"Our concern, which was shared by his parents, was that Andy did not stand out among the candidates who typically applied to such colleges."
When you are a good student, popular, sports-oriented and an all-around good kid you have a lot going for you. But college is competitive and if you have an interest in going to a top-tier college or university, you must find ways to stand out in the crowd. Andy was our classic case of a student who needed to find a way to differentiate himself so that he could get accepted to a school he wanted to attend, and he did just that.
Andy was a popular junior at a suburban high school. Grades came relatively easily to him, especially when he was interested in the subject matter. He particularly liked science and math, two subjects he felt would be useful in preparing him for a career in engineering or medicine. He was also a good athlete who played on the school’s varsity soccer and lacrosse teams. With his positive profile, Andy was a legitimate candidate for many top-tier colleges. The list of places he had mentioned were, indeed, very competitive.
Our concern, which was shared by his parents, was that Andy did not stand out among the candidates who typically applied to such colleges. He was a strong student who was articulate, social and athletic, but he was comfortable with his success and never felt any need to push himself further.
His school year was filled with academics and sports. During the summer, he attended sports camps and went to the beach, as did most of his friends. He admitted that he was capable of taking on more activities but had never really considered it. He mentioned that his parents had pushed him to get more involved at school and in his community, but he had brushed aside their suggestions, considering, as many adolescents do, that they were “nagging.”
Andy was easy to talk to and open to hearing suggestions. During the winter of his junior year, we sat down to discuss the colleges he was interested in. He was shown profiles of students who had applied to these places in the past. Andy was taken aback at the quality of the candidates. They all seemed to be strong in many areas. Some clearly had higher grades and had won more awards than he had, but others were more like him. We explained to him that, although he was certainly qualified to apply, his profile, as it stood, couldn’t guarantee his acceptance. Andy needed to set himself apart from the other candidates.
We talked about some of his interests. Andy was popular. He enjoyed talking to people. He had flare and confidence. He always spoke his mind when an issue was important to him. He was respected by his peers and faculty and possessed obvious leadership qualities. I suggested running for student counsel. Andy was an obvious shoe in. But his response was refreshingly frank. The student counsel, he said, was a popularity contest that he had no appetite for.
It then emerged through our conversations that Andy enjoyed making people laugh and being the center of attention. I asked if he had ever done any theater. It turned out that he had in elementary school and that he had enjoyed the experience. He had actually considered auditioning for plays in high school but was put off by the drama students’ reputation as outcasts who were always rehearsing and kept to themselves. But he agreed to give it a shot. Drama soon became his new passion. Andy ended up winning roles in his school’s spring and fall productions. He was accepted at one of his first-choice schools where he became a physics major. He pursued theatre throughout college. His sophomore year, he played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Overcoming learning differences.
"Sara M., who overachieves at school and underachieves on exams, says she feels anxious and is burning out at school."
Tim L. and Sara M.
Children and families more often than you would expect face a whole host of challenges. An under achiever who clearly has potential or a student excelling, but her grades don’t reflect her talent. In this case study, we examine the effects anxiety can have on children and how we are able to support these students and their families by providing real-life solutions. Finding and administering the right schools and tools often leads our clients to meaningful change. It’s a path to the school environment suited for them and ultimately allows them to get on the right track and/or continue to thrive.
A friend, Carl Lovejoy, who works at Mountain Valley Treatment Center, once told me that “Anxiety can be a good thing." He said "It protects us. It keeps us out of trouble.” He explained, “When we are walking through a bad neighborhood at night, anxiety tells us to leave. When we are getting ready to take an important test, anxiety tells us to study.” There is a gauge in our bodies that distributes appropriate levels of anxiety in accordance to what we are confronted with. Our gauges are all set similarly with some variances. Because anxiety is reactionary, it can also serve as a diagnostic tool to identify a problem or issue. The issue could be sociological or neurological in nature.
Tim L., a student at a local school is incapable of getting to class. He often spends the entire day in bed. He misses a lot of assignments. As a result, Tim becomes overwhelmed at the work he needs to complete to catch up.
