Monday, April 09, 2012

Thomas Jefferson HS for Science & Technology - Prep Takes a Village, Not a Book

Per this WAPO article, a New York-based college counseling firm will publish shortly a test-prep workbook specifically geared towards preparing 8th graders to take the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST, in Annandale VA) entrance exam. The $199 retail book, complete with sample questions, answers and explanations, is being touted as a "low-cost alternative to test-prep courses and one-on-one tutors, which can cost thousands of dollars a year".

Will it work, is it something that truly fills a need and can replace what it claims?

In our opinion and recently qualified experience (go TJ Colonials Class of 2016!), the book should sell incredibly well but offer very little actual advantage. The actual investment required for maximum ROI (return on investment, or the "golden ticket" of admission to this #1 high school in the nation) is difficult, complex, costly, lengthy and in many community circles a closely guarded portfolio of "secrets" both proven reasonable and purely conjecture. This is obviously in addition to starting with the raw goods - a very bright, motivated, confident and academically-successful child who's sincerely, demonstrably and passionately interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) subjects.

The book will sell well, because the local, regional and international demand for any edge at all to be gained in the dramatically-increasing competitiveness for only 480 slots is rapidly intensifying, in lockstep with the rapid increase in the newer, very academically-motivated demographics of Northern Virginia (particularly eastern Loudoun and Fairfax). There also really isn't such a book available right now with this explicit focus (and therefore marketing exposure) - though the existing volumes of test-prep books to prepare for the PSAT, SAT, and SHSAT tests are well-known and utilized.

What such a book won't do, is replace the multitude of teachers, administrators, tutors, family members and friends that form the broad educational achievement team and irreplaceable support structure behind a child's overall success in reaching their academic goals, along with critical and focused achievements such as admissions to TJHSST. As well, harnessing and participating in such a group effort costs a lot in many ways, from actual money for project supplies, tutoring, books, field trips, camps, gas, software (...an endless list), to the unpaid costs in time and emotional energy spent on your child's behalf by volunteers, family members, friends and neighbors. A $200 book doesn't replace this, and is actually just a tiny drop in the years of expense and effort that amount to a worthwhile and successful education.

The highly-selective TJHSST admissions process includes not only the entrance exam, but demonstrated, high-caliber success in school (particularly math and science), writing samples, extracurriculars, noteworthy achievements, honors and awards, teacher recommendations, etc. The focus is on the student's personal and academic achievement in 7th and 8th grade - but it's clear that preparation for success here begins far earlier in elementary school.

In our experience, major outside credits for an example of success over this time begin with The Nysmith School and their fabulous, amazing teachers and tutors, utterly knowledgeable administrators and supportive community of parents and students. No elementary/middle school, public or private, in Northern Virginia is as capably demonstrable in preparing and supporting their students for these kinds of advanced academic challenges and opportunities. Note that the Fairfax GT program is of course an extremely successful, leading public school alternative in this area to the private schools - though no similar structure exists for Loudoun students.

Another set of major credits go to the MyEdMaster tutoring team in Herndon - the depth of educational experience, wisdom and compassionate attention co-owners John and Sagar personally and professionally expended to the benefit of their students and parents is simply unmatched, and the results absolutely speak for themselves. MyEdMaster provides individual tutoring for SAT/PSAT/TJ Test Preparation, College/GT/JT/AOS applications, and tutoring for all K-12 courses and test scenarios. Most importantly, MyEdMaster expertly coaches and guides the students (and parents) through the test-taking processes and application-completion strategies necessary for their individual success.

Between the Nysmith School, MyEdMaster and self-study Internet sources, quite literally hundreds of "practice" tests and exercises were leveraged and taken over many years (after/during/before school and on weekends), with personal, engaged and expert assistance - a far more valuable and extensive universe of test-prep assistance than a single book could ever offer.

The State of Virginia VDOE Governor's Schools Program and Fairfax County deserve significant credit as well, along with supportive taxpayers, as part of the overall team for academic success - for allowing our young resident made in Loudoun the opportunity to apply to and attend such an amazing on-ramp to future contributions in STEM fields.

At the end of the day, we could certainly write a book about the experience, filled with tips, techniques and actual input from admitted students...but it will then be just that - a book, and not a replacement for the dedicated individual effort and committed educational village that's ultimately required.

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