If you can’t find what you’re looking for, create it yourself. That’s the advice Jesse Lee of Murrysville followed.
When Mr. Lee’s 16-year old son, Jay, entered his junior year at Penn-Trafford High School last September, Mr. Lee knew it wouldn’t be long before the teen would start applying to colleges. That meant taking the SAT, the standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States.
"I looked around the Pittsburgh area for an intensive study program that helped prepare students for taking the SAT exam but didn’t find any that satisfied what I wanted for my son," said Mr. Lee, 46.
Mr. Lee had been through an intensive study program himself while a student in his native South Korea. He and his five siblings went through the rigors of taking the program during summer break from school — a program that started at 8 in the morning and continued until 8 at night five days a week.
"About 95 percent of the students in South Korea attend college, and close to 70 percent take the intensive course, hoping to get into an upper level school comparable to an Ivy League university in America," he said. "Less than 10 percent of all the students, however, get admitted to the upper level schools, which is why competition in South Korea’s version of the SAT is so fierce. In the U.S., the SAT is given seven times a year but only once a year in South Korea, which adds a lot more pressure on the prospective students."
Mr. Lee arrived in the U.S. in 2000 and studied information technology at Carnegie Mellon University. He has worked as an education consultant since 2007.
Realizing the value of the intensive study program — he was admitted to an upper level college in Seoul — he decided to give his son the same opportunity in the U.S. In January of this year, he enlisted a group of students and alumni from Carnegie Mellon to begin tutoring his son and he opened mySchooler Academy, modeled after the intensive study practices available in his native country and open to any student who planned to go to college.
By May, six students had joined his son in enrolling in the academy. They attended the school’s Monroeville site from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each Saturday for tutoring in writing, math, vocabulary and critical reading. In June, Mr. Lee initiated an advanced nine-week program headed by Grace Park, a Monroeville resident and CMU grad with 11 years of experience tutoring.
The SAT prep classes meet from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Winchester Thurston School in Shadyside. The SAT II course started July 1 and ran for seven weeks, meeting from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in the mySchooler Academy office in Monroeville. The cost of the course is $2,000.
In the study program, the students learn 300 new words a week using WordSmart 12, an SAT-prep vocabulary-building program.
"We also pull information from the Princeton Review and Barron’s and Kaplan’s educational prep books, but our main text is ‘The SAT Study Guide’ by the College Board," Miss Park said.
The mySchooler Academy students are periodically tested and evaluated, and full-length practice SAT exams are given every other Saturday. The evaluations and tests allow the tutors to focus on each student’s weakness and put more emphasis on areas that need improvement.
Miss Park said all seven of her students had improved by an average of 400 SAT points since taking the program.
“Big metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Washington have similar intensive programs," Mr. Lee said.
"This is the first of its kind in the Pittsburgh area — an Asian-style, high intensity program," Miss Park said.
Mr. Lee’s son, Jay, plans to take the SAT in March and hopes to attend medical school.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer; email@example.com.
HOMETOWN: Seoul, South Korea
OCCUPATION: Education Consultant/SAT Prep CEO
EDUCATION: Studied in Information Science/IT Policy at Carnegie Mellon University
FAMILY: Wife, Kyunghee; son, Jay
WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU: "Whatever I do, I try to do my best; such an attitude is most important to me.’’
FIRST JOB: Researcher
AND WHEN YOU WERE A KID, YOU WANTED TO BE: Professor, public servant, lawyer
HOBBIES: Reading, Internet surfing, touring, gardening
READING MATERIAL ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND: Bible, IT-related magazines, some poems
WHAT’S PLAYING ON YOUR TV: News
WHAT’S ON YOUR PLAYLIST?: Blues
FANTASY CELEBRITY DINNER DATE: My family
FANTASY PARTNER ON "DANCING WITH THE STARS": Julia Roberts
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE: Harrison Ford
PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW: I am doing SAT prep now.
GUILTY PLEASURE: Ice Cream
IF YOU HAD IT TO DO ALL OVER, YOU WOULD: “Try a different career.’’
FAVORITE SPOT IN THE WORLD: Thousand Islands in upstate New York
BEST USE OF A $100 GIFT CARD: Buy books
PROUDEST MOMENT SO FAR: ”When I met my mother in the U.S. four years ago for the first time since I left South Korea 14 years ago.’’
GOALS: As my motto, "Live well, love much, laugh often."
WHAT’S ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?: “Travel to Europe (Italy, France, Germany, England). Expand and grow mySchooler Academy. Build a local community cultural center for Koreans. Publish my own poems and books. Visit South Korea at least once a year.’’