Arnav Dharmagadda

How does a student halfway through high school with at least a mild form of test anxiety manage a perfect score on his ACT?

Ask Arnav Dharmagadda, who recorded an insurmountable 36 in his first true try.

“You’re allowed to take the ACT more than once, but I wanted to get it over with,” Dharmagadda said. “I get stressed out for tests. … Preparation is important. It’s definitely harder when you feel like you haven’t done everything to prepare.”

With COVID cases ramping back up and affecting just about everything this summer, the now-junior at Russell realized he had a bunch of free time which he decided to use wisely. He took about 10 practice ACTs in preparation of the real ACT in July. Back in seventh grade, he had his first crack at the ACT as part of a talent-search program, but “it wasn’t like the high school ACT,” he said.

Dharmagadda, who moved to Russell from Lexington as a third-grader, is now gearing up to lead a seminar on the ACT as part of a new program launch on Saturday, Oct. 9.

“This is our kickoff to Building a Stronger Foundation in Education,” said Norma Meek, a community volunteer and retired educator who is an avid student advocate.

Back in the summer, Meek announced her three-tiered vision for the Ashland Area YMCA program: preschool play groups, elementary tutoring and middle/high school “social student lounges.”

Dharmagadda is one of the handful of students on the 25-member task force Meek handpicked.

Meek discovered Dharmagadda through a recommendation from Chelsea Park, a Russell High School teacher and fellow task force member.

“He said he would be delighted to serve,” Meek said. “I was super impressed with him right from the get-go. I’m impressed with all the students on our council. I’m amazed at the intelligence and the willingness to volunteer and serve, help each other.”

Said Dharmagadda: “I said yes because this area has a lot of potential. I want to invest in the future of the Tri-State.”

A member of the academic team since fourth grade, Dharmagadda helped Russell High School’s quick recall team finish 19th out of 224 schools in the 2021 High School National Quiz Bowl Tournament this past spring.

He is thrilled at the opportunity to play a key role in kicking off this program, which will feature a heavy load of student-led tutoring such as this seminar.

“I know a lot of times when a teacher is teaching me something, it doesn’t make sense, but when another student does, it may make more sense,” Dharmagadda said.

So what is a sneak peek of his presentation, one may wonder.

“We’ll cover two basic broad categories,” said Dharmagadda, who plans to probably pursue a political science or economics major in college. “Some general tips about answering multiple-choice questions, being confident in your answers and just some general advice that helped me.”

As for how to quell that test anxiety, he offered this guidance: “Try to stay calm. It’s not the end of the world. One test score doesn’t define you.”

The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 9 at the YMCA. Lunch will be served, Meek said. It’s open to any area high school student who is gearing up to tackle the ACT. Seniors will have their final chance this fall.

Meek plans to get flyers advertising the event to schools soon. She’s received a great deal of positive feedback and good financial support for Building a Stronger Foundation in Education so far.

Contact Meek at (606) 831-5707 with any questions.

(606) 326-2664 |


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