February 6, 2019

Fall in Love with College Prep

It’s the season of love! February is a time for eating delicious chocolates, receiving fluffy teddy bears, and recognizing the sacrifices and successes of African Americans during Black History Month

But, during moments filled with red, white, and pink hues, the spirit of the month of February can also be channeled into a love of college preparation among high school juniors and seniors. For students with aspirations to pursue post-secondary education, whether a community college, technical school, or university, I've outlined below a few steps to take during the month of love.

 Candace Chambers

Parents of Juniors:
I. ACT/SAT Prep 
February is a good month to prepare to take the ACT or SAT, the top two college entrance exams. These tests provide colleges an overview of students' academic strengths and weaknesses. Taking the ACT or SAT during one’s junior year can give the student an idea of the areas in which they may need to improve. If your child’s school district offers the ACT or SAT on-site during the school year, I advise that they also register for an additional test during their junior year, so they can gauge their progress from the previous test or need for improvements. Students can check with their high school counselors for available testing fee waivers. 
The ACT and SAT offers tests several times during the year. Specifically for the ACT, if you were notable to meet the testing deadline for the February ACT, the next ACT offered during the 2018-2019 school year is Saturday, April 13, 2019, with a registration deadline of March 8, 2019. (If possible, take the writing section of the ACT at least once because some schools require this section for admissions.)
More information about the ACT concerning costs, additional test dates, and more can be found at actstudent.org. Information about the SAT can be found on College BoardCheck within your community for ACT and SAT workshops which are often hosted at churches or tutoring centers
II. Transcripts 
Also, during the month of February of a student’s junior year, it is good to obtain a current Grade Point Average (GPA) from the high school counselor. Students or parents should be able to request an official transcript to reflect grades from freshman and sophomore years as well as the first semester of their junior year. 
Knowing your GPA gives an idea of the gap (if any) between current performance and college entrance or scholarship goals. Working to obtain a high GPA results in more options for college admissions, scholarships, and grants when students begin to apply for college during their senior year. 
III. Extra-Curriculars 
College admission officers often value students’ participation in extra-curricular activities.  Encourage juniors to get involved in clubs and organizations at the high school and in the community. Their involvement can provide opportunities for leadership and ways for them to showcase their talents. They may also become more eligible for scholarships in areas like leadership, sports, or music.

Parents of Seniors:
I. The List 
For seniors, February is a time to take the ACT or SAT, obtain a current transcript, and participate in extra-curricular activities. This is also a time to narrow a list of colleges for admissions and scholarships. Parents can work with students to create a list of about 6 colleges which includes schools that are in-state, out-of-state... a student’s dream school or the most economical schools for your budget. Always search for cheaper alternatives in case your student does not receive the amount of financial aid expected and to avoid taking out thousands of dollars in loans. Be determined to send your child to a school that is accredited and is the best option financially!
After creating the list, place schools in a chart that includes the following categories: Admissions Requirements, Scholarships, and Tours. Check off each category upon completion. For example, under the category of Admissions Requirements, ensure that all items are submitted as stated by the college or university. Some items may include an official copy of the ACT scores, an official transcript, and immunization forms. 
II. Scholarships 
For the category of Scholarships, be sure that the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is completed for the upcoming school year, and that scholarship applications are complete. Some schools only require one application to be eligible for all scholarships, and other schools may award scholarships from admissions items. Common scholarship requirements include a letter of recommendation, a transcript, and an essay, which your student can learn how to write here. 
It is best to begin searching at the schools of interest before searching for external scholarships. Institutional scholarships include academic, leadership, sports, music, art, foundation, and alumni. These scholarships have a smaller competition pool than state or national scholarships. Often, institutional scholarships are valid for the duration of a students' college tenure. In other words, if a student is awarded this kind of scholarship, tuition, fees, room and board may be covered for up to 4 years. I give more information about the types of scholarships in my book. 
After applying for all eligible institutional scholarships, search for local, state, and national scholarships. These scholarships can be offered through banks and credit unions, sororities and fraternities, rotary clubs, and places of employment such as Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo. Also, organizations such as Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Ron Brown Scholars Program, and United Negro College Fund offer national scholarships. Many of these also require an essay. 
III. Tours 
Lastly, arrange college tours for high school seniors. Visiting the campus provides a different perspective as students walk the grounds, meet students, and engage with professors. Most schools provide guides for campus tours or have "high school student days" for prospective students.

