Part 3



Re: Jake Pullman

Parents: Evelyn & Terry Pullman

Siblings: 3 brothers, 8 yrs. and twins 5yrs.


Jake is a 10-year-old fifth grader in a Montgomery County Public School. In my initial meeting with him, he presented as a sensitive yet a strong-willed young man with greatest interests in athletics and video games. He had a litany of reasons explaining his poor performance in school, the most significant being the participation in three sports teams with several evening practices per week and weekend games. Jake resents Mom’s checking up on him and strongly believes he can manage his school work on his own.

Jake’s mother, Evelyn, first contacted me concerning his unsatisfactory performance in school. She and Jake’ dad, Terry are worried about his ability to move forward in school and  report the high level of stress Jake’s attitude and performance is having on family dynamics. They would like to see Jake more committed to his studies and achieve above average grades.

I found Jake to be over programmed and pressured to perform with excellence at every task. He responded well to gentle stroking of his ego and was quite open to sharing this feelings. Although initially he resisted the idea of help from an outside source, when I suggested he humor me for our initial meeting and try to keep an open mind, he agreed and played Jenga with me while I slipped in ideas to help improve his organization and study skills. By the end of our second game, he warmed to my ideas and thought he’d be willing to try a few sessions with me.

Talking with Jake’s teachers, I learned he was very social and well liked by students as well as teachers. His academics, however, were struggling.  He was behind in every subject except PE where the teacher raved about his athletic prowess. All the other teachers reported assignments were often late or never submitted. When they were turned in, his work was careless and illegible. I asked about extra support time within the school day, and all of the teachers expressed willingness to help Jake if he would seek them out. We also discussed the possibility of disregarding missing assignments and moving forward with the new ones.  Almost all of teachers agreed, except for math and Spanish. Both of these teachers explained their subjects were cumulative, prior units are the essential building blocks to each that follows.


  1. Build organization and study skills
  2. Reduce family stress


  1. Set aside regular study time and place.
  2. Video game time is to be earned. (Not to exceed 1 hour on weekdays)
  3. Reduce after school sports commitment to only one basketball team.
  4. Jake is to keep his room organized,
  5. Seek help from all teachers and
  6. Drop Spanish in exchange for a study period.
  7. Set aside one night per week for family dinner
  8. Meet with academic coach twice a week for first month until patterns are established. Then move to once a week maintenance until Jake can manage on his own.


I will send a monthly report to you via email updating Jake’s progress. Should you prefer a hard copy, I am happy to send my reports via traditional mail.

Note, this coaching program is a tool designed to help Jake build his organization, study skills, resourcefulness and independence. Therefore our ultimate goal is to see him manage on his own. 

Please review this report thoroughly and sign below if you approve of the plan and are prepared to move forward. If you would like to further discuss any part of this report, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to working with all of you.



Jake Pullman


Evelyn Pullman


Terry Pullman



This plan was sent to the Pullmans via email 3 days after our initial meeting, and I was a bit surprised by their response. Nothing. For six days no one uttered a word by phone or email. On day seven Evelyn finally phoned. I sensed a nervous tic in her voice as I listened.  They were ready to turn Jake’s skill building, room organization and school work over to me, and they would try to have weekly family dinners. There was a long pause filled with her growing uneasiness, small coughs and whispers in the background. I thought I knew what was coming but was surprised when she blurted, “Jake’s not willing to drop Spanish.”

“And?” I asked certain they’d been stressing over more than the Spanish in my report.

“Well,” there was more throat clearing and the whispers grew louder. I was suddenly muted from the conversation on other end of the phone until Terry’s voice came on the line.

“The truth is, Jake refuses to give up either basketball team. You don’t understand, he’s the best player we’ve got…”

Oh, I understood alright and recognized the disappointment dropping a team would mean to Jake and to Terry. Now I paused. Over programmed kids is a pet peeve of mine and cutting back on their extra curricular activities is usually non-negotiable.  But I knew basketball meant as much to Jake as it did to Terry and to their relationship. I also knew the one thing Jake needed most was time. Time to catch up in math and Spanish, time to build his skills, time to organize his room, time to do his homework, time to play basketball, and time to spend with his family.

A quick recapitulation and an adjusted plan was agreed upon. Jake would exchange Spanish for  a study period, thus giving him 4 free periods a week to do homework, catch up in math and meet with teachers for extra help when needed. He would also drop indoor soccer until we all agreed he had time to spare. He would continue with basketball as scheduled as long as he made adequate progress towards reaching the goals. I would send monthly reports with updates from Jake’s teachers as well as my own evaluation of his progress.

