August 6, 2015

Math immersion camp inspires students

By Ryan Masters

Santa Cruz Sentinel

WATSONVILLE >> California has a math problem.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, 50 percent of high school students admitted to California State Universities require remedial math.

This is not news to Hongde Hu, department chair of Mathematics and Statistics at Cal State Monterey Bay. Hu has been seeking ways to improve math aptitude among incoming freshmen for nearly a decade.

Wednesday, Hu was one of four college instructors teaching algebra to 115 eighth-graders in the corporate offices of Granite Rock Co. on Technology Drive in Watsonville.

“Intensive practice makes a life difference to these students,” Hu said. “The more they practice, the more proficient they become, the more connections with algebra they are able to make to the real world.”

Six years ago, Graniterock President and CEO Bruce Woolpert and corporate counsel Kevin Jeffrey invited Hu to collaborate on an algebra immersion program for middle school students.

The Bruce W. Woolpert Algebra Academy launched in 2010, providing 40 students from Rolling Hills Middle School five days of university-caliber instruction in a business environment. This week, 115 students from seven middle schools in Pajaro Valley and San Benito County benefited from the unique academic-corporate partnership.

“We focus on intensive algebra in the morning,” Hu said. “In the afternoon, we show them real-world applications and play math games.”

The immersion program appears to be working. This fall, 10 students from the Academy’s original 2010 class have been accepted into CSUMB. One of these students also will receive a scholarship from Graniterock.

“One of the goals is to get these kids into a four-year college,” said Algebra Academy board member Rose Ann Woolpert.

According to Woolpert, the Academy was named in honor of her late husband, Bruce Woolpert, who died in a boating accident in 2012. His passion for academics and his native Pajaro Valley have inspired the project’s continued success, she said.

Yuliana Camarena, 16, was entering the eighth grade at Rolling Hills Middle School when she attended the Academy two years ago. This week, the Pajaro Valley High School sophomore is serving as an intern instructor.

“I used to struggle with math,” she said. “The one-on-one attention gave me confidence. Math became something I looked forward to doing.”

As the students took a noisy break from their studies Wednesday morning, Graniterock’s IT engineers hunkered down in their cubicles amid the kids’ collective roar. According to Woolpert, a wide variety of Graniterock employees have contributed to the Academy’s success.

“We run this program on very little money because we have 50 volunteers doing everything from directing traffic to setting up A/V equipment,” she said.

The construction company’s offices also provide numerous opportunities to demonstrate real-world applications for algebra. Every day, a different employee from the company explains how he or she uses it to the students.

“We want to change the community culture,” Woolpert said. “We want kids from Pajaro Valley and San Benito to be known as math wizards.”