When it comes to math education, it’s been widely reported that U.S. students perform poorly compared to their counterparts in industrialized nations. But an Edmonds dad — working with a committed group of volunteers — is out to change that outcome at the local level with after-school and summer math programs that he hopes can be expanded throughout the Edmonds School District.
About 120 students are registered for the Summer Math Program, with another 60-70 on the waiting list, said Edmonds-Woodway High School parent Bill Henning. The program, which started July 25 and will run through Aug. 22, is operated completely by volunteers and “it costs next to nothing,” Henning said. Using district-owned laptops that would otherwise be dormant in the summer, students practice online math exercises through the free Khan Academy, supplemented with notebooks and pencils donated by the Edmonds-Woodway Parent Staff Organization.
“Fred Meyer, 15 cents each – limit 10,” Henning said, pointing to the stacks of colorful theme books neatly lettered with each student’s name. “I’ve been visiting Fred Meyer a lot.” Even without parent group money, Henning believes that it would be easy in the future to find donors to cover the cost of such simple materials — all that’s needed right now is parent or community volunteers willing to start similar programs in other buildings districtwide.
“This is something that we as a community can do,” Henning said. “The district has the technology thanks to our levies, we have the space, and we could do this after school at every building in the district. We could do it every summer in at least one building in each quad – maybe more.” (For those who don’t know the term, “quad” is short for quadrant, and each district school is assigned to one — Northwest, Northeast, Southeast and Southwest.)
Henning’s passion for helping students improve their math skills was sparked when his son Tyler entered Edmonds-Woodway as a freshman two years ago. After volunteering to help with the high school’s Parent Staff Organization, Henning said he became aware of just how many struggling students were “falling through the cracks.” Math seemed to be a particular weak spot, especially among the district’s Latino students, and Fleming found an ally in the district’s Equity Alliance for Achievement (EAACH), a parent advisory group.
As Henning was searching for volunteer tutors to help mentor struggling students, he connected with Victor Esquivel, an applied mathematics major at the University of Washington. Esquivel, then the president of the UW chapter of the Society for Professional Hispanic Engineers (SHPE), had been looking for a way to reach out to Latino high school students interested in creating a junior chapter. After speaking with Henning, Esquivel and other UW SHPE members agreed to visit Edmonds-Woodway on Mondays to help students improve their math skills. Once the tutoring began in January, it soon became clear “that perhaps we needed to have support after school every day,” Henning said, and “we started providing one-on-one five days a week.”
Like the summer program, the after-school math tutoring required no extra dollars for staff or materials. Edmonds-Woodway principal Michele Trifunovic had already arranged to keep the school library open until 5 p.m. every school day so that E-W students could have longer study hours. “That was critical (to the after-school math program) because now we had a place to bring in community-based support for kids and they had resources,” Henning said.
For the Summer Math Program, Henning first targeted Latino students who were barely getting by in their math classes. Maria Garcia, the district’s Latina Outreach coordinator, sent information to those families, followed by an automated phone call to families of all the district’s incoming ninth graders. “From that we got about 200 responses.” Henning said. The program runs in three, two-hour sessions per day, with a new group of 40 in each class. The first two weeks, the classes were at the school district administration building; starting this week, the remaining sessions will be at Edmonds-Woodway.
Last Friday afternoon at district headquarters, some students were gathered around laptops working on the Kahn program, while others were solving problems in teams using dry erase boards. In addition to Henning and Esquivel, a group of students from the after-school math program were there to serve as volunteer tutors. One of them was 15-year-old Brian Marin, an Edmonds-Woodway sophomore who said that serving as a teacher “is helping me a lot. Reviewing it helps me to remember it,” he said.
Esquivel, a Pasco native with no connections to Edmonds-Woodway or the Edmonds School District, said that he finds the volunteer work very satisfying. “The students say, ‘OK, they’ve been trying to teach me fractions for half a year and I come here and learn it in a day,'” Esquivel said, adding that “it’s an amazing feeling to see older students help out the younger ones.”
Why do students struggle with math? “I think… it’s making that assumption that everyone learns at the same rate, which they don’t,” Esquivel said. “We have people doing simple addition and those starting limits already, which is part of calculus, going into high school.”
Esquivel, who plans to pursue a masters and perhaps a doctorate degree in applied mathematics, is also is proud to be a role model for the Latino students he works with. “I want to see more and more Hispanics get rid of the stereotype that we don’t go to college and graduate,” he said.
For Henning, it’s important to find community and parent volunteers willing to start similar programs throughout the district, so that no student who needs math help is turned away. “The response from the kids has been amazing – I am just floored that they continue to come and they are willing to do this.
“Everyone in the community benefits when kids are learning and are doing well in society.”
Anyone interested in volunteeering or learning more can email Bill Henning at email@example.com.