EC Success Stories: Charlie Rosas

From El Salvador to Stanford

 

Here at Educational Connections, we’ve been blessed to be a part of the lives of some truly incredible students over the past 14 years. We’ve taught children with disabilities how to read, helped young adults get into colleges they had never dreamed of, and inspired countless students to realize their full academic potential. Every once in a while, a student comes along who teaches us more than we teach him. This week’s success profile is on EC student Charlie Rosas, who went from not knowing a single word of English to turning down Harvard.

 

The Rosas family immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. Charlie was born in Los Angeles, and was raised in an entirely Spanish speaking community. “When we moved away to Virginia, I was determined to learn English,” says Charlie. “My family had a lot of paperwork to do, and I wanted more than anything to help them… There’s a funny picture of me at age eight trying to help my aunt fill out a job application.” To help Charlie with his English, the Rosas family turned to Educational Connections. Charlie was tutored personally by EC president Ann Dolin, who volunteered for the position free of charge. “After my tutoring with EC, I was reading on a 5th grade level in the 2nd grade. Ann has always been a big influence for me. She’s been in touch ever since… I never thought I’d make it this far.”

 

Charlie’s new-found skills proved invaluable a few years later when his family’s home was foreclosed upon. With his father working two jobs as a cook and a maintenance worker – on four hours of sleep – and his mother working full time as a nanny, Charlie took it upon himself to investigate their legal options. Charlie took on the role of the family attorney and steered them through the grueling legal process. Although the Rosas ultimately lost their home, Charlie proved himself to be an endless well of hard work, encouragement, and determination. Little did he know, the next test would far surpass the last.

 

Shortly after, tragedy struck again as Charlie’s mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Charlie sprung into action, working with doctors and insurance companies to ensure his mother the best care possible. Charlie navigated the diagnostic and treatment process for his family when others would have lost hope. He did everything in his power to help his family – from relentlessly tracking down doctors for second opinions to filling out mountains of paperwork. His courage and confidence is truly humbling. With some help from a connection through EC, Charlie was able to get in touch with one of the best reconstructive surgeons in the DC area, who took on Charlie’s mother as a patient even though he was at capacity.

 

Somehow, in spite of all this, Charlie was able to maintain a rigorous high school schedule, taking as many AP classes as possible and maintaining a 4.4 GPA. Educational Connections was able to help Charlie and his sister, who has a significant learning disability, with scholarships and college placement – free of charge. “I can’t tell you how much that motivated her. It meant so much to us,” says Charlie. Despite getting into Harvard, Charlie turned it down for a full ride at Stanford, where he is currently studying political science.

 

Clearly, here at Educational Connections we only had a minor part to play in Charlie’s story, but he is effusive in his praise nonetheless. “I would recommend EC to anyone. They helped me address exactly what my issues were. Once they were resolved everything became faster and easier… Tutoring helped me believe in myself. It gave me skills that I definitely needed down the road. I can’t thank EC enough.” It is both humbling and inspiring to work with students like Charlie, and an honor to be a part of his life here at Educational Connections.

The 4 Kinds of “Careless Errors” and How to Fix Them

We get a lot of questions about careless errors from parents, tutors, and students alike. In my experience, these are the four most common careless errors I’ve come across along with some effective, field-tested solutions for you to try:

 

1) Dropping Negative Signs – This can also mean switching the sign mid problem or copying down the wrong sign at the start. Lots of kids have this problem, and this is the only permanent solution I’ve found:

  • Have the student say out loud “positive” or “negative” in front of each number. This will seem bothersome at first but it absolutely works if you’re persistent.
  • So instead of “12 divided by 4,” have them say “positive 12 divided by positive 4”
  • This links the sign to the number in the child’s mind, and trains the brain to not separate the two. The result is that sign and number are permanently linked in a student’s internal monologue, which is the ultimate goal here and the only chance at a long term solution.

2) Not copying problems correctly, or not reading directions – The key here is to not be negative or judgmental. Students learn when they are comfortable and when behavior is encouraged positively. Here’s what to do:

  • Draw a box in the top right corner of the page. Each time the student remembers to read the directions, or double check what she has copied, tell her to give herself +1 point (or a tally) in the box.
  • The first few times all you have to say is, “Did you remember to double check so you can get a point?” and the usual response is along the lines of, “Oh yeah, lemme check.” This is so much more effective than “Hey, you forgot again. Stop that,” for this very reason:
  • Something positive is being associated with the behavior. If you can create a comfortable scenario where a child will want to double check his work, it will be fixed faster than you think.

