Academic and College Advising Newsletter - March 2024

Academic and College Advising Newsletter - March 2024
Katie Gomulkiewicz, Dean of College and Academic Advising

Dear Parents,

Recently, Dean of Academic Advising Ayoleida Páramo and I hosted an event on executive functioning skills. Working one-on-one with students as advisors, we both often hear the same things, such as:

I don’t have too much homework, but I procrastinate.

I am diligent about homework but feel I struggle to show my knowledge on tests.

I do well on tests but have a lot of NTIs impacting my grade.

I get all my homework done but don’t get much sleep.

I am stressed.

I don’t have time to hang out with my friends.

Do those sound familiar? As parents, I have no doubt you have heard many of these same or similar statements from your child(ren), and as advisors, Ayoleida and I want to partner with you all to help support the growth of executive functioning skills in our students. Firstly, it is important to affirm that it is developmentally normal for teenagers to struggle with executive functioning skills at times. But the good news is that, according to the Harvard Center for Developing Children, no one is born with executive functioning skills, but we are all born with the ability to develop them.

So, what are executive functioning skills?

The Harvard Center on Developing Children defines executive functioning skills as “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” Some examples include focusing on relevant sights, sounds, and physical sensory information​, organizing one's environment or schedule​, and estimating time and effort necessary to achieve outcome. These processes of executive function can be broken down into three interrelated elements: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control.

Task List

When someone struggles with executive function, it can take many different forms but often can look like difficulty in planning and completing projects, trouble communicating details in an organized, sequential manner, and problems initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently.

What are organizational skills?

Organizational skills are the strategies and abilities that allow a person to improve their executive functioning. These skills relate to a person’s ability to manage their time, tasks, and resources. They involve the capacity to prioritize tasks, create and maintain systems, manage time efficiently, and avoid distractions to stay focused. These skills, like executive functioning, don’t come naturally and, although some people are organized by nature, anyone can develop organizational skills by dedicating time, effort, and attention. 

Bear Creek firmly believes that high school is a critical time for students to develop executive functioning and organizational skills that will allow them to plan and operate inside and outside of the classroom. Why? Developmentally, humans have three periods of increased executive functioning development, ages three to five, adolescence, and young adulthood, so this is the perfect time for students to practice and grow in this area. Additionally, executive functioning and organizational skills are critical for the expectations of independent learning in the college setting, so focusing on skill development now will benefit students moving forward in their education, career, and life.

To help support students with developing executive functioning skills and equip them with techniques for success, Bear Creek hosts a weekly study skills session after school on Tuesdays which is taught by Ayoleida.

In this newsletter, we would like to share some of the top organizational skills to help students improve their executive functioning.

Why are organizational skills important?

In the modern world where there are so many distractions and time seems to evaporate, developing good organizational skills has become more critical than ever. Whether you are a student, an entrepreneur, or a professional, the ability to organize your time, tasks, and resources efficiently can have a significant impact on your productivity, effectiveness, and ultimately, your success.

  • Organizational skills can help increase productivity and efficiency and achieve better results by prioritizing tasks based on their importance and deadlines.
  • Strong organizational skills help reduce stress and anxiety by setting realistic goals and breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Executive skills also help students use time wisely by allocating time to important tasks or activities and minimizing time wasted on things that may distract or create bad habits.

Practical Strategies to Improve Organizational Skills

1. Time Management

Establishing daily routines and schedules help a student to stay organized and maintain consistency. Students can use a planner (in manual or electronic format) to stay organized, making sure to include daily activities, medical appointments, as well as a family, social, and personal (self-care) time.

Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro kitchen timer

This time management tool was created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s to improve focus and avoid procrastination. (Cirillo named the technique pomodoro, or tomato in Italian, after the tomato shaped kitchen timer he used as a student.) Students split work into 25-minute intervals with a 5-minute break in between. To use this method, first decide what task to do. Set a 25-minute timer to work on it. When the timer rings, take a (timed) 5-minute break, and repeat until completing four pomodoros, then take a longer break (15 – 20 minutes).

2. Prioritizing

Maintain a comprehensive to-do list to track tasks, deadlines, and priorities. Break down larger tasks into smaller, actionable steps to make them more manageable. Start each day by identifying the most important tasks that need to be completed. Use techniques such as the Eisenhower Matrix or Tasks Lists to prioritize them according to their importance and urgency. It might be useful to maintain a task board to track progress and stay motivated.

Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower Matrix

Maintaining systems to keep track of information and materials allows a student to put together information in useful ways for papers and studying, avoid doing re-work, and save time in general. Maintain a comprehensive to-do list to track tasks, deadlines, and priorities and break down larger tasks into smaller, actionable steps to make them more manageable.

3. Organization

Having a decluttered, dedicated space can help minimize stress and avoid distractions.

A tidy desk

4. Study Strategies

Improve study skills and retention of information by practicing a combination of study strategies. A student should discover their learning style (visual aids, audios, flashcard, or group discussions) to determine the best study strategies for them.

