Spending your summer studying for the SAT is not what most students have in mind when planning their summer vacations. Images of the beach, amusement parks, and waking up late are the typical teenage summers. Instead, 13 dedicated students participated in this year's UTS College Prep and SAT Intensive held in Barrytown, NY from July 5-July 14. Five young men and eight young ladies were the first to participate in the new program. With the theme of "Faith, Character, and Aptitude," the program's goals were to raise the participants' SAT scores, strengthen their sense of identity, build confidence, and encourage each student to have a clear purpose in pursuing higher education. With these goals in mind, the 13 students together with Dr. Noda and the staff had an incredible journey.
The First Day
Anxious parents began bringing their children to the registration table shortly after lunch. Most of the students were unsure what to expect. Will my friends be here? Would it be boring? How will I survive the next ten days? In handing out the SAT textbook, the size of the Yellow Pages, some students were clearly aghast at the amount of work that lay ahead. They cautiously went to their dorm rooms but were clearly surprised by the very accommodating and recently renovated dormitories. They would quickly get to know their new roommates and for the rest of the week would be inseparable.
Dr. Dan Davies, Vice President of My College Advisor, began the program with an enlightening presentation on what colleges and universities are actually looking for in their applicants. Beyond grades and test scores, schools are looking for well-rounded individuals who have the potential to contribute to the school and society. Many parents were delighted to know how to find the money for college and20manage the winding roads of the admissions process.
Connecting with the purpose of the program, Dr. Noda stressed that many brilliant people throughout history have used their talents selfishly and caused so much pain to humanity. Without a central focus and an understanding of one's core beliefs, it becomes easy to disconnect from God's purpose in our lives.
Students came from as far as California, Texas, and Massachusetts while others came from nearby Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. For many, it was their first time to ever visit the UTS campus in Barrytown; for some it was their first time in NY. Taking a guided tour of UTS, the students became aware of the historical significance of the seminary as some of their parents had been there years ago. They visited the Labyrinth, walked Father's trail, and came to the spot where Father would often pray.
To end our first day, each student gave a brief introduction. With a hint of hesitation in their voices, it was clear that they were still unsure of what the week would bring but felt assured that they would go through it together.
Math and Verbal
Twenty-five minutes - ready, set, go! The beeping sound of the timer would begin most of the sessions as the students delved into each section of the SAT test. Pencils moved with frenetic speed as the pages turned and the calculators clicked. The timer would beep again signaling the end of the practice session. With the dropping pencils came the groaning sounds of students unable to finish yet eager to see how they scored. From the sounds of frustration and despair, it was clear from the beginning that a review=2 0would be needed in both the math and verbal skills. Over six hours a day would be dedicated to reviewing for the SAT.
Mika Kuwahara served as the math instructor. A recent graduate of Clark University in Worchester, Massachusetts, Mika's passion for teaching clearly stood out. With a major in Biology and a minor in Mathematics, her love for math would lead her into teaching. She is pursuing her master's degree in education from Bridgeport University later this fall. Her desire to make sure that everyone clearly understood the difficult math problems resulted in very thorough math review sessions. She asked students to share how they arrived at an answer and many could learn from each student's unique method. Each passing day brought a new sense of confidence and greater efficiency in solving the SAT's tricky math questions.
Sergio Alcubilla served as the verbal instructor. He graduated from UTS this past May with a master's degree in Religious Education; currently, he is working towards pursuing his law degree. He majored in both Economics and Political Science at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. As the verbal instructor, he wanted to make learning the rules of grammar and new vocabulary words as much fun as possible. Gone are the days of overhead projectors and simply writing on the blackboard. Today's students are technologically driven and they responded better to interactive PowerPoint presentations and meaningful games. The students will long remember the new vocabulary words they learned using some very unorthodox methods.
