Bard College at Simons Rock

84 Alford Rd Great Barrington, Massachusetts 01230-9702
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Student Unlocks SAT Success for Catalina Island High School Students

Danny Rivkin spent many of her adolescent summers working and vacationing on Catalina Island. Although she didn’t live there year-round, the islanders have certainly adopted the La Jolla, Calif., native as one of their own since she has worked diligently to make an impact on the community.

Catalina Island - Chamber of Commerce

Now an 18-year-old sophomore at Bard College at Simon's Rock, Rivkin went back to Catalina last summer to help students at Avalon High School improve their SAT scores.

She created her own SAT prep course, which ran Monday-Thursday all summer long with a 2-hour session in the morning and afternoon each day.

Avalon’s 2012 graduating class is approximately 55 students and Rivkin taught 22 of them in her course last summer.

"We told the students up front that it was going to take a lot of time and effort to really make the program work," Rivkin said. The students seemed to really take the challenge to heart, because many of them saw their scores increase between 100-200 points on average. "I was very proud of them. I gave my phone number out to some of the kids and when the scores started coming back, my phone was just going crazy from everyone telling me what they got."

The prep course started as just a gathering at Rivkin's house but was later given a storefront to use. Although resources were limited, Rivkin also received donations of workbooks, practice tests and online video tutorials that were very beneficial. They weren't without their faults though as the materials weren't tailored for the Catalina Island demographics that were vastly different from where they were used on the mainland.

Avalon has a large Hispanic American population and many families currently live below the poverty guideline and have parents who don't speak fluent English. Many students do not have computers at home with Internet access making traditional online courses a nonviable option. Several other students work full-time jobs and give their paychecks to their families so they don’t have an abundance of free time. Rivkin took these items into consideration when developing her program by requiring only two sessions attended per week to stay enrolled.

"All of these things need to be kept in mind and I believe if a typical program would have come and tried to teach these students, it wouldn't have been as successful," Rivkin said. "I just used the materials as a guideline generally and would adapt them to the individual specifically. Oftentimes, the videos would jump to a conclusion that would have been totally acceptable by most students but it skipped something that should have been explained more here. I had to dive deeper into the explanation."

Since students typically had jobs or siblings to care for with no computer access, instead of weighing them down with textbooks, Rivkin gave them flash cards to study whenever they could with vocabulary words to help them understand the questions better. Also arming them with the information that blind guessing on every question could hurt their score (since a wrong answer deduct points but a blank answer simply won’t add any to the final score), showed huge boosts when the scores came back.

"Some of them I knew were working and putting the time and effort into getting better and I knew their scores were going to show it," Rivkin said. "But others I wasn't always so sure about so I was really excited and surprised for them when I heard their scores too."

The scores aren't just a feel good boasting point. Colleges and universities consider these scores immensely in making admission and financial aid available for students. After she participated in the class, Sadie Parsons calculated that she received an additional $10,000 in financial aid as a result of her improved scores.

Rivkin has had a tutoring and teaching mentality for many years, assisting others in both one-on-one and group settings as young as 7th grade and serving as a teacher's assistant in 11th grade. When her friends approached her for SAT help because they knew of her successes, she was eager to help and her system eventually grew to the whole Avalon community.

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