Soar to Success Academy

For more information about navigating the college process, visit my website at www.edwritingservices.org

For more information on obtaining scholarships and composing scholarship essays, check out my book, Write Your Way to a Successful Scholarship Essay!


A very special thanks to guest blogger, 
Candace Chambers, CEO of Educational Writing Services LLC. 
Candace is an academic coach, educator, and writer 
who's snagged over $100,000 in assistantships, grants, 
and scholarships by writing essays.

January 2, 2019

The Year of Equanimity in Education?

The beginning of each new year prompts many of us to reflect on trials and triumphs of previous years. Maybe you passed a test that's been holding you back at work? Or, you overcame a challenging personal situation? During reflection, it's also common to choose a new way of being, a new way of interacting with the world around us. If you're into making New Year's Resolutions, consider adding equanimity to the list.

Before last month, I'm pretty sure I had never heard nor seen the word: equanimity. If it's not already part of your vocabulary, I'm excited to share what I've recently learned: equanimity is a noun that expresses what it means to experience life events with mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper - especially in difficult situations.

 Tara Talks: Ready for Anything

Though this isn't a new concept, I enjoy learning new words to better articulate goals, to keep my cup full. Educators and parents are charged with the responsibility of facilitating positive change in learners, so we have to wake up and show up with a mindset that is ready for everything all the time.

I'm talking about changing behaviors and changing performance. Practicing mindfulness happens to be an effective strategy for coping with the expectation that we feel to do it all; it's a strategy for adjusting when a wheel falls off the wagon and the neatly placed pieces of our lives become strewn all over the place.

Curiouser and Curiouser

It was the definition of mindfulness I mentioned initially that pulled me to 'equanimity'. I wanted to learn more. Then, the more I learned, the more I wanted to introduce this concept to educators and parents.

During my Character and Content training, I talk about an instructional strategy we call incidental feedback. In short, incidental feedback may be described as our unprepared responses to students. Giving this idea a fancy name makes it easy to discuss, but educators and parents give incidental feedback to children. The language we choose when responding to them influences character development which influences learning outcomes. So, the gears in my brain began to turn...

 Educator and Parent Training - Jackson Education Support

Tara Brach defines equanimity as a heart that's ready for anything. (I love it!) Dr. Brach is a  psychologist who's approach to living a more positive life combines Western science with Eastern principles. She gave a talk that's available on YouTube (video below) that takes listeners deep into what it means to embody equanimity. She also highlights the restorative health benefits associated with building affect tolerance, learning how to sit in uncomfortable situations, giving ourselves space to have an open focus - as oppose a narrow focus.

When you think about an open focus, consider how much more effective people could be as educators, as parents, if we created space to brainstorm the best solutions even under pressure. How could we use this super power to improve our relationships with young people, with colleagues and family? How has unawareness, lack of mindfulness influenced student performance?

When we lack mindfulness, when we aren't intentional about abandoning the visceral responses and underlying thought processes that prompt us to react rashly toward others... students suffer.

It doesn't have to be this way. Dr. Brach gives us three elements of mindfulness: purpose, recognition, and acceptance. Adopting these elements requires rewiring of the brain; we're learning a new skill. As with any significant positive change in our lives, it's imperative to embrace the process. Think journey, not destination. We can move through the three elements via what Brach calls Duck Meditation; play the video to hear her simple yet powerful explanation of the origin of the name of this exercise.

P.R.A. or Pretend

There are times when I find myself facing resistance from a client. It's mind-boggling that people will invest in a service, seek advice from a professional with a proven track record... and not follow through. I'm equally puzzled that the value of free K-12 education seems undervalued (or inaccessible depending on the student). There's a disconnect.