Another student, Sara M., who overachieves at school and underachieves on exams, says she feels anxious and is burning out at school. Sara feels as if she is racing against the clock and is incapable of concentrating on the problem at hand due to pressure to finish tests and exams on time. The point is that there is generally a story or condition associated with elevated levels of anxiety. Doing some investigation may reveal a cause.
Tim sees a therapist and develops a close relationship with him. Through therapy, much is revealed. He is struggling with expectations. His parents are both highly educated and have successful careers. In addition, Tim’s brother attends an Ivy league college. Tim feels not up to the task and is overwhelmed which is causing him to shut down. His parents aren’t applying pressure on him but he feels it anyway.
Sara completes a neuro-psych evaluation. The testing shows that she has slow processing speed and word retrieval issues. In addition, she struggles with auditory learning but is otherwise very capable.
Once the cause is identified, a solution can be administered. In the case of Tim, his therapist has him admitted to the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. There, he works closely with trained staff helping him face his fear of meeting expectations. Applying to another smaller, more nurturing and structured school for the following year is also discussed as is having him attend Mountain Valley Treatment Center during the summer prior to making the transition.
For Sara, both her school and the College Board grant her extra time on tests. In addition, her school makes sure that her teachers are aware that she needs visual cues in class such as outlines on the board and that she should seek out teachers where experiential learning happens more often.
Anxiety serves to sound the alarm that things aren’t right and, therefore, changes need to happen. Sara was fortunate to have attended a school that was flexible and where the classes were small enough that teachers could facilitate different learning styles in the classroom. Unfortunately, not all schools are able to do so and many students have to adapt. If they are lucky, they can seek outside support in the form of study skills tutoring. Even luckier would be if they can change schools.
"…her goals were to broaden her horizons, expand her comfort zone socially and learn to become more confident…"
In a well-regarded public high school, Kate benefitted from its structured and demanding educational system. Unfortunately, it did not provide her with the balanced, holistic and progressive environment that she truly needed and desired. With the Help of Hunnewell Education Group she was able to pave a new path for herself by being introduced to a school that would accommodate her need for a more diverse learning environment.
Kate’s family had been struggling with her younger brothers, who had significant depression, anxiety and learning differences and demanded a great deal of time and attention.
During her freshman and sophomore years at High School, Kate was doing her best to manage her academic and social life while being confronted with challenging family dynamics. In mid-December of her junior year, Kate hit a wall at school where she found she could no longer tolerate the social suffocation and isolation she had felt over the past two years. There was nothing specific that triggered her frustration and anxiety, just a long accumulation of trying to conform to social pressures while attempting to maintain her own self-identity.
Over the course of the next several months, Kate made the courageous decision not to return to School and move forward in a new direction. This included working with Hunnewell Education Group and applying to a short list of boarding schools. Kate and her parents were encouraged to watch the film “Most Likely to Succeed” which made a convincing argument for a more progressive teaching methodology and a smaller, community centered school environment. During her search, Kate and her parents were happy to learn about a number of boarding schools and ultimately discovered Proctor Academy. Throughout her winter semester, Kate studied diligently with a tutor to raise her grades in English and U.S. History, two subjects that had been problematic for her.
After meeting with Hunnewell Education Group and visiting four boarding schools in NH and MA, Kate and her parents applied to Proctor Academy as a repeat 11th grader. For Kate, Proctor offered a wonderful variety of opportunities including semesters abroad, art classes such as photography and dance, and academic support in challenging classes like English and History. With Proctor’s unique location in NH and its 3,000-acre campus, Kate was excited to pursue more outdoor programs like hiking, skiing, Mountain Classroom, and Semester at Sea. More importantly, her goals were to broaden her horizons, expand her comfort zone socially and learn to become more confident and independent in a boarding environment where she was no longer living in the shadows of her younger brothers. To her great excitement, Kate was accepted at Proctor Academy.