Tommy Noda served as the essay instructor. He graduated summa cum laude this past May from Boston College with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Faith, Peace, and Justice. This September, Tommy will begin law school at Boston College. Writing essays seemed to be the most difficult section for the students. On the SAT test, a specific topic is given in which students have 25 minutes to write a well-organized and thought out essay. Tommy was stringent in his grading; as a result, many students could clearly see where they needed improvement. In the beginning, some could only manage one or two paragraphs within the 25 minute time period. In the end, they could see a drastic improvement in the quality of their writing as they grew more accustomed to the time constraints.
There was practice test after practice test on the material, and it was taxing to do the work almost non-stop....However, I am now completely fine with and used to the layout of the SAT...
-New York, Junior
I believe that through the multitude of timed practice tests that we took, I learned through my mistakes and my scores were raised considerably from the beginning of this SAT intensive. My scores improved, especially how I approach the essays.
-New York, sophomore
I also really liked the instructors. They were more like older siblings teaching than old teachers.
Still getting to know their new friends, many found it difficult to sleep early as they would talk late into the night. Nevertheless, with the summer sun quickly rising, most were awake and ready before the early morning HDH. HDH began in the lecture room but would eventually move to the beauty and serenity of the main chapel. With the sunlight beaming through the stained glass windows and the birds chirping in the morning calm, Father's words could be read with a feeling of peace and meditation.
One morning, the students took to Father's trail to be taught by Mother Nature herself the mysteries of God's creation. Walking the very path that Father walked decades ago, they stopped to read the many plaques commemorating a special time and place where Father taught. With the scenic Hudson River as the backdrop and the natural beauty of the trees breaking the early morning light, the students would read HDH with a newfound appreciation for God's creation.
To end each day, students were asked to take time to reflect and write their experiences in a journal. For some, it was the first time to write in a journal. Taking the time for personal reflection required some to be more introspective while others would seek evidence of God's presence throughout their day. As the week progressed, students would take closing the day more seriously. With Mika's guidance, the group eventually began to sing Holy Songs to prepare their spirits. At first it was done to calm the teenagers' raw energy still bubbling over from the day's activities. With so much energy channeled instead into singing and praising God, the chapel came to life. God's presence could surely be felt in the beautiful voices echoing through the quiet halls of the seminary.
My most memorable experience was hoon dok hae at Father's Trail. Father's Trail was very beautiful, especially in the morning and reading Father's words by the lake felt very refreshing. Another very memorable experience was the scavenger hunt. I felt like the activity really broke the ice between us and I really learned more about UTS.
-New Jersey, Junior
Opening and closing usually stood out for me. It made me always start my day with a new step and new words to take in. Closing usually made me reflect on the day and report things to God/Heavenly Father of how or what we did that day. It always made me feel like there was a reason for those days and even today, that I should report it to Heavenly Father.
Each eveni ng a UTS professor came to speak on a range of topics pertaining to faith and academics. Dr. Andrew Wilson shared a personal testimony on the academic journeys of his children. He emphasized that each person is a unique individual blessed by God with certain abilities. Further, he stressed that the path one takes in going to college and pursuing a career will be different from others but that knowing your identity will be your roadmap.
Dr. Michael Mickler expounded on the program's theme of faith, character, and aptitude. He likened it to the Unification Thought view of education as being one of Heart, Norms, and Dominion. Whereas Heart is universal, Dominion requires one to find that specific talent that God has imbued and to develop it as our specialization.
Dr. Kathy Winings shared on the importance of managing one's faith, time and passion while on the college campus. She told stories of her college experience in which her environment tested her in many ways, from partying to smoking marijuana. Yet, through it all she had a clear sense of who she was and who she wasn't. This rang true for many of the students as they are often confronted with this dilemma and understood that it will intensify as the go on to college. She implored each student to, "...listen to God" with both their hearts and minds.
Dr. Tyler Hendricks, UTS President, sought to bridge the divide between faith and academic life. The divide between religion and science, faith and reason is one that has plagued people of faith for centuries. However, with a clear und erstanding of the Divine Principle, Dr. Hendricks stressed that the conflict is not inevitable. He encouraged the students to be self-disciplined in their studies, active in their learning, and true to themselves
The students were treated with a special visit from world-renown singer Seiko Lee, whose son John was participating in the program. She shared a personal testimony about how God guided her to True Parents through her music. Yet, through it all she was willing to give up her music until she realized that her music was God's gif t and that she should use it for a greater purpose. With True Parents encouragement she began to use her beautiful voice to bring people closer to God. The students were held in awe as she sang each song as if the lecture hall was a professional opera house. From songs she wrote herself to songs from timeless children's movies, all were moved by her special offering. So much so, that some were inspired to go on stage and sing.