Effective teaching and tutoring involve leveraging character development to affect cognitive development, and dealing with unproductive emotions is an unavoidable responsibility of educators and parents alike. Students' unproductive emotions have the potential to incite the same in us. When chaos spins out of control in the classroom or at home, it's contagious. If we aren't intentional, we may find ourselves sucked up in the tornado.

 The Borderline Parent - A Survival Guide

As we seek strategies to deescalate misbehavior or cope with uncomfortable circumstances, there's an important choice to make: P.R.A. or pretend.

  1. Will we purposefully stand with children, seek help to get them through difficult circumstances... or will we leave children to their own devices, pass the buck for someone else to initiate intervention? 
  2. Will we recognize the misbehavior or root cause of an issue... or will we blame and punish students for not having learned skills we haven't taught?
  3. Will we accept learners as they are, where they are while supporting their growth... or will we judge and dismiss unorthodox pleas for love and support?

These are the questions I've reflected on since discovering Dr. Brach's work, and I hope you will too. When embracing equanimity, we position ourselves to become better leaders in our communities, classrooms, and homes.

You're invited to clap back in a guest post, share feedback privately, and come back to read about my equanimity journey.

Happy New Year!


I'd love to facilitate your next educator or parent training.
Schedule today: je411.com/grit

December 5, 2018

Harvard Bound: One Student's Passion

During a private tutoring session, one of my middle schoolers made a public service announcement: he's going to Harvard! This announcement was actually posed as a question initially. We were developing an approach for a math project when he asked if I thought he could get into Harvard. Usually, off-topic questions are tabled until the end of sessions since our time together is limited. One pitfall of being a business owner is the temptation to focus on the business and not on the people, to value outcomes over individuals. This time, the decision was easy.

 Harvard Bound: One Student's Passion (math project)

It was how the student posed the question that prompted me to shift gears from tutoring to coaching. He was apprehensive, hesitant... as if attending Harvard was this far fetched notion for a young black man from Mississippi. I can't say the student's mindset was surprising. There are so few opportunities for young people to learn about academic pioneers in the black community. The fruits of HBCU's (historically black colleges and universities), prominent civil rights activists, and sports icons are more widely acknowledged than Ivy League Black History and today's Ivy League Black Reality.

I aim for two outcomes for each client - preK, K-12, adult populations, parents, and educators. I aim to help clients increase confidence and improve performance. My instinct, after hearing the way this student questioned the possibilities for his life, was to seize the opportunity to affirm his ability to not only attend, to graduate from Harvard University. In that moment, I decided that nurturing confidence in his ability to make this dream a reality weighed significantly more than making the grade in math.

 Harvard Bound: One Student's Passion (chemistry unit project)

What's more, choosing the person over the outcome continues to pay dividends to this day. The student earned an A on the math project by following the plan that we developed together when he returned to school. More recently, he scored 110 as a science test grade on a chemistry unit project. There's no doubt his confidence is manifesting as out-of-the-box ideas and above-average execution of course requirements.

We don't want his growth to stop here. During the holiday break, we're going to spend time researching the life stories of Black Harvard and Ivy League graduates from Mississippi and around the world. Between the lines of his innocent question lies an opening to making reading and research both relevant and meaningful.

During my Character and Content training for educators, we emphasize the value of the words we choose. We discuss the importance of language, how the language of our self talk becomes our actions, how our questioning techniques influence student self talk. You're invited to schedule an in-person or virtual training; options for educators and parents available. 

Cultivating Grit: An approach to increasing confidence is a tool for exploring this concept as well. Learn more by visiting the website: je411.com/grit.

November 7, 2018

Couponing for a Cause: Improving math skill with real world experiences

Before we begin this post, I have to make a confession: prior to writing couponing blogs and becoming a stay-at-home mom (now a homeschooling mom as well), I was a math teacher. A middle school math teacher. Yes. I know... quite terrifying. And you know what? I loved it.

Instagram: @crazyshoppingcart

Teaching math is my passion. It's so much a part of me, that when I began taking advantage of couponing deals, all I could think about was how valuable the experience would've been for my middle school students during my teaching days. You see, couponing hacks are all rooted in math. 

