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Murrysville man draws on experiences in starting SAT prep academy

| Sunday, July 27, 2014, 10:42 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Jesse Lee, seen here in Monroeville Monday, July 21, 2014, started the SAT prep program mySchooler Academy.

After searching the Pittsburgh area for courses to help his son, Jay, prepare for the SATs and failing to find a program that met his standards, Jesse Lee started his own.

Drawing from his own educational experiences, Lee founded mySchooler Academy and Education Consulting and put together programs designed to replicate the hyper-intensive study practices common in his native South Korea.

Lee moved to the United States from South Korea in 2000, earning a master's degree in information science from Carnegie Mellon University.

“A couple years ago I thought about it, that I just needed (to provide) that for college preparation,” said Lee, 46, who lives in Murrysville with his wife, Kyung, and son Jay, a junior at Penn-Trafford High School. “Originally we started this year in January: Saturday classes started at that point and then we just expanded them. Our students just needed more, so we set up doing a summer schedule for them.”

In Korea, university entrance exams are administered only once a year, with intense pressure on students to perform well.

“Like most Korean parents, my parents pushed their children into a mega-competitive educational system in Korea,” Lee said. “In particular, my mom was full of passion toward her children's education for the future.”

Because students in Korea have so much at stake based on their performance on the standardized tests, their study habits are extreme compared to Americans'.

“They spend most of their time – 12 hours per day at least – improving their academic skills or scores,” Lee said. “They go to the private learning center at 8 a.m. and get back home at 8 p.m. during the summer breaks. It seems weird but works well.”

The mySchooler Academy introduced its intensive SAT and SAT II summer courses this year. The nine-week SAT prep classes meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Winchester Thurston School in Shadyside. The SAT II course started July 1 and runs for seven weeks, meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the mySchooler Academy office in Monroeville.

“It's definitely an Asian perspective. In a lot of the bigger metropolitan areas in the States and abroad, this style of school, the intensive style, is readily available, especially in cities with large Asian populations,” said Grace Park, a mySchooler SAT prep tutor.

“It's a bit of an Eastern philosophy in terms of school prep,” she said. “It's very rigorous. You have to do a lot of practice, and it's a lot of hands-on instruction.”

Each day of SAT prep classes devotes time to critical reading, math and writing, with students striving to master 100 vocabulary words each session. Students are able to track their progress through review sessions and four practice tests throughout the summer.

In addition to the summer classes and weekend classes during the school year, mySchooler coordinates lodging and classes for international students during their schools' holiday breaks.

“My vision, and mySchooler's mission, is building better education for the future through teaching the next generation, touching the dream and transforming the spirit,” Lee said. “I am confident and looking forward to (mySchooler) having a successful performance in the business field soon. The mission is ongoing, and it's my life's long project.”

Although Lee, like any business owner, hopes his business succeeds financially, student growth is the ultimate measure of mySchooler Academy's success, he said.

“I definitely see him as an entrepreneur, but I also see him as being passionate about educating the kids,” Park said. “When you see him talking to the students, he definitely cares and wants them to dream big dreams and use this course as a way to get there.

“I think it's part opportunity, but mostly it's because of passion and compassion,” Park said.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913, or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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