Natchez students prepare for ACT

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 15, 2010

NATCHEZ — Lanny Acosta has been cramming high school brains with knowledge for 29 years to prepare for the college entance exam known as the ACT, so he knows how to look for student fact gaps.

“You have to watch them,” Acosta said.

“If their eyes don’t flash, they don’t know it.”

By lunchtime Wednesday, Acosta had 56 Natchez High School students in the Steckler Hall Multi-Purpose Complex band room magnetized to his teaching method by using a simple rule.

“I don’t let their eyes wander from mine,” Acosta said.

Since the ACT test is based on a broad range of knowledge, Acosta said he focuses on filling academic holes by observing students, and then zeroes in on students’ weaknesses.

Acosta said he started his workshop with reading comprehension and followed with science, adding Mississippi schools generally tend to fall short in science basics.

Senior Kevin Bailey, 17, said Acosta’s method kept him awake and focused.

Bailey said he took time out of his summer vacation to attend the workshop because he is “just striving to be successful.”

Senior Asia Green, 16, said Acosta does a good job of engaging her and her classmates.

“He’s fun and creative, not a boring person going on and on… He stops and makes jokes,” Green said.

Acosta said keeping a smile on his face and establishing himself as an ally — not an enemy — helps him keep students engaged during the two-day, six-hour workshops.

“If kids perceive a mug on your face, they can’t think,” Acosta said.

Green said she has taken the ACT once before, and has learned useful tips and knowledge she did not know the first time around.

For instance, Green said she learned she should read questions before the passage on the reading comprehension section of the test. She also learned hint phrases, like “according to” often reveal answers to true or false questions.

Acosta said students’ scores improve by 2.2 points on average after attending his workshop. The highest possible ACT score is a 36. He said at least 83 percent of students who take his course improve their score.

In addition, students at the workshop will receive free access to Acosta’s test prep Web site,

Athletic Director Fred Butcher, who moderated the workshop, said Natchez-Adams School District offered the workshop for the first time this year at no charge to the 68 students who signed up.

The workshop cost $7,500 in federal Title I funds, although Acosta usually charges $500 a student for the test prep workshop.

A former teacher and superintendent of Biloxi Catholic schools, Acosta, 67, said he feels compelled to continue teaching.

“I love what I’m doing. I’ve been retired for six years, but my goal is to get Mississippi not to be last,” Acosta said.

Sophomore Derrian Johnson, 15, who has yet to take the ACT, said the knowledge he will gain from the workshop will definitely give him an advantage.

He hopes to make a good score to better his chances of getting into the University of Southern Mississippi or Ole Miss, where he wants to major in sports medicine.

Green plans on going to a two-year college and then to USM to major in speech and language pathology.

Bailey hopes attend USM to major in criminal justice with hopes of becoming a narcotics detective.