Meet a Student: Jamie

What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. I really enjoyed reading about the struggle of the various characters during the Dust Bowl and how the characters confronted an environmental challenge.

If you were a teacher, what subject would you teach?

If I were a teacher, I would teach math because I love numbers and the fact that there is a procedure to follow to solve each problem.

What have you learned about yourself as a student since you started with tutoring?

What I have learned about myself as a student since I started with Smarten Up is that I am capable of handling the rigors of a mainstream high school workload. This has especially been true with Ben’s support and encouragement. He has motivated me to believe that I am capable of anything to the point that I decided to take AP Environmental Science. Not only has Ben helped me, but Karla and Brendan have supported me tremendously as well. Karla helped me get through Honors Precalculus and Calculus and boosted my math confidence and abilities to the point that I want to take Calculus I in college in the fall. Finally, Brendan helped me to overcome my testing struggles on the ACT.

Since this month’s focus is on productive summer breaks, can you tell us about one summer you’ve had that was particularly impactful?

One summer I had that was particularly impactful was last summer, after junior year. It was impactful because I took an intensive two week pre-college course at Marist College in Environmental Studies. The semester course happened in just two weeks, therefore, we had high school length of classes and a college load of work. The schedule was so structured to the point that it was difficult to complete all of my work, especially the reading. However, I was able to use my studying skills and willpower to finish everything and get to bed at a reasonable time. I also learned how to live in college dorm for two weeks, which was not too difficult since I lived in a dorm for 4 years in middle school. The best part of the experience was that I found an even deeper passion for environmental science, and loved my professor. He took us on trips including going camping, to a water treatment plant, and on an old boat. This set me up perfectly for AP Environmental Science. 

Outside of school, what do you like to do for fun?

Outside of school, I enjoy exercising like going to the gym or for a run. I also enjoy being immersed in entertainment and culture so I can take advantage of all New York City has to offer. I enjoy going to the movies, museums, concerts, broadway shows, and restaurants. I also enjoy the outdoors like going for walks, playing golf, biking, and hiking.

How do you like to prepare for a test?

I like to prepare for a test by making a Quizlet for key terms, reviewing old assignments, notes, and assessments. I also like to rewrite the definitions or say them aloud in order to commit them to memory. I sometimes make mnemonics to remember terms. For math, I usually just practice problems of a particular concept repeatedly until I understand this process. This can be done for studying for any test in order to commit it to memory.   

What is your favorite word?

My favorite word is mashugana, which is a Yiddish expression meaning something that is crazy or strange.

What is one goal, big or small, that you have for the next year?

One goal I have for next year is to become more of an independent learner, especially since I am starting college in the fall and living away from family.

Meet a Tutor: Olivia


Tell us a bit about yourself! Where are you from originally, and what brought you to New York?

I was born in New York City but I moved to Costa Rica at a very young age and spent my whole life there. My parents run a bed and breakfast and coffee farm in a town called Heredia, near the cloud forest. It was very rural and very fun; I spent most of my childhood with animals: horses, dogs, cats, rabbits and a pet squirrel called Sammy. I came to New York right after college as I was interested in film and theater, and haven’t left since!

What was your favorite subject in school? 

I loved literature, both English and Spanish. I lived in a pretty vivid fantasy world as a kid and reading was always my favorite way to fully inhabit those worlds and make them my own.

Is there a particular lesson or concept that you remember learning very clearly, either because of the way that it was taught, the way you came to understand it, or the way it changed the way you look at the world? Tell us about that experience. 

I had an English teacher in high school who spoke mostly in spoonerisms and never taught what was on the rigid curriculum. At the time, most of my classmates thought that he was a little looney, but the truth is that he was teaching us to think about language in a different way. We were encouraged to read and write in the most creative, expressive way possible and to make up words if they were part of the world we had created. In a system that often teaches language in a very rigid way, having a teacher who talked to us about the meaning of life and used language in a way that demonstrated other means of expression, really opened me up to appreciate literature and philosophy in a way I might not have without him. Mr Goldfinch was indeed loony, but only because he wanted to create a generation of free thinkers and totally unique loony creatives. 

