Shauna Cahill tutors Andrew Bowen-Albo, a junior at Mountain Pointe High School, last Thursday at her home. Cahill runs The Successful Tutor and provides organization and study skill tips for Ahwatukee Foothills high school students. Aug. 12, 2010 Brian Johnson/AFN

If local tutor Shauna Cahill had her way, every high-schooler in Ahwatukee Foothills and beyond would know how their school's grading system works, how to plan for homework and, perhaps most important of all, know how to study for tests.

In a word, students would be organized.

"I have one kid that I've been working with, a real gang-banger type," she said. "After working with him a while, he's just a different kid because he can pass now and he knows he can."

Cahill, who keeps her client list to less than a dozen students a year, has been helping area students from middle to high school for the past six years. Some of the students come from overachieving families that want their kids to get into the best college. Others are half way through a semester and have done poorly on a recent test. These students, dubbed by Cahill as her "triage" kids, need help immediately.

"Everyone gets a lot out of it," said Cahill, who operates a home business, "The Successful Tutor" out of her Ahwatukee home.

In a recent workshop for students and parents, titled "What It Takes to Succeed at High School; Organization and Study Skills," Cahill spent a couple of hours teaching families the keys to her approach. She stresses a partnership between parent and child because, as she told workshop participants, "you don't want them asking you for money when they're 40." Among the workshop highlights were:

• Grading System: Cahill said students need to understand the "40-40-20" system used by most schools to assign grades. The two ‘40s' are the result of in-class tests from the two halves of a quarter, while the ‘20' is homework. More important, she said, is that students must understand what they need to get on each test in order to achieve whatever final grade they desire. Otherwise, Cahill said, students can find themselves hoping a high final test grade will pull the overall grade out of the dumps, even if it's not mathematically possible. "I'm really big on goals," she said.

• Homework: While the degree of difficulty with homework varies with subject and teacher, Cahill said both students and parents need a systematic approach for homework so that assignments aren't missed and it doesn't become a mad dash to catch up. She recommends that Sundays be used to plan homework for each day of the week and that parents supervise weekly planning and daily completion until students consistently get it done. "You must have at least one hour of homework every night," she said. "You have to get in that habit." In addition, Cahill said most schools have homework assignments online, which helps greatly in planning.

• Study Skills: Cahill laughs when she recalls an important study skill she learned in seventh-grade from an English teacher because her classmates thought she was a lot smarter than she really was. Instead, Cahill said she used the flash-card method that she learned to do well in her schooling, as well as to turn its basics into something she now teaches. Cahill said the beauty of flash cards is not only do they help students figure out a lesson's main points, but students can later use the cards they have made themselves to study for tests. "I promise you if you use these flash cards you will not fail tests," she said.

Cahill said parents have asked her to teach additional workshops, which she is planning for Aug. 21 and Sept. 25. For information on The Successful Tutor services, or to register for an upcoming workshop, e-mail or call Cahill at or at (480) 794-0177.

Cahill said perhaps the greatest benefit of doing well in school for young people is its life-long impact: "When kids don't do well, their self-esteem plummets. (But) when they do well, it's not just for high school, it's not just for college, it's for life."

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