Austin-East High School student Frank Burns receives ACT tutoring from Emerald Youth volunteer Mark Seeger, foreground.

Twenty juniors at Austin-East High School are gaining an edge for taking the ACT college entrance test through Knox County Schools on March 19 by participating in a pilot program offered in cooperation with Emerald Youth Foundation.

The Emerald Youth Austin-East ACT Prep Program provides 20 selected juniors with a range of skills to both succeed at this threshold exam and bolster Austin- East’s academic standing within the Knox County School System.

Christi Cardwell, Emerald Youth’s High School and Youth Adult Curriculum Leader, developed the course at the request of Austin-East in early fall 2012. Tammi Campbell, Austin-East Assistant Principal, identified 20 students who would likely benefit from the course, and invited them to commit to it.

“On March 19, the State of Tennessee pays for high school juniors to take the ACT, but a strategic framework for preparation or focused tutorial for high schools to utilize is limited,” said Ms. Campbell. This course was developed collaboratively based on researched practices and strategies for improving ACT scores.

The six-month long course meets twice weekly and provides students with one-on-one tutoring, a Princeton Review workbook, and data to track progress for them and their parents. Students meet for an hour and 15 minutes after school for group and individual tutoring time. On one recent afternoon, tutors Megan Gentry, Candace Cates and Mark Seeger worked with students on reading, science and math.

Campbell said the course helps remove students’ fear of taking the ACT as a first time test taker, and also strengthens academic skills they use in everyday coursework.

For students like Devonte Mack, who wants to be a lawyer, and Lannette Harris, who is interested in pediatric nursing, the course and an increased score could be a stepping stone to their career choice and broader college and scholarship options. Jackson McDowell hopes to turn his fascination with supply and delivery into a career in logistics.

Jarkeise Russell is pragmatic: “I just want to improve my score on the ACT so I can get into a better college,” he said.

Cardwell said that in addition to shoring up students’ academic skills such as math and reading, the course also teaches them the skills specific to excellence on standardized tests. These skills include scanning instead of reading every word, reading graphs and charts, using context clues to discern a word’s meaning, and organizing information.

“We teach them how to figure out how much time you have to answer a question. We teach them, ‘If you have to guess, how do you guess smart?’” she said.

Emerald Youth Foundation, 1718 N. Central St., is a 21-year-old ministry with Knoxville’s urban young people. Working through three key outreaches – JustLead, Emerald Youth Sports and Emerald Youth Fellows – it offers a holistic support system for inner city youth. Steve Diggs is Executive Director. More information is at