Academic coach comes to town near you

Denise Graham bills herself as an academic coach. What she actually teaches are skills needed by anyone who wants to be more successful at life.

An academic coach, she explains, is not the same as a tutor who reteaches and drills content the student didn't learn in class.

An academic coach teaches task analysis, critical thinking, prioritizing, time management, study skills and organizing binders or study spaces. She teaches students how to balance all their activities with the expectations of family, friends and teachers.

Graham likens it to soccer:

"Every kid can kick a ball, but not all kids know how to play the game. There is actually very little difference between the 'A' student and the 'C' student in terms of innate intelligence. But the 'A' student is better at playing the game of going to school."

Lifelong learning

Graham teaches teenagers how to play the game so they become lifelong learners. She does not focus on grades but on how to take knowledge, internalize it and use it most effectively.

These skills not only raise grades but help the student to enjoy learning. They make education more useful, make a worker more valuable and make a boss a better leader.

Teachers don't have time to teach each student these skills. The hope is that they will find them on their own. Often students who do their homework every night don't have the organizational skills they need to locate the work the next day and turn it in. Graham can help with that.

She also has to help parents and students understand that doing homework is not the same as studying.

Studying involves internalizing the information and being able to recall and use it when needed. Doing homework often involves copying an answer from the book and forgetting it while looking for the next answer.

Likes teenagers

Graham draws from her 16 years of teaching to make individualized plans for each student. She first works to gain each child's trust and friendship, then collaboratively works with that person to set goals and make plans to achieve them.

"A lot of people are scared of teenagers because they don't understand them," she says. "I really like teenagers and working with them.

"I am taking my favorite part of teaching -- working with teens - and leveraging that into a way of making a living. I assume that the student is going to be great and I am here to help them get there."

Academic coaching is relatively new in the United States but it has been popular in Asia and Europe for decades. There is a direct correlation between that and those students' academic successes.

Cost, time span

Graham charges $40 an hour but adjusts the rate for long-term coaching. Ideally she works with a student weekly for at least six months, she says, then checks monthly on the student unless the student feels he or she needs some more help.

Graham works with no more than 25 students at a time so she can focus her attention to meet the students' needs.

Graham moved to Sequim from British Columbia four months ago. She purposely picked a small town that could meet her personal needs.

When asked why she picked a retirement community when she was looking for children to work with, she replied, "Those retired people want doctors, specialists, dentists, nurses, knee surgeons.

All those people who help the retired people live their lives well want good schools for their children. These professional people understand the value of an academic coach. The stronger the school system, the higher the caliber of professional a community will attract."

Reach Dana Casey at

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