If you want to learn more about how to coupon, check out my FREE ebook that offers couponing basics for beginners. This couponing guide teaches readers how to invest 20 minutes a week and save hundreds of dollars a year on groceries. 

Below are six reasons it's worth the effort for math teachers to join the couponing community.

Ratios, proportions, and unit price may all be written as fractions. In order to solve these kinds of problems (during a test and in the real world), we need to have a basic understanding of the properties of fractions. This can be challenging for many students, because understanding fractions requires us to generate a mental model of fractions operations. If fractions is a pain point for the students in your life, make fractions operations  more tangible through couponing.

Adding and Subtracting Decimals
When working with money, two places after the decimal represent cents (a fraction of a dollar). If an item costs $1.99, and the coupon takes off $1, it doesn’t make sense that the item would now cost $1.98. Lining up the decimal places when you add and subtract makes a lot more sense when you do it with money!

Unit Conversions
Couponing requires understanding of unit price. When you are trying to find unit price, items price labels may show different measurements. For instance, one bottle of soda gives volume in ounces but another shows volume in liters. In this case, couponers (and students) need to tap into their math skills to convert between the two units. A different example of unit conversions involves tripling the serving size of a recipe. Instead of purchasing 21 Tbsp of a grocery item, it may be necessary to convert this amount into cups.

A coupon or sale may provide for a certain percentage off the price of a certain item. Couponing teaching learners to calculate discounts in this way: students learn how to determine the resulting price after taking 25% off a certain amount. Why use percentages worksheets, when couponing gives real world experiences? Would you learn more from percentages word problems or saving cold hard cash in real life? Calculating discounts and sales tax are opportunities to solve multi-step mixed operations with whole numbers and decimal numbers.

Ratios, Proportions, and Unit Price
As couponers, we're always after the best deal. If six rolls of toilet paper cost $3, and eight rolls of toilet paper cost $3.50, which is the better deal? You have to brake it down into how much one roll costs with each deal. This involves using proportions to find the rate in price per roll, which is the unit price.

Greater than, less than, or equal to
An app called Flipp scans grocery stores near you. Searching the app shows the cost of grapes at different stores, for example. This feature of the app provides an opportunity to defend decisions about which store has the best deal. This approach is especially useful for comparing decimals.

 Facebook: @thecrazycart

There are many ways that coupons can help children master math standards; these are six important approaches to improving math skill with real world experiences. If you have other ideas, or you just want to share how you were able to use these tips, I would love to hear about them. 

Tiffany Thomas is a former math teacher and SAHM who loves finding good deals! She and her husband launched The Crazy Shopping Cart. They enjoy spending time with family, geeking out over sci-fi, and saving money.

October 3, 2018

3 Questions to Answer before Hiring a Tutor

Few experiences are more exciting to me than providing the convenience and flexibility that my private tutoring clients enjoy. If this sounds boring to you, it's because I didn't mention the light bulb moments - wide-eyed prayers, clutched pearls, breaths of relief, and glowing smiles of accomplishment. Empowering clients with the knowledge and confidence to take on new challenges and demonstrate mastery is a skill set found only among the best tutors. This begins with advocating for strong home-school partnerships and taking massive action to bridge gaps - gaps in achievement, gaps in communication, and resource gaps.

Helping families partner with educators
Homework time and parent-teacher conferences are opportunities to identify gaps before they become potholes. We know that building strong home-school partnerships (not to be confused with homeschooling) is key to ensuring learners don't fall through the cracks. As learners age, historical patterns in parental engagement data tell us that participation drops significantly after elementary school. This is a challenging epidemic for educators and parents and family members to outrun when you're feeling overwhelmed and haven't taken a class in years. You know it's time to find a tutor.

If you're on the fence about tutoring, consider these questions.

  1. Are double shifts or school commitments preventing you from being involved?
  2. Are concerns about student performance snowballing?
  3. Are you struggling to cope with a learning disability?

