Anna Henebeng teaches CollegeSpring’s SAT prep course and Math & Personal Finance to 11th graders at Northside Charter High School, a public charter school located in the North Williamsburg/Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Their vision is “for students to get ready for, go to, and complete the right-fit college or university of their choice.” As we all know, the 2020-2021 academic year was challenging for students, their families, and their teachers. Shortly before students were scheduled to take the May 8, 2021, Official College Board SAT test, Anna was able to speak with me, virtually, about her students and her experience providing SAT prep during a pandemic.
LeAndrea: Why does SAT test prep still matter to your students amidst many colleges going test-optional in their admissions process?
Anna: Northside Charter High School is a college preparatory school. Ninety-five percent of the students want to go to a specific college. And some of the schools are test-optional, but most of them are not test-optional. So, this test is pretty important for them so that they can get accepted into their dream schools, especially the ones that are saying that they’re not test-optional. A lot of students are reaching for the stars and so this test is going to help them get there. It’s going to be another thing to enhance their application and that’s why it matters to them.
LeAndrea: Have you noticed any changes in your students since preparing them for the test?
Anna: Definitely, at the beginning of the year, students did not like the SAT. They did not do well with timed tests. They hated it. Some students were more vocal than others, “Like math? No, I hate math and I don’t want to do this. Why are we taking a whole class that’s specifically focusing on this SAT?” And so, what I noticed, in the beginning, was yes, they were scared, super scared, and they would tell me things like, “I don’t like this test!” But now, as we continue to practice, they understand why the (CollegeSpring) program is the way it is. They’ve taken the practice three times, they feel super confident, and they’re taking the College Board official SAT test next week. Because I’m a math teacher, specifically in the math section I’m now seeing students feel super confident. They are even ready to teach other students how to approach math problems. So for me to be able to sit back and hear from them, “Okay, well, I’ll use the ‘CUPS Strategy’ (C=circle important words or numbers, U=underline what the question is asking, P=plan your strategy,, S=solve and check). This is the key information, and this is what I’m going to solve. Okay, my plan of attack is this, and this is the answer.” And so, to see students grow in that way has been amazing to witness.
LeAndrea: That’s great to hear, especially as a math teacher. Personally, in high school, I was very bad at math. So, in return, I worked very hard at it and spent a lot of time with my math teachers. And they were the ones who taught me how to be methodical in the way you just explained, to take it step by step. Even outside of math and within test prep in general, you have to take it step by step.
What are some valuable lessons that you try to emphasize when preparing students for the SAT?
Anna: I use a lot of firsthand experience and put myself in their situation. I tell them, get a good night’s sleep, make sure they eat a good breakfast, and bring water. I also remind them to bring snacks with them the day of the test. Right before, don’t practice, breath, get yourself ready for the exam. We have a mindfulness class here at Northside. So, I try to incorporate taking a “mindful minute” to practice your breathing and get familiar with the space that you’re in because you’re going to be there for the next three or four hours. And of course, remember to answer EVERY SINGLE question. Put a number if you don’t know because you might be right. And then after you’ve taken the test, shake it off, because you did it! Give yourselves a round of applause and a pat on the back.
LeAndrea: That is so inspiring, you made me feel confident and I’m not even taking the SAT! Thank you. So aside from the test and beyond this experience, what do you hope your students can take away from this test prep experience during the pandemic?
Anna: Mainly, I want them to not think that this SAT is the whole picture for their college application. I want them to realize that this is just a part of your application. YOU are the whole picture. I want them to gain as much as they can from this class. But I also want them to realize that I’m still a great resource because I not only have high school experience, but I have college experience. I want them to know the entire college application process and not just take the SAT. I want them to know why the SAT enhances their application and what else is needed to get into college. And hopefully, I can provide letters of recommendation for students that deserve them.
LeAndrea: I agree, and I am sure that your students are going to be taking that message with them. Thank you for your time today!
Anna Heneberg, teaches CollegeSpring’s SAT prep course and Math & Personal Finance to 11th graders at Northside Charter High School.
LeAndrea Johnson is the Development and Communications Coordinator at CollegeSpring
Interview conducted on April 21, 2021.