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Mindful Mentor

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Written by Lauren Hunsberger

Photography by Mary Dee Mateo

When Arthur Emery was in college at Western Washington University, he worked in the tutorial center to pick up some extra spending money and possibly help a few people along the way. Much to his surprise, a single interaction with a struggling student changed his entire life.

One day he got to work and there was a student hanging out, waiting for him. The young man riffled through his backpack and, completely elated, produced a math test with a big red “93 percent” on it. Emery had tutored him, and he wanted to say thank you.

“I’ve never seen anybody be so proud. And I thought: This guy is going to walk out of here and change the world today. What else will it give him the confidence to conquer? For what else will he think: I can’t do that, and then realize he absolutely can,” Emery says.

The experience followed Emery long after he graduated from Western and subsequently Northwestern University law school. Once done with school, he found nothing came close to giving him that same feeling of fulfillment—not even the prospect of working at a law firm. Shortly after, he opened Learning Professionals in Bellevue.

He says he knows it was the right move for him.

“There is a unique amalgamation of pressures happening right now with students, and they aren’t always equipped to deal with it,” Emery says. “They have different and more intense pressure points we didn’t have growing up.”

He says those pressure points include a range of social, athletic or extracurricular, and academic factors.

“The perfection piece is especially deep and pervasive. I’ve had kids tell me: ‘I’m worried I’m going to do poorly on a test, and then do badly in the class, and then not get into college.’ So they are approaching every test like it is life or death. And it really weighs on them,” he says.

This pressure is producing a sharp rise in test anxiety that is undeniable. Emery approaches helping students in two ways. First is to make sure they are prepared with the correct technical information (i.e., learning formulas and facts). Emery and his team of tutors specialize in teaching all levels of math and science, history, English and essay writing, Spanish, French, ACT/SAT test prep and more. But he often finds learning the facts isn’t the hard part or the reason why most students don’t perform as well as they would like. Usually, it’s more about nerves.

“We’re there for the whole student. We don’t tutor just for answers; we tutor confidence. We focus on giving them more confidence in their own skills, feeling less stress and pressure,” Emery says. “We joke that we’re mini life coaches—we elevate tutoring.”

Emery teaches numerous ways to help kids get through those anxieties and perform better in testing situations. He prepares them with breathing and mindfulness exercises to employ mid-test, and has myriad ways to show them that as long as they prepare well, they will succeed. He also recognizes the other pressures kids are feeling that might be affecting their performance.

“The whole social side of school . . . we can’t begin to comprehend how hard it is right now with their phones and social media. The bullying is so rampant and insidious, and they don’t get a break from it. It follows them home from school,” he says. “Add on the pressure of a packed schedule, getting into the right college, and these are all big things they’re facing. As adults we don’t always understand what that blanket feels like, but I can tell you it’s heavy. We have to think about all of it because you can’t isolate one cause.”

Emery says anxiety and depression are, without a doubt, on the rise and often lead to poor results in the classroom. Mental health among students is an important subject for Emery.

Starting this September, Emery will act as president of the Bellevue Schools Foundation, the organization tasked with fundraising for Bellevue public schools, and one of his main missions is to champion anti-suicide and mental-health programs. He is currently working to raise nearly $300,000 for an in-school, anti-suicide and mental health awareness program for Bellevue public schools. He also began a separate fund, the Leslie Deming and Blake King Scholarship, named after his mother, Leslie, and college friend, Blake, who sadly took his own life after struggling with some of the same pressures. The fund was started in partnership with Jesse Franklin and the Bellevue-based Rainier Athletes organization.

“I work through multiple avenues to help kids, and it’s a culmination of a dream of wanting to help others, wanting to re-create that feeling from that first guy who was waiting for me with his math test,” Emery says. “I’m in a privileged position to be able to affect students’ lives.”

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