Whether it be early morning before the first bell of the school day, lunch time when most teachers and students are taking a short break from their work, or after school on a Friday afternoon when most faculty has already left the building, there is a good chance students can find Gwen Struchtemeyer sitting at one of the tables in the Media Center, helping students prepare for the ACT.
Struchtemeyer, whose official position is that of Media Specialist, spends much of her time following her passion of helping students succeed on the ever-important ACT exam. The ACT is of great importance to many high school students, as their score, along with their overall GPA, are generally the two biggest factors universities consider when admitting students. High ACT scores can also qualify students for scholarships and aid that can help make college more affordable. Because of these factors, the ACT can play a big role in many students’ lives going forward, with more than 166,000 students taking the test in 2011 alone. Struchtemeyer realized the importance of this test 16 years ago while teaching English and decided to focus on helping students hone their skills on the reading and English portions of the exam.
“I saw a need for students to practice the skills required of them to score well on the ACT reading and English sections,” Struchtemeyer said. “I started taking tests and learning the problem types and patterns.”
As her expertise in the fields of English and reading grew, Struchtemeyer started tutoring more students after school and even developed the ‘Super Saturday’ workshop in which students take a practice ACT on a Saturday morning and then come back after lunch to attend teaching sessions on the different portions of the exam. The Saturday workshop is often the first opportunity students have to see actual ACT problems. Sometimes it is their first time sitting through nearly four hours of testing.
“It’s incredibly helpful,” said senior Robert Benad, who spent many hours both before and after school meeting with Struchtemeyer. “Just getting familiar with what I was going to see on the actual test was really helpful, and the sessions in the afternoon helped show what I needed to study and improve on going into the real exam.”
Aside from actual, hands-on tutoring and running ‘Super Saturday’ tutorials, Struchtemeyer spends time finding accurate practice tests online and review books for students to use and composing a 20-page review guide that covers everything students will need to know for the English and reading portions of the ACT test. This guide includes examples of all prominent concepts on the tests, Struchtemeyer said, as well as practice questions and patterns students will encounter on the actual exam.
All of this work that goes into preparing students for the ACT is a true labor of love for Struchtemeyer, who she said genuinely finds happiness helping students overcome obstacles and watching them succeed. For example, a few years ago Struchtemeyer said she worked with a student whose parents were both incarcerated and was having trouble finding stability in his home life. He was offered a full academic scholarship, but in order to qualify for it, he had to significantly improve his score, and through hours of tutoring, he was able to bring his score up and will graduate from the college this spring.
“I enjoy helping students with this test because a great test score can greatly improve the set of post-secondary options available to them,” Struchtemeyer said. “It’s just something I love to do.”
This passion for helping students succeed is one of the main reasons that RBHS boasts the highest average ACT scores in the district. While Struchtemeyer may have been one of the first teachers to get heavily involved in ACT tutoring, other RBHS teachers do their part in helping students prepare for the ACT, such as Angel Renick, who specializes in the math portion, and Melissa Wessel, who focuses on science.
The work that all of these teachers do to aid students has been shown to help greatly, with students improving anywhere from two to eleven points on the reading and English test sections alone, Struchtemeyer said. With the ACT’s scores being out of only 36 points, every single point helps, and monumental jumps in score can pay huge dividends to students.
“It really means a lot that Mrs. Struchtemeyer spends so much time helping me and other students to be able to do our best,” Benad said. “If you know that someone is willing to work so hard to help you improve, it makes you always want to do your best and make sure their efforts weren’t for nothing.”
Another advantage of these tutoring sessions is the one-on-one attention that students receive, said Sharon Salmons, whose son received help preparing for the ACT from Struchtemeyer.
“The individual attention was great,” said Salmons. “It really helped Earl focus on what he needed to improve on and brought his score up a lot.”
The help that Struchtemeyer and other teachers who tutor for the ACT offer can truly make a world of difference for students in providing them opportunities for the future, and while she receives supplemental pay for her time spent tutoring, the biggest reward, she said, comes from watching a student break through barriers to be able to accomplish a dream of being able to go to or afford college.
“I am always inspired by students who work to achieve their best score,” Struchtemeyer said. “I have worked with several students who would be the first in their family to attend college. Some are unfamiliar with the format of standardized tests — that it’s not about remembering everything — but rather knowing the structure of the test and correctly answering as many questions as possible. Many of these students start with a score in the mid-teens and end with a score in the mid-twenties. For some, this means that not only will they go to college, but they will attend free or at a significantly reduced rate. This is a reward all its own.”
By Sam Mitchell
Have you ever asked for help with studying for the ACT? Was the information provided beneficial to you?