In eighth grade, Ahwatukee Foothills students begin preparing for the rigors of high school with stiff penalties for late and missing homework. Consequently, many students see their grades drop from A’s to C’s or, worse yet, D’s leading them to the path of failure. As the years progress, the problem worsens culminating in students and their parents giving up; believing that a lack of test taking skills or similar reason justifies the poor performance.

After years of tutoring high school students, I can assure you that every student will overcome their perceived challenge quite easily after learning what it really takes to succeed: strong organizational and study skills. Fortunately for Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista students, their teachers provide a wealth of tools to assist in developing these important skills. Parents and students unfamiliar with these tools, and those who want assistance in finding a system that works, should attend my seminar “What It Takes to Succeed at High School” on July 31 or Aug. 7.

Until then, parents should use the summer to introduce these valuable skills. Have your kids keep a personal calendar. Any time your family or students make plans, have them write it down. Assign weekly responsibilities with due dates, requiring students to put this in their planner as well. Talk with them about upcoming events and due dates so they think about how to best manage their time.

Students should also have a big project that will take the entire summer to complete. Grade school children need practice writing stories that have a beginning, middle and an end. Therefore, working on a book for which they can make a cover, title page and illustrations makes a great summer project for kids at that age. High school students should work on something related to college and future aspirations. Consult the Internet or private college planner for an appropriate assignment.

To make sure students find great success with these projects, sit down with them and discuss how they will break the project up into small manageable tasks. Then, allow them to determine reasonable due dates for each of those tasks. To make an impact, ask students how they will hold themselves accountable for completing each step of their project on time.

Parents can also teach study skills over the summer. Because students cannot do well in math unless they have memorized basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts, provide math flashcards for your student to study. Start with addition cards, requiring students go through them for 10 minutes in the morning and in the evening. On the weekend, quiz your student, allowing them to go to the next level once they can get through their stack within five minutes.

Students soon realize that flashcards make it easy to memorize and recall facts quickly. When school begins again, add 3-inch-by-5-inch unlined note cards to your school supply list. With these cards, students can make their own flashcards for all of their classes. Students who use this new study skill on average see their English and Spanish vocabulary test scores jump 20 percent.

While every student needs a good foundation in the big three, reading, writing and arithmetic, without strong organizational and study skills, all students will hit a wall eventually, whether in high school, college or the real world. No student will ever realize their full potential without these necessary skills.

Take the time this summer to ease into these new habits so that by the time school starts, your kids will be ready to use the tools MPHS and DVHS provide to earn the grades of which they are capable.


Shauna Cahill is a tutor, college planner and high school life coach in Ahwatukee Foothills. Contact her at (480) 794-0177 or at to register for her seminar, “What It Takes to Succeed at High School.”

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