Recognized Leader in Executive Function Support and Education

Beth Samuelson’s work educating and supporting teens, young adults, and parents spans more than 25 years, including the development of a unique model of one-on-one executive function coaching as well as student workshops, advocacy, teacher training, parent workshops, and on-site school programs. SOS4Students is one of the most well-known providers of executive function coaching and related services in the San Francisco Bay area.

As the founder and director of SOS4Students, Beth Samuelson is a frequent and sought-after presenter and  keynote speaker known for her enthusiasm, energy, humor, insight, and straight talk. She regularly presents at conferences, schools, and educational institutes. She is former co-host of the radio show Your Teen Matters, and columnist for Bay Area Parents of Teens Magazine.

Much of what Beth learned about executive functioning was do-it-yourself trial-and-error while she was a student. Because little was known at the time about how the student brain worked and the role of executive function in study strategies, she taught herself how to take notes, study for tests, and become a better organizer and planner. Now, SOS4Students sets the standard for executive function coaching and workshops in the Bay Area.

Beth graduated with a Masters in Education from UC Berkeley with a focus on cognitive and moral development. She has taught all grade levels but particularly enjoys working with teens and young adults. Moving from the classroom to private practice, she quickly became a specialist in adolescent development and executive functioning skills.

Beth began her career providing academic coaching in collaboration with both psychologists and college counselors. Beth designed study skills curriculum for middle school and high school students, eventually opening SOS4Students in West L.A. and then in the Bay Area with a then-novel focus on executive functioning skills.

Beth taught oversees for several years in both London and Istanbul. It was an experience that reinforced her belief that student challenges were universal, and to address them required a keen understanding of the developing teen brain and executive functioning. Inspired, Beth started Student Organizational Services in 1997, later rebranding the company as SOS4Students in 2002.

SOS4Students was one of the earliest agencies to offer services for tweens and teens needing executive function coaching. SOS4Students quickly became one the premiere providers of academic support in the Bay Area, offering one-on-one support, advocacy, and workshops for students and parents, and professional development for teachers.

Beth lives in Oakland, California with her husband, Steven, and their daughter Hannah. She met Steven conducting a workshop: her teaching assistant at the time became his roommate!

In their free time, she and Steven enjoy traveling, running, and entertaining their golden retriever and three cats. Beth also enjoys studying languages and seeing how many books she can read simultaneously. She loves theatre, improv, asking questions, getting to know people, literature, history, music, dark chocolate, and the Sunday New York Times.

Why did you start SOS4Students?

I love the collaboration work of coaching. I find teaming with parents, students, teachers, and clinicians to identify issues affecting a student’s academic performance and design a way forward that leads to desired results to be the ultimate reward.

When I was in grad school, there was executive function coaching anywhere—at least not by that name. Through relationships and experiences, I discovered that there were people doing that kind of work without even knowing it. They really influenced and inspired me to apply what I’d learned over the years.

By founding SOS4Students, I knew I could set the standards and practices and have more control over the way support was delivered to students and their families.

Why are you drawn to executive function coaching?

Executive function coaching combines so many things I’m passionate about:

  • Advocacy
  • Remediation—the opportunity to work with schools as partners
  • Researching and staying up-to-date on the latest neuroscience findings related to teen brain development and best practices
  • Communication
  • Meeting students where they are and helping them navigate their challenges (letting them know they have support and that SOS4Students has got their back is essential)
  • Collaboration—especially in support of my students
  • Public speaking—spreading the word about executive function and educating families, students, and all who work with our clients.
Why is becoming an independent learner so important?

The main function of SOS4Students is to set up students to know what they need to manage school with confidence, on their own terms, and without daily parental involvement. Having students learn, practice, and master executive function skills is the only way we know how to make them independent learners. Our students should be able to say, “I’ve got this! I know what I have to do, how to do it, when to complete it, and who and where to ask for help if needed.”

Moving through the world into adulthood has many ups and downs. Young people need to feel they have the tools to navigate that process successfully on their own. Independent learners discover early on how to use their executive function skills to problem solve and make needed decisions with step-by-step processes and feelings of competence.

What is your motivation? What keeps you going?

Seeing that look in the eyes of students when they finally “get it” is motivation enough. I’m also motivated by creating new programs to meet the executive function needs of the community, the prospect of having executive function studies become an essential part of teacher training, and through my work helping schools better assist and understand students with executive function challenges.

Are there any specific areas you're interested in with regards to executive functioning support and teens?

Naturally, I find it all quite fascinating. In recent years my interests have shifted to the intersection of technology and learning, especially related to the efficacy of acquiring and retaining knowledge online vs. in-person, digital vs. analog reading, and note-taking digitally or the old fashioned way with a pen and highlighter.

One area of particular interest is translating what goes on at school for adults—the parents, caregivers, and clinicians with the power to make change in a student’s life. By helping them understand where and how the student struggles, they are in a better position to provide the kind of support a student needs.

I also believe there’s a big role for executive function support for young adults making the shift to college and work.

Where do you see SOS4Students in five years?

I see SOS4Students still serving the needs of students and their families in the Bay Area, of course, especially in the area of executive functioning. But I also see us doing more to support additional students, families, and teachers in the Bay Area and beyond.

The need for executive function support is not diminishing. If anything, it’s increasing. There are more and more demands on the time of students and their ability to manage their lives. Not enough populations are getting the help that they deserve. It’s an access issue and I want to make executive function support as accessible as possible.

We are innovating on delivery methods and coaching approaches and will continue to do so, using technology and really looking at our business model to reach as many people as possible.

How do you stay at the cutting edge of executive functioning research?

As a lifelong learner, I regularly attend conferences where new research gets presented. I also read a lot . . . and I do mean a lot! Neuroscience and cognitive science is endlessly fascinating to me and keeping up-to-date with the latest research it is essential to informing educators and clinicians on how best to support students.

I remember when the National Institute of Mental Health, under the auspices of Jay Giedd, first presented findings on MRI studies and adolescent brains. The original thinking—that teen brains were like adult brains—proved false and Giedd’s work completely upended the way we needed to think about education and cognitive development.

What are your experiences with executive functioning yourself?

As an 18-year-old, my teen brain was distracted and impulsive just like everyone else’s. However, I am certain that if I’d understood working memory and attention better, my experience with geometry would’ve been easier!

Now that I am a parent of a teenager, I have a different perspective on the challenges of academics, study processes, adolescents, and the importance of explicit instruction in study strategies. We cannot assume that students can or should just “figure it out.” This is unnecessary and actually quite detrimental to finding a smoother path through schoolwork.

Does your knowledge of executive function help you in your life and business?

Understanding differences in operating styles and diversity in learning and neurocognition has hopefully made me a more empathic and supportive coach, leader to the SOS4Students team, community member, mother, and wife.

I can see all too clearly how getting started on tasks myself is hampered by me lacking a clear, step-by-step plan for moving forward. I try to bring this sensibility and insight into my own challenges to my work and coaching every day.

I have built a great team. Looking back through my life, it all makes sense.

Does your understanding of executive functioning help you be a parent?

I’m always toeing the line between being too imposing and intrusive and giving my daughter room to figure out strategies and approaches herself. What you know about yourself at 14 is obviously different from the insights you’ll have as you mature.

I try to make explicit suggestions when I can see how strategies could help her with getting started, planning, remembering, and test preparation. Sometimes she wants to hear it and sometimes it’s easier for other adults to make these suggestions rather than her Mom or Dad—even in my house! So I “get” what families are going through. I’ve been there, so I can relate. I just so happen to have expertise that can help me and them out.

How We Can Help

For more information on how SOS4Students can help, contact us today.

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