No one has to know how you answered these questions. It's only important that you're honest with yourself and your needs (and your child's needs). I'm speaking to the parent or adult learner who typed 'tutor near me' in Google search and scrolled through pages of private tutors and tutoring agencies either without taking action or without finding a suitable tutor. Keep reading if you want to hire the best tutor the first time (or next time).

Whether math tutor, English tutor, chemistry tutor, reading tutor, or writing tutor, the best tutors and tutoring companies are committed to meeting your needs. Expert private tutors ensure the quality of service you receive reflects this commitment to meeting your needs (not the other way around).

National Tutoring Week is October 1 - 5, 2018.
Watch the video below to be the first to win one of four

It's time to find a tutor. Ask yourself these three questions.

1. Is the tutor certified by the National Tutoring Association (NTA)?

If the tutor isn't certified by NTA, does the professional have training and practical experiences that back up their claims to be an expert? What about referrals?

Many educators, professionals, and students tutor on the side to earn extra income. A teacher's license is different than tutor certification in the same way that a personal trainer's skill set is different than that of a team coach. Teachers and tutors are equipped to provide different experiences; the distinction is based on experience providing both kinds of learning experiences.

Though undoubtedly beneficial, learners who excel in whole class learning environments and require temporary support to tackle setbacks may not require the services of a certified/trained tutor; this type of student makes A's and B's most of the time. The imperative phrase is 'may not require'; still, some concepts may need to be taught by a certified tutor to achieve mastery. What's more, staying ahead often calls for the support of a professional as well.

On the other hand, learners with poor performance records benefit most from working one-on-one with a trained and experienced private tutor. For this second type of student, assessment data translates to D's and F's on a traditional grading scale. Moving forward without a private tutor may be likened to building a home on unstable foundation: at some point the home will no longer be able to serve its full purpose without intervention. Unfortunately in a classroom setting, intervention usually equates to missed seat time or instruction. Students receive remedial instruction instead of sitting through currently relevant instruction, which is a double-edged sword that makes tutoring the preferred alternative.

2. Does the tutor offer added value as part of the return on your investment?

Tutors step in when parents and family are unable to help with homework. The best tutors are not only experts in a particular subject area, they're also invested in tutee success. This commitment to the process manifests as quality service: providing timely feedback and flexible communication options, serving as a school parent liaison, engaging learners with creative activities, personalizing instruction, and tracking performance data.

Effective tutors also help learners reinforce instruction provided during tutoring sessions through planning. They prepare materials in advance or help students refine classroom notes in a way that extend learning beyond one-on-one experiences, beyond in-person and online tutoring. Expert private tutors look ahead and anticipate upcoming challenges using classroom correspondence.

You probably didn't know that the best tutors communicate with classroom educators and interpret performance data (e.g., graded papers, score reports) to personalize learning experiences. Hiring a tutor is like having a personal assistant; if your tutor doesn't make your life easier, it may be time to type 'tutors near me' into Google search again.

3. Are you ready to commit to the tutoring process?

If your tutor doesn't seek first to understand your unique challenges and goals, consider it a red flag. If your tutor doesn't personalize a learning plan to get you from where you are to mastery, consider this a red flag. If your tutor doesn't ask for performance data before meeting or during the initial tutoring session as well as periodically during the business relationship, consider this a red flag. If your tutor makes the grade, prepare to commit to the tutoring process.

Commitment looks different to different tutors and tutees. My clients who experience success consistently do these three things: communicate scheduling needs in a timely manner, volunteer performance data regularly, and complete reinforcement activities (or homework from tutoring sessions). You're ready to work with an expert private tutor if you're willing to make time to meet these expectations.

If you apply the advice shared in this post to your tutor search, then the expert you decide to work with will usher you into more challenging environments with ease.

I'm excited to highlight that I am National Tutoring Association certified, hold a Master's in Education, and held a teaching license during my time in the secondary science classroom.

My firm, Jackson Education Support is the only education firm in Mississippi where you can find a nationally certified tutor. This sets us apart.

We're eager to train tutors interested in joining the community. Don't let geography keep you from reaching out. You're invited to take advantage of online and in-person tutoring and training solutions.