Later that same evening a beep from my computer alerted me to the email with the attached report signed by all three of the Pullmans. I slept well that night and I think they did too.


The Jake Pullman Story


Chapter 2


While Evelyn, Terry and I met privately, I sent Jake off to write a short story for me to later evaluate his writing skills.

Settling into the club chair facing Jake’s parents, I noted the tension in their body language. Evelyn sat at one end of the living room sofa with a decorative throw pillow clutched to her abdomen, and Terry sat at the other end with his arms locked tightly across his chest.

I smiled reassuringly at both of them, but before I said a word, Terry asked, “So can you save our marriage?” And Evelyn’s eyes welled with tears.

The mood was familiar and the question was not new to me. Often parental stress of dealing with their children’s academic challenges can lead to martial strife. I let them know they were not alone and with proper tools in place Jake would be successful. The anxiety level visibly deflated, and the door opened to a practical discussion.

Yes, Jake was struggling with incomplete assignments, poor test grades, low self-esteem and a rebellious attitude. Every day a new building block was added to the leaning tower of failure, not only for Jake but his parents who believed in quite different strategies in dealing with the growing family angst.

Evelyn began checking the school’s online progress report daily. Confronting Jake every day when she returned from work about the latest report of a poor grade or missing assignment. Terry threatened, “No summer camp,” if Jake didn’t end his lying and bring all his grades up to at least B’s. They both saw the ineffectiveness of their behaviors and welcomed advice. Terry  jokingly asked if they could just pass their son over to me and have him returned him after he was “fixed”.

That not being an option, I asked my usual questions regarding schedules, homework time, extra curricular activities, and family time. I learned Jake currently was a member of an indoor soccer team and played on two different basketball leagues, both of which his dad coached. I try to remain nonjudgmental, especially when listening to parents proudly espouse their child’s talents. But I was obviously unable to hide my alarm, and Terry grew defensive. These teams were of utmost importance to him. Jake excelled at sports. His success made Terry a proud  dad and no doubt added to Jake’s self-esteem which clearly was needed.

But so was a balance. Homework time was definitely limited and family time had all but disappeared. With Jake’s permission I shared his answer to my question, if you could have one wish: “A family dinner together at least once a week.”

After a short wide-eyed pause by each of them, I nodded as Evelyn and Terry were interrupting each other with excuses. Work schedules, business meetings, sports practices, picky eaters, orthodontist appointments, speech therapy, math tutor… And their one wish: To have a simpler life like when they grew up. Less schedules and more family time.

I summarized our discussion and closed listing three ultimate goals: Jake’s academic success (not to be defined by all B’s), a more comfortable schedule for all and regular weekly family time. They nodded in agreement, but eyed each other with disbelief. Then I laid out the initial steps of my plan.

  1. Evelyn would stop the daily checking of Jake’s academic report. And Terry would cease his idle threats.
  2. Instead, Evelyn would notify Jake’s teachers that they had hired a coach who was now responsible  for Jake’s academic concerns. She was to share my contact information and encourage them to communicate with me.
  3. I would set up either a group or individual conferences with Jake’s teachers to introduce myself and hear their evaluations of his progress.
  4. Jake’s extra curricular sports would have to be cut to no more than two days during the week.
  5. One night each week was to be set aside for family dinner.

There was some grumbling over the cut in sports and even the weekly dinner, but I held firm to these requirements if they wanted to work with me. I would send a full evaluation and agreement later in the week for them to review. And I encouraged them to carefully think about the commitment, discuss it between themselves and with Jake before each of them signed the agreement.

There are many academic coaches in the area to choose from. It’s a buyers market. And it’s most important that you choose one you and your child can comfortably work with. 

The Fall & Rise of Jake Pullman



As a change in blog format for the New Year, I’ve decided to follow a case study. The clients are fictitious composites of people I’ve worked with through the years  and the story is a  compilation of their experiences. But the issues and solutions are real and offer my best advice to readers. Please join me each week as I reveal the process,  the struggles and the ultimate rise of Jake Pullman.

Please feel free to write in your own stories, questions and problem solving methods. I’d love to hear from you. We learn best by sharing. I can be reached here through the blog or my email:


The Fall & Rise of Jake Pullman

Part One: The Evaluation

Evelyn the mother of four boys sat hunched over a throw pillow on her living room sofa. Tears filled her eyes. Terry, her husband, sat at the far end of the sofa with his arms locked tightly across his chest. I had just finished meeting with their son Jake, the identifiable cause leading to the call for my help.

