The road to college may take different twists and turns for every student, and in some cases, academic or executive function coaches are part of the team that can help students reach their goals.
If you're unclear on whether one of these experts might be able to help you with your academic, test prep or organizational skills, check out the following insights from Tyler Vunk, CEO of Vested Academics in Hanover, Mass., which provides virtual coaching services across the country.
One of the biggest misconceptions in this field is that academic and executive function coaches only work with students who have severe learning differences or disabilities, but that's not always the case, Vunk says. "While we help students with learning differences, an executive function coach is also great for students who find themselves bored at school, in gifted and talented programs, or looking for ways to manage their workloads. These kids tend to suffer from anxiety and may have a lot of pressure on them. A coach not only assists them with investigating their daily, weekly and monthly schedules to reclaim time and bring back balance, but also helps them find more effective ways of studying so they can tackle short-term assignments and long-term projects."
The goal, he notes, is to teach students the skills they'll need to become longtime learners, which allows them to succeed from elementary school through college, and even into their careers. "The added benefit of working with our company is that our executive functioning coaches are also excellent tutors, so they can help students with academic subjects if needed."
Coaches typically perform assessments of students early on so they can look for any learning gaps that might be holding students back from succeeding.
"We look for areas where they didn't absorb everything so we can fill in their learning gaps," Vunk says. "This will help them succeed in future courses on the same subject, as well as in terms of their test prep for standardized testing. Coaches also assess a student's overall ability to learn. We'll look at any patterns we find and correct those so we can reinforce healthy habits. I've had students who had a PSAT of 760 and, after two years of coaching, got up to 1300-plus on the SAT, and I'm talking about kids who everyone wrote off," he says. "It comes down to creating a customized approach for each student."
In some cases, parents think their kids are lazy, but in reality the students may just be stuck in negative thinking patterns, Vunk says. "If you've felt defeated for the last 10 years day in and day out, that can happen. An academic coach will help students with poor motivation rebuild their confidence slowly, over time, by showing them how to study, and how to set their own goals. A lot of this involves connecting with the parent and ensuring that they know what their child's needs are and how they can reinforce the healthy changes their coach suggests."
Although it may seem counterintuitive to boost focus by cutting back on activities, that's exactly what many students need, Vunk says. "When you overload a brain, whether that's with school work, stress, screen time or anything else, you need to do something opposite in nature to let it relax. Think of a tight fist. If a student is always on edge protecting themselves, they're going to remain in a state of guarded frustration. And to unclench their minds, they have to do things that allow them to disengage."
Coaches can help students create a daily schedule that includes breaks for downtime, which may include running, drawing, playing a musical instrument, or something else that gives their brains a rest.
Although issues involving learning often come up at college application time, Vunk says families should consider starting earlier so learning problems can be put on the right track as soon as possible.
"One thing parents should think about is that they're making a $250,000 or so investment in a college education, so they should ensure that their child will be able to succeed when they get there. We start with students as young as third grade, and it isn't because we're trying to prime them to get into elite colleges. If we help them understand their unique learning style early on, they can start independently learning sooner. That's where the real gold is."
This method also takes some of the stress off of parents who feel like they've become the antagonist when trying to get their students to work on academics. "When you have an academic coach, the parent can say 'Well, what did they tell you to do?' and then the parent can have different conversations with their child rather than being the bad guy in academics. For some parents, it's a game changer."
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