The evening came to an end with an unexpected birthday song for students with July birthdays. Naomi Iwamoto's mother even brought in a delicious ice-cream cake to celebrate. The students took the initiative in making each birthday special with cards they made themselves. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful evening of music and culture.
Six hours a day of reviewing vocabulary words and mathematic formulas can be taxing for any student, especially on a warm summer day. After finishing the day's lessons, the students were eager to get out and enjoy the natural beauty of Barrytown. With rolling hills, fish-filled ponds, and the view of Hudson River in the background, the place was begging to be explored.
A scavenger hunt was just the perfect opportunity for students to expend their pent up energy as well as see who was paying attention during the UTS tour. The students were divided into two groups and off they went. From finding Mother's Trail to finding who won the UTS Speech Contest in 2008, all the students became so involved trying to beat the other team that they were soon drenched in sweat. In the end, it was a great way to work together as a team and get to know one another outside of the classroom.
One unintended result of the scavenger hunt was that both teams had difficulty finding Mother's Trail. With the torrent rainfall in the month of June, the trail became so overgrown with grass that the trail marker could no longer be seen. It was the ideal service project! With clippers, rakes, and a lawn mower, the students went to work. Pulling, cutting, and pushing away the overgrown grass until the marker for Mother's trail could be seen. Despite the hot July sun and a few interesting critters along the way, the students were proud of what they had accomplished. Not only were they able to leave the place better but they could also give something back to the small Barrytown community.
On the final evening of the program, the students gathered one last time as a group before leaving to home the next day. The campfire flickered in the cool, starry evening in sync with the lightning bugs surrounding the small gathering. With the beating drum and strumming guitar, the students sang familiar camp songs around the fire. Marshmallows strewn on thin twigs softened in the fire as the students eagerly awaited the "smores" that were being made. With camp songs filling the air and marshmallow smores being quickly devoured, many wanted to stay the entire night enjoying the festive atmosphere. However, a sense of sadness overcame the songs of joy as they realized that this would be their final night together and they didn't want it to end.
The fact that we were such a small group made our bond so much tighter. We had two birthdays during the week and we spent all our breaks secretly making cards. In the end, we wrote cards for each other and basically we were all really close. I had so much fun and I wish I could have stayed longer. This was one of my favorite experiences in my life! I'll miss this atmosphere, I'll miss this experience. I'll miss us.
-New Jersey, Junior
The games stood out for me the most. Maybe because I love games, but every time we played games-even on the first day, I felt a sense of peace and un ity....My time here really helped me open up to my brothers and sisters.
-New York, Sophomore
Ten days after leaving their children at UTS, anxious parents were overjoyed to finally see them again. Many were surprised by how much their children enjoyed the program. A few students confessed earlier that their parents had "tricked" them into participating. It was now apparent that they were grateful for their parents' prodding as they had an unforgettable and worthwhile experience.
Mr. Naokimi Ushiroda, representing the FFWPU Education Department, came to hear from the students and impart some words of wisdom from his own college experience. Mr. Ushiroda shared fascinating stories from high school and answered a few interesting questions. The group shared some of their reflections from throughout the week ranging from why they came to what they enjoyed the most. One constant factor that was evident in the reflections was the sense of sharing true kinship between all the participants. Although many came from different communities, everyone could develop a true sense of family.
In preparing for the SAT's, most felt confident that what they learned throughout the ten-day program better prepared them to succeed on the test. From early morning sessions of studying vocabulary and grammar to the late afternoons of drilling mathematical equations and formulas, they were now more confident in taking the SAT's. In addition, with the guidance from Dr. Noda and other UTS professors, they could see the greater purpose in doing well in school and pursuing their passions.
