Making Academic Progress during COVID-19:
Letters from our Founder

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Rigor & Relevance: Critical Reading during COVID-19

Dear Academic Approach Families:

In today’s message, I highlight the importance of critical reading, rigor, and relevance while our students learn at home.

With the first week of e-learning drawing near an end, we can see that it’s challenging to replicate the rigor of consistent classroom learning at home. As educators and parents, we are being asked to find more opportunities for learning and engagement to keep students consistently growing.

I remember 20 years ago as a graduate student teaching in the core curriculum at Columbia in NYC trying to find ways to engage my freshmen writers. 19 persuasive essays, 1 semester—I had to make it relevant to get their buy-in. I focused on debates, controversies, often with direct relevance to our campus. If the text spoke to my students, I received strong engagement and persuasive argument from them in response.

Critical Reading during COVID-19
NYTimes Learning Article of the Day provides a great resource for nonfiction texts to read and study with students. If you select today’s lesson, “We Live in Zoom Now,” it provides a relevant article and very practical prompts for discussion and writing: How do you celebrate with friends in a world of social distancing? What are ways to teach our grandparents to use technology to engage? What is the most challenging thing about living online?

Making text-to-self connections has always been the most immediate way to get student buy-in and engagement. Science, technology, politics—no longer can be dismissed with that common student refrain: “What does that have to do with my life?”

That means this time is a teachable moment: a time to encourage students read rigorous and challenging nonfiction texts, and reflect on them seriously. The critical reading and thinking skills they’ll build will keep students on-track for their return to school and on the path to college readiness.

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

Preparing for AP Exams

Dear Academic Approach Families:

For those students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) Courses, it appears College Board is nearing a solution for AP Testing.

College Board, which manages AP Exams, will be posting its next update on Friday, March 20th with a plan for what is next in terms of the testing format for students and the materials for teachers who are teaching AP curriculum through e-learning. The most interesting option College Board references is in-home testing.

If your student would like supplemental instruction to partner with your school’s e-learning, do not hesitate to reach out to us at 773-348-8914. Our directors can walk you through the process and match you with one of our AP instructors.

Visit the College Board’s AP webpage for more updates. We will continue to keep you updated as more information is released.

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

Our Approach to E-Learning: New Delivery, Same High Quality

Dear Academic Approach Families:

As we move our in-person sessions online, I want to share some highlights and describe the steps we’re taking to continue to deliver our high-quality, personalized instruction.

Our Tech Approach
We’re using Zoom video conferencing to support our sessions. This is free to our students and easy to access. Zoom is compatible with a wide range of devices with the best engagement being through tablet, laptop, or desktop. Should a student wish to use an alternative setup, such as FaceTime or Skype, we will work to accommodate that request.

Our Tutoring Approach
I’ve delivered 2 effective days now of Zoom sessions with students. While I’ve provided distance learning for years over FaceTime or Skype, the Zoom experience supports a higher quality of instruction in a few ways.

  1. Digitized curriculum: We’ve digitized all of our tests and course books, so we can interact with them through Zoom’s screen sharing.
  2. White board: Zoom’s white board is excellent at allowing the instructor to provide clear visualizations of step-by-step problem solving. The close attention we pay to the student’s process and procedure can be maintained effectively through Zoom.

While adapting to new e-learning protocols can take time, these protocols also present new opportunities to grow. At Academic Approach, we’re embracing this opportunity to innovate while holding tightly to our core academic values and principles of instruction.

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

Planning for ACT & SAT Test Date Changes

Dear Academic Approach Families:

During this time of more questions than answers, we hope to help you determine next steps and stay on track with ACT and SAT planning and preparation. In this email, we will provide (1) updates from the ACT and SAT, and (2) some thoughts to keep in mind as you plan ahead.

First, we continue to inform you when ACT and SAT send us updates as these organizations carefully consider the health and wellness of their test takers:

  1. The SAT canceled most of its testing sites for the March 14th exam and College Board has now canceled the March 14th make-up exam that was scheduled for the 28th. The May 2nd SAT & SAT Subject Tests have also been canceled.
  2. The ACT has now canceled the April 4th exam. They are not currently planning to offer a make-up date but instead encourage students to take the June 13th exam.
  3. College Board has not given updates on how school closings will affect the AP Exam schedule. Once again, as we learn more, we will update everyone.
  4. For those students taking the mandatory Illinois Public School SAT or PSAT-10 on April 14th, those plans are up in the air. As the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) determines next steps, we will forward information as soon as possible.

Second, some thoughts as you plan ahead:

  1. For families who were planning to take the ACT or SAT on dates that were canceled, look for communication from ACT or College Board to determine if they will be offering you credit toward a future exam.
  2. The registration deadline for the June 13th ACT is May 8th.
  3. The registration deadline for the June 6th SAT is May 8th.

Academic Approach’s focus during this unusual time is to help students make consistent progress toward their ACT and SAT growth goals. Continuity is critical in student learning, and our students learn best through repeated, cumulative exposure to and practice of key college readiness skills. We hope to encourage your ability to maintain continuity through our complimentary online practice tests as well as our 25% reduction in fees for online tutoring.

Look for regular, informative email in the days to come. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out at any time.

Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

An Offer for our Academic Approach Families

Dear Academic Approach Families:

At Academic Approach, we consider ourselves partners with our students’ families, helping them navigate important challenges and reach important milestones successfully.

As school closures officially begin across the state, we understand that we need to all keep our social distance, as appropriate; at the same time, however, we do not want to lose the momentum of academic progress that our students need to maintain during Spring.

To help you during these uncertain times, as of Monday, March 16th and until school resumes, we are moving our instruction online and offering a 25% discount on tutoring services as well as complimentary practice tests online. We hope that this gesture provides you the opportunity to continue your student’s academic progress.


Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder and CEO

Maintaining Academic Progress During School Closures

Dear Academic Approach Families:

As I write this email after a day of watching my middle schooler (who,
thankfully, is happy and healthy) playing video games on the sofa during her
first day of school closure, I am mindful of our need to keep our students on
track academically during this very unique time. Over the coming days, we’ll
see more and more of our students transitioning from classroom learning to
e-learning or remote learning.

We are here for you to offer any academic guidance, given what will surely be a cascade of rescheduled events. We are also here to offer support, so
students do not lose momentum in their academic progress. If you have
questions or concerns, feel free to reach out. We are here to help in any way

Below are additional links to important information from the ACT and College Board regarding the status of future test dates.

Look for future letters with updates as information becomes available. In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy.

Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder and CEO

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Every Student is Different

We know our students; each one is unique, and each one requires a different approach, especially during these unprecedented times. That is why our ACT, SAT, and Middle School test prep is customized to each student and school partner.

We improve your students’ standardized testing by tailoring our research-based, expert instruction and curriculum to your needs, and we can get started with you right away.

Our offices are now open, but in a limited capacity. We are still offering online tutoring and all practice tests will remain virtual.

Reach out to us at 773-348-8914 with any questions.