By Chelsea Khakshouri
On any given day, you can find a group of Harvard-Westlake students occupying Sally Shultz’s (Brian ’11, Eric ’08) dining room, spending several hours taking practice SAT exams. Upstairs, Shultz is seated in her black chair with a bowl of candy to her right and stacks of practice SAT materials organized in shelves behind her.
On Monday afternoons, Sunday mornings and afternoons, another group hangs out at the Fatburger on the corner of Beverly Glen and Ventura Boulevards, taking a break from their AP Physics B tutoring sessions at Dynamics Education Center in the strip mall across the street. Because their tutor, Sammy Sands*, works at another private school, he prefers for his name not to be published.
Shultz and Sands are two of many tutors who work with students after school and on weekends to prepare for SAT exams and keep up with class work. Shultz tutors the critical reading and writing sections of the SAT as well as the essay portion while Sands tutors students in math and science.
“Since I follow the curriculum at Harvard-Westlake, the writing skills translate directly into the classroom,” Shultz said.
Sands started tutoring in 1991 and founded Dynamics Education Center in 1999, where Harvard-Westlake students are tutored in SAT, SAT IIs, physics, calculus and other subjects. More than 20 students taking AP Physics B see him weekly.
“[Sands] is a magician,” Austin Sherman ’12 said. “He can turn a struggling physics student into a PhD.”
Shultz said she tutors 30 to 40 Harvard-Westlake students. She said that what drew them to her were her clients’ consistent scores. This year, she has two students with perfect scores on the SATs, several National Merit Finalists and dozens with 800s in individual categories, she said.
“I have been so lucky to have [Shultz] as my tutor,” Emily Persky ’13 said. “She helped me to improve more than I could have imagined, and what she taught me has not only helped me with my SATs but has also helped me improve my work and test taking skills in all of my classes at school. Even now that I am done with my SATs, I still love going over to her house because we all became such a family.”
Shultz uses “Structured Reading,” a technique she has developed for over the last 20 years.
“Structured Reading provides an organizational template for both the critical analysis of the passages and the logical argument for the essay,” Shultz said.
As a former Harvard-Westlake parent, Shultz understands the curriculum and culture of the school, she said.
“Junior year weighs so heavily on my kids that we need to get through the year together, as a team,” she said. “That’s why we share bowls of chocolate, hot cocoa in the winter, shaved ice in the summer, pizza after major practice tests and laughs that can be heard in the next zip code.”
Shultz emails what she calls “Vocab in the News” to her students and their parents three to five times a week. The emails contain an article with a bolded vocabulary word defined at the bottom. Her new vocabulary rap “Genius in Training” will be available on iTunes soon.
“My students proudly text me when they know the vocabulary on tests or in classroom discussions,” Shultz said. “It’s oddly exciting.”
“[Shultz] would bring the lessons to life by making them personal,” Natalie Epstein ’12 said. “I honestly looked forward to every lesson from someone who was both a wonderful tutor and a wonderful friend.”
Sands, a native of Burma who moved to the United States in 1987 and to Los Angeles in 1989, has his own way of teaching math and science, he said. His technique, the “master key,” simplifies each chapters’ major concepts and aims to give students confidence to tackle any problems they encounter.
When Sands took physics in the seventh grade, it was very difficult for him to understand the teacher, he said.
“I started thinking that there must be a better way to understand physics,” he said. “I started breaking it down step by step, saw the common steps in all the chapters, filtered out the guidelines and now call it the ‘master key.’”
Sands is also known for making jokes during class, which he says helps the kids stay attentive.
“I am like a performer, and students are my audience,” he said.
Sands hopes to start an online tutoring service which he hopes will one day reach students all over the world.
“I would like to spread my method to all kids, not just those that can afford it,” Sands said. “Teaching is in my blood. It’s my passion.”
*name has been changed