What is your favorite book?

I have so many favorite books but I love anything by the author Wallace Stegner. Other favorites include Justine by Lawrence Durrell, Middlemarch by George Eliot and I have a lot of love for great fantasy novels I read in my youth like, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, The Chronicles of Narnia and anything by Ray Bradbury.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to every student reading this?

Express yourself however you can! Whether it is through writing, reading, acting, singing - finding something that is all your own and not dependent on the validation of others is the best way to really figure out who you are and what makes you happy! Spending time coming up with stories, no matter how weird, is also great for your critical thinking!

What’s your favorite word? 

Oh, that’s a hard one! I guess I love the word HALCYON. It sounds mythical, like a half bird-half human… and the word feels warm. I also like LANGUID and SANGUINE; I guess I just miss the slow-moving optimism of the summer (also, I love the sound of those liquid ‘u’s).

Imagine a prominent author has been hired to write your biography: what would the title be? Write us a one-sentence tagline. 

“Living Life Out Loud (and in Technicolor)”

Captivated by the human experience, Olivia has spent her life learning from and exploring a wide array of cultures, mediums and and flavors in an attempt to Live Out Loud!

How do you spend your free time?

I love to act, both in theater and film and I love to write. When I’m not tutoring I am watching movies, dancing, reading, eating and going on auditions for various projects!

What does learning mean in your life?

For me, life is learning - I approach everything I do as learning and in this way am always excited about new experiences, new people and new hobbies. The thought of having a conversation with someone from a totally different background and upbringing is incredibly exciting to me- I want to be pushed to think about things in new ways and to learn about humans across all walks of life. 

Meet a Tutor: Ben


Tell us a bit about yourself! Where are you from originally, and what brings you to New York?

I’m from the green Pacific Northwest, originally, but I came east to Boston for college, and then, after a year in England, to New York. In addition to teaching, I work as an actor and writer in the city.

What was your favorite subject in school? 

English, probably, or history, and then foreign languages when those began—I had the chance to study abroad in France in high school, and my favorite teacher at home was in German. My parents are both math teachers, though, so I ran the gamut. I wound up majoring in Comparative Literature, with a minor in Environmental Science and Public Policy.

Is there a particular lesson or concept that you remember learning very clearly, either because of the way that it was taught, the way you came to understand it, or the way it changed the way you look at the world? Tell us about that experience. 

I’ll swing over to my inner biology nerd for this one, because I have a very clear memory of learning about the concept of the planet’s albedo in high school—the ratio of sunlight that is reflected off the earth’s surface and how it influences climate—and understanding for the first time some part of how the Earth works almost as an organism on a macro-level, a complex web of interdependent living and non-living actors and environments. That technical lesson helped me zoom out on the globe and see myself as one small piece in the wider puzzle of life on Earth.  

What is your favorite book?

I’ve never been good at favorites, so I’ll just say that right now I’m reading The Quiet American, by Graham Greene, and enjoying it.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to every student reading this?

Curiosity is your most important tool; find a way to make whatever you’re learning interesting for you, personally, and don’t expect that it will always happen automatically. 

What’s your favorite word? 

Still not a fan of favorites, but how about ‘tintinnabulation’? It means ‘a ringing or tinkling sound,’ and I’ve always enjoyed that kind of onomatopoeia, when the sound of a word conjures up its definition. 

How do you spend your free time?

I like to escape into the great outdoors, when it’s possible to get away from the city for a bit — and I also find fresh air playing pick up soccer on the weekends. 

What does learning mean in your life?

I try always to be learning, and to pass on my love of learning to others; I’ve seen how learning can transform the way I see the world, and I never want to stop. My dad recently retired after thirty years as a public schoolteacher, and this year’s he’s been learning Dutch (in preparation for a trip abroad) and how to build a wooden kayak. That’s a model I can aspire to!