Effective notetaking

Some useful study strategies are:

  • Effective Notetaking—Start by selecting a seat in class with the fewest distractions. A student should listen attentively and ask questions when things are unclear, then write the ideas/content in their own words. Write down anything the teacher repeats and notice verbal cues. Create abbreviations, highlight, or color code notes for visual impact. Make sure to review notes every night!
  • Check Understanding—Two helpful ways to check for understanding are:
    • The Blurting Method consists in writing down everything a student knows about a topic without stopping and organizing the information later.  Try to break down complex topics, ask questions to peers or teachers until you truly grasp the subject. Forming or joining a study group for collaborative learning is also very helpful.
    • The Feynman Method shows a student how much they understand the topic by teaching it in their own words to another person as if he/she were in sixth grade. Review and fill in the gaps in understanding adding more notes as needed.
  • Memorization—Some useful techniques are spaced repetition, quizzing, using mnemonics and acronyms, writing down what has been learned, and practicing active recall. Students should close the book and test themselves on their learning.
  • Active Reading—Requires the reader to engage with the text by asking questions, making connections, and summarizing information, so don’t put off reading assignments until the last minute and avoid reading in bed to keep from dozing off!

5. Avoid Distractions

Distracted by phone

The simplest solution in this day and age is for a student to shut down his or her phone! Other helpful ways to avoid getting distracted are choosing a study location conducive to study and creativity, using timed study sessions (e.g., pomodoros), using music without words (instrumentals, lofi beats, white noise, etc.), and studying without electronics, when possible.

6. Avoid Procrastination

It is critical for a student to reflect on patterns of procrastination and identify the underlying reason for this behavior. By understanding their tendencies and triggers, he or she can choose from the strategies above to overcome procrastination more effectively.

7. Review and Reflect

Students should review their progress regularly and reflect on their successes and failures to learn valuable lessons and adjust their strategies accordingly. Face challenges and difficult topics with a positive mindset and stay motivated by acknowledging a student’s achievements and celebrating their progress!

Mastering executive functioning skills is a journey rather than a destination. By adopting practical strategies, cultivating good habits, and staying committed to continuous improvement, anyone can enhance their executive functioning skills and unlock their full potential for success.

If you would like to learn more about supporting your child with executive functioning skills, then please watch this recording or review the presentation slides.

Summer Opportunities

There are many ways that grades 9 through 12 students can spend their summers, and we encourage students to use the time off to relax, spend time with family and friends, and also explore more deeply their academic and extracurricular passions. If your child would like to take part in a summer program or internship, there are literally hundreds of options.

Cambridge University

Here are a few starting points. Please reach out to Ayoleida (grades 9 and 10) or me (grades 11 and 12) if you have more specific questions about summer opportunities for your child. We also have multiple programs listed on the upstairs bulletin board in the Upper School for students to view.

Precollege Programs

A precollege program is typically an on-campus opportunity which includes a course or courses taught by professors. Often, the program will also help students prepare for the college application process. I encourage students to use these two questions to guide their research:

  1. What colleges I am interested in?
  2. What degrees am I interested in?

Here is just a short list as many, many colleges offering these programs.

  • Berkeley Changemaker Program
  • Rose-Hulman Summer STEM Program
  • Wake Forest Debate and Public Advocacy, Policy and Politics Programs
  • West Point Summer Leader Experience
  • Tufts Precollege Program
  • Launch Generation (University of Cambridge) Conference
  • University of Chicago Immersion and Enrichment Programs

Internship or Job Shadow Programs

Students who are interested in a particular field of study such as law, business, or medicine may find internship or job shadow opportunities available to them. They should spend some time researching online for programs, and I am happy to vet them for you. If you and your child aren’t finding anything, I can help you reach out to Bear Creek’s Office of Alumni Relations to inquire about job shadows within the community.

Internships in Medicine and STEM

Leadership and Service

Upcoming Events and Deadlines

Please mark your calendar and heed the upcoming deadlines. All these events and deadlines are listed on the School Calendar and in The Bear Facts each week where you can click the event title to learn more about each one.

  • April 29 – May 3: Senior Final Exams
  • May 7 – 16: Advanced Placement (AP) Exams
  • May 21: Deadline for Rescheduling Final Exams
  • May 28: Deadline for Scheduling Make-up Work
  • May 31: Deadline for Submitting Late Work
  • June 3 – 7: Humanities Project Presentations
  • June 10 – 11: Final Exams

If you have any questions, then please feel free to reach out to me or Ayoleida (


Katie Gomulkiewicz
Dean of College and Academic Advising

Upcoming Events

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Please read this newsletter with resources for families navigating the high school years and the college search journey. So we can better partner with parents, this month we provide a recap of our recent presentation on the Top 5 Qualities Colleges Want in an Applicant, links for booking advising appointments ahead of upcoming course selection, and information on a variety of summer opportunities for students.

Read More about Academic and College Advising Newsletter - January 2024