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“It’s up to you to do the work.”

Before graduating high school, Daria Maya has managed to start a non-profit organization, help initiate graduate-level research, invent a word, learn to code… and her list goes on. When speaking with Daria, it’s clear that she’s an engaging, confident, yet extraordinarily humble young woman, driven to find her next passion. Snug in Daria’s achievements is an outstanding 10-point increase on her ACT composite score. We had the opportunity to sit down with Daria to learn more about her, her journey in test preparation, and her advice to other students looking to raise the bar.

As a sophomore, Daria founded WeLifeGuard.com, a non-profit organization that helps local families find private lifeguards. During the pandemic, she quickly pivoted her team and services to provide virtual swimming lessons and presentations. Daria notes that a highlight included being invited to teach online water safety classes to individuals with disabilities at the Star, Inc. day program in Norwalk, CT.

Daria’s non-profit wasn’t the only venture she had percolating this spring. “When my school switched to remote learning, I saw an opportunity to research students’ perceptions on this new way of learning… I became curious to know if perceptions towards distance learning differed between students with and without accommodations.” Daria reached out to Dr. Teomara Rutherford, Professor of Education and Learning Sciences at the University of Delaware (UD), to share her research ideas. Together, they were approved by the Institutional Review Board at UD to begin studying these questions. Meanwhile, Daria earned her certification on Human Subject testing and this summer began interviewing her peers, seeking insights into the distance learning experience as it relates to students with accommodations. She and Dr. Rutherford will soon begin qualitative analysis.. As an aspiring special education teacher, Daria is passionate about this research and excited about the possibility of publishing her findings and sharing them with others!

While it may be hard to believe, all the while Daria was also preparing for her ACT.

“My test prep journey was pleasantly stressful,” Daria states with purpose, “My parents interviewed a bunch of tutors… we found someone who was the ‘right fit.’” That person happened to be Allison Waggener from Carnegie Prep. Starting August before her junior year, Daria noted that Allison was a calming presence from day one, and helped Daria build up her confidence in the tests. When we asked Daria what makes a “perfect tutor” – which she ultimately found in Allison – she said that students should look for someone who is genuinely committed to their test prep journey, showing they truly care every step of the way.

The first time Daria took an official ACT, her composite score jumped by 4 points above her initial baseline score. Daria and Allison were happy with the progress, but at the same time confident there was additional room for improvement.​ When Daria’s test was cancelled in April due to the pandemic, she didn’t flinch. She and Allison continued to prepare for the June and July tests. Allison made recordings of grammar and math concepts that Daria could listen to as she was doing daily tasks, diversifying her teaching style to make sure Daria stayed engaged.

Daria finally got the opportunity to take her second ACT in July, and when she got her scores back she “was on cloud nine” – she couldn’t believe it! Her ACT Composite score had gone up 10 points, and her reading comprehension score, alone, had gone up 16 points. Daria moved up over 40% in her national percentile rank! The first person that she needed to text when she found out? Allison.

In sum: Daria looks for opportunities to grow in places where that might be hard to find. Her insatiable curiosity and zeal for intellectual excitement radiates when speaking with her, and it’s those qualities (and, quite frankly, her sheer grit) that enabled her to achieve such an outstanding improvement on her ACT. We’re so proud of her accomplishments this past year. Looking back on her high school experience, we asked Daria what advice she would give to her freshman-year self. She said she would tell her to “reach out to my teachers for help as soon as I felt I needed [it]. Teachers really do care and want students to do well… I wish I had that confidence freshman year.”

With her friendly demeanor and humble disposition (and, perhaps, her packed-to-the-brim schedule!), it’s no surprise that her most-used emoji is a cult classic: the laugh/cry – 😂.

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