anxious child, avoid asking leading questions like, “You’re probably feeling pretty nervous for Mrs. Johnson’s math class, right?” Be open to having a casual discussion where your child leads the conversation and feels comfortable in discussing their feelings — good and bad — in relation to school.

2. Plan Ahead.

Start preparing early. If school starts on August 20, the evening of the 19 is not a great time to start talking with your child about what the first day of school will look like. Begin the conversation at least a few weeks before the beginning of school by asking them to imagine what the first day of school will look and feel like. Go shopping for school supplies together in advance. Visiting or driving past the school may be helpful, especially if your child will be attending a new school. Another great way to plan ahead is to role-play potential conversations with friends or teachers. Ask your child what they think possible conversations may be during the first week of school. This can help children feel confident and prepared to handle situations that may arise as school begins.

3. Pay Attention To Your Own Feelings.

Children and teens are especially perceptive in picking up the anxiety of their parents. Ask yourself if you are feeling anxious or nervous about your child going back to school. If you find you are experiencing feelings of worry or tension (even if it’s just a little!), try talking with your spouse, another parent, or a friend. Project feelings of confidence and assurance as your child begins the new school year; alternate validation with confidence, for example, “I hear that you’re feeling nervous for the first day of school, and I believe in you.”

4. Use Art As A Means For Expression.

If your child struggles to articulate or express their thoughts and feelings with words, let them use art as a means to represent their worries about going back to school. Art has the power to calm the nervous system, interrupt rumination, and release stress. There are many stress-relieving coloring books and art sets available. If your child is open to creating art when they are feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of school starting, encourage them to create art that represents what they feel in the moment.

5. Seek Professional Help If Back-To-School Anxiety Impedes Functioning Or Becomes Physical.

If your child’s back-to-school anxiety is affecting their ability to function and does not improve, it may be time to seek a mental health professional. Therapists can find unique ways to reduce anxiety, build coping skills, and encourage children and teens to freely process their emotions in relation to school. Anxiety also may include physical symptoms. Somatic symptoms, like stomach aches and headaches, can exacerbate the problem if parents respond by merely keeping their children home from school. Engaging in avoidant behavior associates these uncomfortable symptoms with school and perpetuates anxiety. Therapists can help children and teens unlearn this avoidant behavior and help to reduce physical symptoms of anxiety.

About the author: Hadley Tarantino is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. She currently maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, California, where she specializes in depression, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders. She can be reached here or on her Facebook page.

Meet The Team: Vida M.

Let’s celebrate strength in the face of adversity.  It's imperative to take a moment to praise students for their persistence, no matter what challenges face them, even when it means they could fail. So let’s meet a tutor who kept trying, even when the challenges that faced her seemed insurmountable.

Meet Vida M.!

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I know you come from a family of immigrants, so I would love to hear about your experience in school as a young girl growing up in a culture so different from that of your parents.

V: Well, honestly, elementary school was really hard for me. It was a confusing time. Both of my parents immigrated from the middle east, and I went to private Catholic school. My parents wanted to send me to a school that provided the best education, but also gave it structure. But meshing two different cultures is always a task. The students there didn't really understand my beliefs or where I came from, which made things hard for me. However, once I started getting more involved in school activities the students started to realize that we were actually not so different from one another. I think it was harder for my parents, being the odd ones out since they got married so young, which goes against the social norm here in the United States. But I have one memory that stands out among the rest... It was Culture Night at school, my mom came, and I actually got to see her celebrated for her cultural differences as she taught my classmates how to belly dance. I was so embarrassed but my mom was so confident and bold in the face of diversity.

In high school I continued on into a private Catholic school. My experience there was really great, and I was actually the number one math student in my class, so they decided to bump me up into the honors class. The problem was that I hadn’t yet figured out how to study for honors classes, so my sophomore year ended up being extremely difficult for me. I was taking honors math and I was barely passing. This was actually my first brush with tutoring, only I was on the receiving end. My father tried to tutor me, but we both knew that it just wasn’t working for us. So I got a new tutor who would make me drive to her house every session. The logistics of this actually made my experience really difficult and I stopped going. So I definitely recognize the importance of the in-home service that we provide at PCH Tutors. But eventually, I was able to gain more confidence in my abilities, and I was able to grow and succeed in honors math.

Can you tell me about how your college experience unfolded after the challenges you overcame in high school?

V: That's actually a crazy story! Over the course of my college career, I ended up attending two different colleges in pursuit of my bachelor’s degree. I started my journey at UC Riverside and remained there for 2 years, participating in a Bio-Medical program. I ended up changing course a bit when my parents were going through a divorce. It made sense to be closer to home during that time, so I ended up transferring to UC Irvine. From there, I ended up graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a minor in Psychology. I took a year off after undergrad and eventually ended up at Cal State Long Beach to complete my master’s degree in Engineering.

The whole process was long but I was able to discover so much about myself. I encountered a few failures along the way, but they really helped me in the long run, and I ended up succeeding in the end.

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Throughout this journey, was there anyone who played a mentorship role for you?

V: My mentor has impacted me very deeply. She’s the head of the Engineering program at my school and her story is so inspirational. Years before she became an engineer she had been planning for a wedding. But before she walked down the aisle, she was faced with a really difficult decision. Her fiancé approached her with an ultimatum: he wouldn't marry her unless she agreed to wear traditional garb that would cover her fully, from head to toe, nor would he support their daughter. Faced with this decision, she refused to marry him. She went back to school and became top in her class in her engineering program, all while supporting her daughter on her own. Even in the face of such difficulty she was able to rise above her situation. She graduated with a master’s in engineering and now runs the engineering program at Cal State Long Beach. She actually hired me for my first engineering job. As a woman, I feel so inspired by her story. The engineering field is very male dominated, and my mentor helped me realize that I can do everything a man can do, and therefore I deserve equal treatment in my field.

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Vida’s story of adversity could have weighed her down, but she kept pushing and succeeded, both academically and socially, throughout her years in academia and beyond. Students are often faced with similar challenges, and every day they work to overcome those challenges is a day they succeed. So as parents, educators, and the like, let's all celebrate the students around us who take on these challenges every day.