As their parents looked on, Dr. Noda presented each participant with a UTS Certificate of Completion. Despite the congratulations and sense of completion, all knew that the real test would be in continuing their study once they were home. Nevertheless, beyond all the test preparation and college guidance, they will never forget the lasting friendships and memories that they made. They could experience what it truly meant to foster one's faith, grow in character, and develop in aptitude. The lessons learned here will go far beyond the SAT test.
My most memorable experience was probably just getting to know everyone and getting to become good friends in such a short period of time. I'll never forget this camp or the people I met here.
- California, Senior
I think this program really helped improve my SAT score. Not only did I learn new things, I learned how to apply them in my life...Now that I see how beneficial a little studying can be I am really determined to work hard and improve my scores and studying habits.
-New Jersey, Junior
This program was definitely effective towards studying the SAT's. It made me feel that maybe I have more hope now to get the score I want to get.
Thanks for the amazing experience here. I'm sure my high school experience will change drastically because I came here.
- New York, Sophomore
This program was effective in helping me with the SAT because it reviewed all the skills that I would need to take the SAT....
-New Jersey, Junior
A Reflection by Mika Kuwahara
I would like to take a moment to express my deepest appreciation for being given the chance to be a part of this new 'pioneer' project and for having the opportunity to mentor and guide such amazing young minds. As someone who is aspiring to go into the educational field for high school math and science, I felt this program provided an exciting glimpse20of what my time would be like working with this age group in the future.
While in the classroom, the degree of mathematical 'teaching' was actually a bit unexpected for me. At first, I thought the students would be more or less proficient in math and would only need additional supplementary tutoring. However, I quickly realized while some may have been proficient in the field, others needed a lot more engaging. I feel within the limited time we had together I offered my best and made sure to help the students thoroughly explore the math review section provided by the book and to get some practice test questions tackled and solved as well. Unfortunately, if we had had a slightly bigger class it would have allowed us to separate classes according to mathematical skill and if we had had more days to go over the material, I feel the participants could have gotten more out of the mathematics section.
On a more spiritual note, I was also asked to play a role in the internal/ spiritual education of the program by organizing hoon dok hae each morning and closing meeting each night. I feel the reason the spiritual component was so successful for our group was because, although we engaged in these traditions faithfully and consistently, they were performed on a consensus basis and with everyone involved and contributing. The first few nights and mornings the group met in the main lecture room, but soon afterward, as everyone felt more comfortable about expressing themselves, we began to meet in the chapel. Eventually our closings included singing and bowing to our True Parents, not as something forced but as something very natural and per request by participants. We also engaged in a service project to clear out a very overgrown 'Mother's Trail;' a contribution the students thought up themselves and really took initiative over.
I felt in every activity, whether recreational or intellectual, the students were engaged to the fullest. Perhaps this was because the total participant number was small enough to accommodate for such an intimate group. I feel in the end; however, it was their mindset and pure motivations upheld by the young participants that allowed their minds and hearts to be fully open and ready to try new activities, overcome personal challenges, and grow. The participants walked away having gained new friendships and I feel a deeper sense of their value and a desire to contribute something great for God and humanity in the future. I feel the evening programs in which our qualified UTS professors could share about the joy and power of experiencing God while climbing the ranks in the world of academia were very effective in broadening all of our mindsets to pursue a life of mastery both in the internal/ spiritual level as well as academically.
If I were to be a part of the planning for a second SAT Intensive next summer or perhaps this winter, I would include more daily, rigorous physical exercise in the program and allow participants to engage in more activities that entice their creativity. Dr. Noda mentioned combining discipline and exercise into the program through incorporating martial arts. I feel this would be effective as well as any other sport played on a more sophisticated and professional level.
Thank you to God, True Parents, and Dr. and Mrs. Noda for granting me such a rewarding experience. It is the greatest of offerings to be able to give back to my younger brothers and sisters and to help them see their value and potential from God's eyes, as well as to gain a deeper understanding of God's parental heart and love personally. Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to learn so much!