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  • Writer's pictureLisa Perkins

Natalia Knutson - "Ain't No Mountain High"

For centuries, people have looked to mountain peaks, yearning to witness the view from the top. Over time, pathways have been created by those who made it, in hopes of sharing the experience with others. Some paths are well-marked with signs in multiple languages, others require the traveler to notice cairns set up, denoting an important turn. As travelers, we try to enjoy the journey, knowing the breathlessness from exertion will soon be replaced by the breathtaking moment of success, when we can look out on all we’ve accomplished, basking in the warmth of our efforts. It is much easier to climb a mountain when the route has been laid out by others, courses clearly marked. But what do you do when you must climb a mountain without direction, when the traditional route is inaccessible and no one has journeyed the path before you? You take a step, and you ask for help.

Natalia came to us as a high school graduate from an elite school (top 1.5%) in Warsaw, Poland. While a model student, earning high marks and the highest score in the nation on a geography test, her pathway to college was challenging. Instead of entering university in Poland, Natalia hoped to enroll in an American college to study hospitality. Unfortunately, Poland does not use the class ranking system, nor is its GPA weight analogous to American schools. This made applying difficult. Luckily, when Natalia puts her mind to something, she is relentless. When she sees an un-climbable mountain, she brings a machete and climbing gear.

I was fortunate to work with Natalia over the summer and fall as she prepared for her SAT. As her mother says Natalia is “good-hearted, very supportive of her loved ones… [and] her smile gives a spark of energy and light to our home”. During our time together, I’ve found her to be all of those things, as well as thorough, focused, detail-oriented, a fighter, and determined. She is extraordinarily kind, thoughtful, and gracious. She works with her brain, heart, and guts 100% devoted to the task at hand. She listens, digests information, and analyzes short-comings. She is a beautiful combination of self-learner and disciplined student. In addition to her private tutorials with Avant Garde - College Prep Services (which included pre-tests, curriculum/instruction, homework, guided practice, benchmark tests, etc.), Natalia also worked through her own additional practices, hoping to close her language gap. While her family occasionally speaks English at home, their primary language is Polish. Thus, reading for comprehension on a standardized test is quite challenging. She worked tirelessly to increase her reading speed by re-reading her favorite books in English - she highly recommends Harry Potter. Her efforts paid off, and she was able to increase her testing speed significantly, and her overall SAT score by 300 points. Not only were her scores high enough to get accepted to multiple universities on her list, they also put her in scholarship range. After months of intentional practice, Natalia was well on her way to navigating her own scholastic mountain. And let’s take a moment to reiterate her success: she increased her score on the SAT by 300 points!

Working with students like Natalia is very rewarding - they bring motivation and discipline to the table. When asked what she found most helpful about her AGP experience, Natalia said she was most grateful for having a place to start, with clear directions and expectations for increasing her math and verbal skills. She knew she had the drive to accomplish her goal, but without prior knowledge of American Standardized testing, she was unsure how to get started. Avant Garde - College Prep Services has worked to create a road map for the SAT that is easy to navigate, clear in purpose, and digestible for a variety of students. Natalia did an amazing job of working through the curriculum with consistency, which allowed her to climb her academic mountain. We were excited to help her reach the top, and know that she will be unstoppable in all of her endeavors.

What is next for Natalia? She will study Hospitality at the University of Houston, where she will be close to her American family - cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. She is excited to be near family, and to have an opportunity to study a field that she feels gave her so much as a child. Thanks to her extensive travels growing up, Natalia believes the hospitality industry has the ability to create memories and make lasting impacts on the family unit. One day, she hopes to manage a hotel in Italy, working to ensure that the small details come together to create magic for families on holiday.

Until then, we would like to offer you Natalia’s Top 5 Must Visit list:

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Rome, Italy

New Orleans, Louisiana

Auschwitz Concentration Camp Museum, Poland

Disney World, Orlando, Fl

And, I must say, I love that her list includes culture, history, play, and adventure. We are excited to watch as Natalia navigates her life, unlimited.

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