Last year was tough on parents with school-aged children. It was tough on the students, too.
In Illinois, the school shutdown in March 2020 presented unprecedented challenges, with both parents and students having to adapt to remote learning and find ways to keep up with coursework.
Enter Academic Approach, a Chicago-based test preparation and academic tutoring company that prepares students for the next step in their academic progress. The company is celebrating its 20th year in 2021.
“I moved to Chicago from New York in 2001 with two goals: first, to provide academically enriching test preparation that raised both students’ tests scores and their academic skills,” says Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Academic Approach’s Founder and CEO.
“Second, to work with schools to provide creative programming and flexible access to students across a wide spectrum.”
While the company has been helping families and schools steer through the academic enrichment, test preparation, and college entrance process for 20 years, the last year has been particularly challenging.
“If we’ve been supporting families and schools through this journey since day one, well, this past year the journey intensified into Homer’s Odyssey, with families navigating the ‘Scylla’ of an uncertain admissions process and the ‘Charybdis’ of remote and hybrid school learning,” says Pietrafetta, who enjoys a literary allusion now and again. “Helping families navigate these new challenges offered new opportunities for us as a team and a business.”
There was so much demand for information from parents and students that Pietrafetta started an email newsletter, which continues to reach thousands of families. Academic Approach’s relationships with school counselors and other partners helped it keep apprised of key intelligence and trends.
“It was remarkable; people were so hungry for information. Everyone was locked down; they were at home, and they were curious,” Pietrafetta says. “That side of our business over the past year has greatly developed. We’ve increased our ability to do research, find information, and answer questions in consultation with families during a time when they really needed it.”
Losing a year or more of standardized testing, which can be used to track a student’s academic progress comparatively at a national level, will also pose challenges down the line. It will take a few years of testing to discern the impact.
“We don’t know what we don’t know, and we won’t until we get a look at a full year’s data and trends,” Pietrafetta says. “Standardized tests tell us if we are on track compared to grade-level expectations.
We won’t know how much the learning loss is until we get some of the reporting from future testing.”
For now, Pietrafetta says the events of the past year have brought Academic Approach’s mission into sharp focus, and in its 20th year the company will continue to pivot to meet the needs of parents and students during unpredictable times.
“Within the first week of the shutdown, we had immediate clarity about what our mission needed to be—helping students maintain academic progress,” says Pietrafetta. “Informational leadership, expert consulting, and academic, skill building, coaching, and mentoring—this was our focus and will remain our focus for the foreseeable future.”
Hinsdale resident Heidi Novatney says her children have seen academic improvement and success through Academic Approach’s programs.
“Our family has had a great experience working with Academic Approach,” she says. “They are professional and committed to helping their students reach their goals.”
Academic Approach is located in Lincoln Park in Chicago, Winnetka, and Highland Park, 773-348-8914, academicapproach.com.