City couple helps students prepare to take their SATs

Posted: February 15, 2013

The Winchester Star

Kimberli Ball tutors Ryan Johnstone (clockwise from bottom) Eileen Wilkerson, Emily Smith, Allegra Zamore, Surika Absar and Sophie Lee to prepare for SATs. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Two long tables and six folding chairs faced a podium and a white board Wednesday in the living room of Kimberli and Scott Ball’s house on Whitlock Avenue.

On a nearby stand were a group of calculators, a cup of pencils and a large box of chips in case anyone got study-induced hunger pains.

Throughout the week, Kimberli, a 53-year-old part-time attorney, and Scott, a 50-year-old financial adviser, hammer home the ins and outs of the SATs through a prep course taught in the comfort of their home.

The course is targeted at both struggling and high-achieving high school students.

On Wednesday, six new teenagers showed up at the house ready for their first class.

“With the SAT, it’s a different ball game,” Kimberli said, delivering her warm-up speech to the batch of fresh faces. “It’s a different type of test. This is a test of what I call heavy thinking. You can’t be passive with it. You have to really use your brain during it.”

Kimberli first started tutoring in 2005 when her teenage son needed help for the test. Because she didn’t think he would want to sit down one-on-one with his mother, Ball ended up tutoring 13 students in her first group.

In 2007, Kimberli and her husband founded Forward Bound Student Services. She teaches the English and writing section, while Scott prepares students for the math portion.

“It’s a blast,” Scott said. “I’ve met hundreds of high-achieving, smart kids, who are motivated to do well. Generally, those are nice people to meet.”

Since then, Scott and Kimberli have served between 500 and 600 high school students in Winchester, and Frederick, Clarke and Warren counties, along with students in West Virginia. The Balls have also held classes through Skype for children of friends who live in Wisconsin and North Carolina.

This past October, 58 students took classes with the couple.

Each class is two hours long (for four weeks) or one hour (for eight weeks). Students receive about 30 to 50 minutes of homework a night. Eight classes and two full practice tests costs $435.

“For me, I needed the motivation,” said Surika Absar, a Handley High School sophomore. “I don’t trust myself to just study by a book.”

Sherando High School junior Joe Winn said the Balls have taught him tricks and strategies on how each type of question should be solved. He also enjoys the comfortable environment of their living room.

“It’s less stressful,” he said. “It’s like you’re at your house. You’re not in a jail cell with no windows and you’re being bored. It’s not like school, and I think that’s what I like about it.”

Handley junior Allegra Zamore is taking the class because she didn’t do well on her first SAT test.

“I want to see how much I can improve with a class under my belt,” she said. “It’s easier than a classroom. You’re in a classroom eight hours a day, so this is a nice change.”

Although it’s difficult to tell what kind of success rate the Balls have — students sometimes forget to call after they receive their scores — many of their past and present students are siblings of those who’ve already taken the course and received good scores.

Handley juniors Emily Smith and Eileen Wilkerson, who were both in attendance Wednesday, said their brothers took the class after not receiving the score they wanted on the first go-around.

After taking the test a second time, their scores improved between 80 and 200 points (the SAT has three sections and three scores, each on a scale of 200 to 800).

The Balls have also seen their students go off to colleges such as Harvard, the University of Virginia, William & Mary, Princeton, Columbia and Emory.

Kimberli said most of their students find out about Forward Bound through referrals. She said parents choose to send their students to the class not only to improve their scores but because it puts less pressure on them.

“They don’t have to nag their kids about picking up a book and studying,” Kimberli said. “There’s less friction between parent and child. And I’ve heard that kids don’t really complain about coming to our class.”

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com