3) Too much (or incorrect) mental math – Some students can’t wait for the chance to use their calculators, but I’ve worked with many students who feel the need to do as much work as possible in their heads, even difficult multi-step problems. This can come from the misconception that being able to do problems in your head means you are smarter, or that it’s expected of them. Some just don’t want to use up paper!

  • If I notice a heavy reliance on mental math, I make a deal with the student up front. I’ll say “Looks good so far, but if you make a mistake in your head you have to write it out.”
  • The student immediately becomes more careful, because she knows she will have to write it out if she makes a mistake. More importantly, it makes her responsible for the work.
  • Now, instead of, “He’s making me write it out,” it becomes, “I’m writing it out because I made a mistake and that was my fault.” This simple re-framing makes a huge difference.

4) Squeezing too much work into a small space – This happens frequently on math tests, especially for younger students learning multiplication. They’ll try to crunch everything into the space provided, and the work gets jumbled and confused.

  • Give the student graph paper, draw lines on his paper, or tell the student to flip the page over for more space.
  • Tell them know that a piece of paper costs about two hundredths of a penny! They can use as much as they need.
  • Keeping numbers separate and letting the student know it’s OK to use lots of room is a quick fix for a lot of students, and it means a lot more points on homework and tests.

I’ve been using these strategies in the field for the past few years with great success. Give them a shot, we’d love to hear your results!

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring in Fairfax and Bethesda. Her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, she offers proven solutions to help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at ectutoring.com.

Have a Math Test? 6 Proven Solutions to Study Smarter!

Let’s face it, math is different.  The study skills and processes your child has used in other subjects won’t necessarily serve her well when the time comes to prepare for a big math test.

What is the best way to study for math tests?  Our language provides an important clue.  We don’t say “do the history” or “do the English”, but we do say “do the math.”  Thus, it goes without saying that the first step in doing well in math is for your student complete her assigned homework problems on time before every class.  For the gifted few, this will be enough.  For the vast majority, this is only the beginning.  Here are some key steps to ensuring success on that big test:

  1. Pull It all Together
    Students can’t wait for the last minute.  Well before the big test, they should begin by gathering up all quizzes (and answer sheets or solutions given in class), homework, class notes and other study aids.  These problems will make the foundation for a practice math test.
  2. Find Areas of Weakness
    Next, your child should go through everything that has been graded, including homework and quizzes, and write down all the problems where credit was lost for other than obvious mistakes in calculation.  Questions from the math teacher’s quizzes, tests and study packets or even better yet – old versions of the test to be taken – are the ideal source for these practice tests because teachers so often recycle questions.
  3. Create a Practice Test
    The third step is to create a practice test using the problems just gathered and to work through it, problem by problem.  There’s no doubt that this takes time.  It is easy to forgo preparing a practice test because of the work involved in pulling it together, but it’s the best investment when it comes to studying for math.
    Testing yourself repeatedly before an exam teaches the brain to retrieve and apply knowledge from memory. If you are facing an Algebra test, practicing the problems is far better than simply rereading notes.  The very act of writing a question and solving a problem also helps cement information in the brain.
  4. Use the Internet
    For students who aren’t willing to go the extra mile, consider one of the best websites out there for math.  Khan Academy, has placed 2,600 10-minute videos on math and science subject on its own You Tube channel.  When troubled by a math concept, there’s no better, more engaging place to go on the internet.
  5. Test Day Jitters
    Even when students are fully prepared, anxiety can be a huge burden on test day. An estimated 35 percent of students are so nervous before high-stakes tests that it impairs their performance. Reducing stress on the day of the exam can prevent choking under pressure, says Sian Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago.  Anxious students should set aside 10 minutes beforehand to write down their worries. She and a fellow researcher tested 106 ninth-graders for anxiety before their first high-pressure exam, then asked half of them to spend 10 minutes writing down their thoughts right before the test. The anxious kids who did the writing exercise performed as well on the test as the students who had been calm all along. But anxious students who didn’t do the writing performed more poorly.
  6. Get Help
    If you find that as a parent, you’re not the best teacher for your child, consider hiring a tutor to teach these study skills.  A tutor comes to the table as a skilled and objective third party, without an emotional history with your child.  One-to-one attention can make the difference between grasping the material and falling further behind.

Just remember that math is a different animal from other subjects, but with just a few adjustments to studying, your child will be much more successful in the long run.

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at anndolin.ectutoring.com or ectutoring.com.

By Ann Dolin, M.Ed.