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The following is a personal essay by long-time Academic Coach Mike Cerro that launched a company tradition – the Pencil Story. 

What’s a Pencil Story? A “pencil story” is an opportunity for a tutor, a director or a staff teammate to share a moment or time period when Private Prep’s mission and ethos – Learn to Thrive and Culture of Caring – are actualized. We enjoy hearing stories of success and feel proud to share them with our community.

Ilana was a really bright student, though she struggled with confidence and self-esteem. She found the timing of the ACT difficult to manage, causing her often to lose focus. She did a much better job in a calm setting with me and without the pressure, but she was really anxious about not having emotional support during the actual test. I thought to myself, maybe if I see her the day of the test, or as close as possible, I could help her calm her nerves and get into a positive state of mind.

On the morning of the April ACT, around 7:45am, I met Ilana at her testing site with a surprise that I thought would help get her in the zone. I had saved the pencils I used to take my SAT junior and senior year of high school. I gave her one of the pencils and wished her the best of luck. Just before the test, I reminded Ilana that if she felt anxious or nervous, she should look at the pencil and remember that I was once in her shoes and that on my test day I had overcome that same anxiety. I wanted her to feel comfortable taking the test knowing I was there to help her in some way.

Well, Ilana aced the ACT, improving 22% over her practice scores! When her ACT scores came in and she shared them with me, I don’t know who was cheering louder – her or me. She asked to keep the pencil, and I found out later she proudly displayed it in a cup on her desk at college, where she majored in psychology. I feel great about her achievements and honored that I was able to be part of her academic and emotional journey.

Michael C.
Academic Coach
Resource Development Director 

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The Original Pencil Story

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