Kate excelled at Proctor with the encouragement of her parents and the support of her teachers. She became a confident student, athlete and artist. During her two years there, she took full advantage of her time, participating in their Semester at Sea program, earning accolades in performing arts and photography, while earning academic and effort honors. She and her family were thrilled when she was accepted at Colby College during her senior year.
Finding a home away from home.
"…improve his English skills, build a more competitive and balanced profile for college while becoming more actively involved in extracurricular and leadership opportunities…"
Jonathan and David H.
Brothers who were referred to Hunnewell Education Group by a parent from Hong Kong whose son we had helped place at the Brooks School in North Andover, MA are the focus of this case study. For these brothers, it was critically important for us to get to know them, understand their ambitions, and find a place for them where they could be happy, successful and fulfilled academically and socially. Navigating international placements is not without its challenges and that is why we put so much time and effort into our process to find students and their families the right fit.
Jonathan was a 7th grader at one of the top international schools in Hong Kong but was interested in looking at boarding schools in the Boston area where his father traveled frequently for business. While Jonathan was an extremely bright student who earned good grades, he was described by his parents as unmotivated and an underachiever. He did not participate in athletics and had little interest in extracurricular activities.
The goal for him, coming to the US to attend boarding school was to improve his English skills, build a more competitive and balanced profile for college while become more actively involved in extracurricular and leadership opportunities.
After meeting Jonathan and his parents over Skype, we got to work developing a plan. We recommended that he attend a 5-week summer program at Loomis Chaffee School in CT, where he could take classes in writing, accelerated math and public speaking.
After successfully completing summer school, Jonathan and his parents set off to tour our recommended boarding schools in MA and CT to see campuses and to get a better idea of location, the size of schools and the different types of programs available in New England.
After returning to Hong Kong to start his 8th grade year we stayed in close contact. We reviewed Jonathan’s SSAT scores, his transcripts and summer school reports before recommending a list of schools for Jonathan to consider. Over the next 2 months, Jonathan and I met weekly via Skype to review boarding school websites, prep for interviews and begin to work on the applications. After arranging tours and interviews for Jonathan and his parents, we were well on our way. Jonathan and his parents subsequently visited additional schools in MA, CT and RI. Jonathan and his parents met with me in Boston to review his school visits, rank the schools and write thank you notes to admissions officers at each school. Prior to his return to Hong Kong, we reviewed the application deadlines and created a timetable to submit drafts of essays to be completed by the application deadlines. After submitting the applications to 10 boarding schools, I subsequently contacted the admissions directors at each school to advocate for Jonathan and to determine how his application was being received prior to the decision deadline.
In addition, Jonathan emailed his top schools with an update on his most recent academic and extracurricular progress. Soon after, Jonathan received 6 acceptances and 2 wait list decisions. After communicating with each school, reviewing each schools program and considering each schools location, Jonathan accepted the offer to attend Tabor Academy in Marion MA.
As a 4-year student at Tabor, Jonathan earned high honors, played Football for the 1st time, was a member in the Tabor Orchestra and Ensemble, studied Marine Biology and was a member of Model UN and Tabor’s Key Society as an admissions tour guide.
After graduating from Tabor, with the continued help of HunnewellEd, Jonathan was accepted at Boston University where he is studying Business and Engineering.
During Jonathan’s 10th grade at Tabor, we began working with his younger brother David who was also struggling in a larger Chinese private school in Hong Kong. David’s parents asked if I could help find a Junior Boarding School near their older son in the Boston area. After meeting David who was in the 7th grade, I recommended he apply to Fay Summer School in Southborough MA where he enrolled in a 5-week English Immersion Program. Upon successful completion of the summer program at Fay, David’s teachers recommended he consider applying as an 8th grade applicant for the fall. After completing his application, he was accepted at Fay where he enrolled and excelled in both his 8th and 9th grade years. Similar to his older brother, David thrived at boarding school, successfully completed 2 years at Loomis Chaffee’s Summer School and enrolled at Tabor Academy as a repeat 9th grader. David worked extremely hard while a Tabor, earning high honors and became one of the leaders in his class. With the help of HunnewellEd college consultants, he was accepted early decision at Boston College.