December Spotlight —Barbara Conner, Director of College Counseling, Foxcroft School
Method Test Prep Spotlight seeks to highlight MTP clients, friends, and acquaintances who are doing amazing things in education. For each installment of the Spotlight, we will select a dedicated individual or organization to profile, and will then interview the awardee to share their story. Through the Spotlight, we hope to develop a bank of successful experiences and practices for other schools and educators to learn from.
Happy Holidays from Method Test Prep! We hope our readers have been enjoying time with their families and are safe and healthy. As 2020 draws to a close, it’s difficult to adequately express our degree of admiration for all the school personnel who have persevered through the COVID-19 outbreak to provide invaluable services to students and their families. We will, however, try to do so anyway by shining the year’s final MTP Spotlight on a dedicated educator who has continued her critical work helping students navigate a changing college admission environment due to the COVID pandemic. Barbara Conner, Director of College Counseling at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, has risen to the occasion, showing just how impactful our educators can be.
Prior to arriving at Foxcroft in 2011, Barbara worked at West Potomac High School of Fairfax County Public Schools. Having worked in both large public and small private settings, she made it her mission to achieve equity of access for all students when assessing ACT and SAT prep tools. Barbara’s search led her to Method Test Prep's online ACT and SAT self-paced program, which, she was amazed to learn, could be provided to students in all class years for less than half of what some families spend for a single child's prep. She felt that the program’s 24/7 access was ideal for motivated students, who could work on their own schedules and at their own pace. She also appreciated the inclusion of both ACT and SAT material, as she believed students should prepare for both exams. This philosophy aligned well with Method Test Prep's belief that students who don't consider both exams are missing out on an opportunity to improve their college admissions standing.
In order to get the most out of Foxcroft’s subscription to our online program, Barbara meets with freshmen to help them create their MTP accounts and walk them through the program’s features. She strongly recommends that the students start using the ACT side of the program, as it closely hews to the freshmen and sophomore curricula at Foxcroft; later, she suggests students switch to the SAT side of the program during the summer leading into junior year. The innovative approach emphasizes a long-term commitment to prep, which carries with it many advantages. Introducing ACT and SAT prep early on as a part of students’ daily or weekly routines relieves much of the anxiety attendant to the tests: increased familiarity makes for far less intimidation. Reducing ACT- and SAT-related stress is a core goal of the MTP mission. By splitting prep work into manageable 15-minute tasks, we lower the barrier to progress. Barbara reports that this approach helps students build considerable confidence and allows her very busy students to engage with test prep on their own terms. She believes that it’s not unreasonable to ask freshmen and sophomores to spend five to ten minutes per day and juniors to spend ten to twenty minutes per day within the program. Barbara also reports that work within the MTP program pays off in a purely academic sense: "I can't believe how many times students have come to my office to let me know that the items they had done in MTP were discussed in class that day and [that] they were excited they had already practiced the concept through MTP!"
Barbara remains engaged with student progress by using administrative reporting features within our program. But she knows that real success is achieved by getting teachers involved and properly coordinating the messaging to students. She found that MTP’s training sessions helped foster teacher buy-in and provided helpful information about the program’s reporting tools. Barbara uses the reports to identify students who have answered the greatest number of questions, mastered the greatest number of concepts, and have excelled on a number of additional metrics. She then goes above and beyond to reward the efforts of those students with college prize packs and other swag she collects from conferences, college fairs, and campus visits throughout the year.
When we envision an engaged, competent, informed, beloved, and fully invested counselor at a school, Barbara is the kind of educator we imagine. Barbara shares that "working with teenagers is such a gift. I am honored to work with students at this important time in their lives. Helping them learn more about themselves, understand how they learn best, identify their goals, and build a roadmap to achieve them...it is so rewarding to be part of their journey, and I feel like I was built for this work." Having spent some time with Barbara and understanding the interactions people on the MTP team have had with her over the years, I don't think we could have said it any better ourselves. Knowing that educators like Barbara are still working hard in schools every day is reassuring and invigorating: it instills confidence that when students are in caring hands, schools are the best place for our children to learn and grow.
More about Barbara Conner
What are your biggest challenges?
Time: there are far more opportunities for programs, speakers, panels, sessions and events than we have time for and it can feel frustrating. The possibilities are both wonderful and exhausting at the same time. Our goal is to use the time we have with students and families in the most productive and efficient ways possible. I write articles for weekly newsletters to all families as well as targeted college newsletters to parents of seniors, juniors, and international students on a regular basis. I receive hundreds of emails weekly from colleges and want to share this with students and families, which can be a challenge. These targeted newsletters help accomplish this goal of keeping students and families engaged and informed.
How do you like to spend your summers or vacation time?
I've spent every summer of my life on Cape Cod. Being an Army brat meant that we moved every 2 years or so. We lived all over, but the anchoring time of our year arrived with each summer when we would spend time with cousins and extended family at my grandparents’ house on the Cape. This summer ritual continues into the fifth generation for our family and is an invaluable, grounding, connecting force for each of us.
What are your hobbies?
Reading. Yoga. I spent 10 years as an organizational consultant for small companies and individuals and love to organize and plan things. I also love all things West Wing. In a typical year, I also spend time visiting college campuses, typically visiting 20-30 campuses each year. I love learning more about the opportunities available to students on college campuses as well as connecting with my college-side friends and colleagues.
If you would like to nominate an individual or organization working with MTP to be considered for a Spotlight Award, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line Spotlight. Please also share this story with people in education as well as with parents and other interested parties!