Evelyn had called three weeks prior talking through what sounded like stifled tears. Jake’s second quarter report card apparently sent the family into great conflagration. Unbeknownst to his parents until receiving this report, his grades had plummeted in everything but PE where his progress remained stellar. Rattled by the news and nervous he was headed for disaster, she asked the school counselor for a referral who sent her to her me.

I listened sympathetically to the angst and asked my usual preliminary questions.

Grade in school—5th.

Previous difficulties—speech therapy in second grade.

Prior psycho-educational workups—none.

Siblings- 3 brothers, one age 8 and twins age 6.

Obvious strengths— athletics

Weaknesses—reading, writing, organization.

While Evelyn was quite forth coming on the phone with information about Jake, she often referred to her husband’s impatience, insensitivity and misunderstanding. I sensed marital stress might be brewing. Just wasn’t sure which came first. I agreed to meet with Jake to make a evaluation of my own, and added I would need to meet with both parents during that same visit. I could feel the tension in her voice and the conversation abruptly closed with her saying that might be difficult. She’d have to get back to me.

This was not an uncommon response. Often organizing everyone’s schedule for what appears might be an unpleasant airing of family secrets delays the initial encounter. Evelyn called two weeks later and asked if we could meet at 6:00 PM the following Monday. Aware of the challenge in making this commitment, I accepted and agreed to meet them at their home seven days later.

I walked up to the house picking up the newspaper sitting on the front walk. After ringing the bell, I heard voices calling to one another from behind the door but no one answered. I rang again. The door opened. A tall attractive women dressed in a navy skirt and matching jacket stood with her hand outstretched. “Barbara?”

“Yes, nice to put a face with a voice.” I reached out and shook her hand then handed her the newspaper. She took it immediately yelling into the emptiness surrounding us, “Justin, didn’t your father tell you you’re suppose to bring in the paper every day.” Then turning back to me she shrugged. “Sorry.”

Making mental note, I shook my head indicating there was no need for apologies. She seemed unable to move from that position, so I suggested we get started. “I’d first like to meet with Jake where ever he does his homework.”

“Oh,” she stared back wide eyed. “Well, he usually does it in his bedroom, but it’s not fit for visitors, if you know what I mean.”

“No,” I said. I’m not sure I do. Is it messy?”

She cleared her throat and uttered a short nervous laugh. “Oh, yes, I don’t even go in there anymore. I can’t get him to clean up and now I just make him keep the door shut.”

After making another mental note, I agreed to meet with Jake at the kitchen table where his younger school aged brother had already completed his homework.

Two little boys yelling for mommy came running into the foyer where we still stood. Again Evelyn nervously apologized unnecessarily for their dirty faces and excited behavior. While she tried to introduce us, they were much more interested in knowing if they could eat another cake pop which they each now held their hands. “Yes, she told them, if you call your brother Jake to come up and meet with Mrs. Hurwitz.” They ran around the corner, opened a door to what appeared to be the basement and yelled for Jake while scrambling down the steps. Evelyn led me to the kitchen.

After several minutes with no sounds of Jake coming my way, I suggested I get situated while she retrieve Jake. It took another five minutes before Jake shuffled into the kitchen trailed by his mother lecturing from behind. “Oh yes you will young man. And if you ever expect to play another video game again, you’ll cooperate.”

“Hi, Jake.” I stood up to greet him. “This’ll be painless, I promise,” I said. I turned to his mom who stood wringing her hands and rolling her eyes and asked her to just give us a few minutes alone. I had the game Jenga already set up on the table, and Jake zeroed in on it instantly.

“Oh, I know that game,” he said acting disinterested but pulling out a chair to join me.

“Oh, but have you ever played the champion of Bethesda?”

He look at me through a frown and puzzled eyes.

“Yeah, me,” I told him. “Do you think you can beat me?”

Jake and I became friends that day. He told me things about himself and his family he might never have told anyone else. And I assured him what he told me remained only with me unless I had his permission to share or I feared he might be in harms way. We shook on the deal, and I asked Jake to tell his parents I was ready to meet with them.

He exited the kitchen door leading to the dining room, and I smiled, pleased with our progress and the confirmation whispers slipping through the closed door. “Yeah, she’s nice.” After a few more mumblings three smiling faces entered the kitchen together.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the evaluation.