April 16, 2009 in Washington Voices

Integrating math into life

Grant adds up to fun ways to work with numbers
By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. BART RAYNIAK photo

Cousins Olesia Gotishan and Daniel Kalpakchi mix up ingredients for bunny cupcakes with marshmallows during a popular after-school cooking class.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

In the days of dismal budget news, there’s a bright spot at East Valley Middle School and four other local middle schools. The schools all qualified for a 21st Century Grant from the U.S. Department of Education that pays for tutoring and after-school activities.

“This has been a tremendous community builder for us,” said East Valley Principal Mark Purvine.

The schools include North Pines Middle School in Central Valley, Glover and Chase Middle Schools in Spokane and Liberty Junior High in Spangle. They are in the first year of a five-year grant that pays $50,000 a year. The goal of the grant, said Purvine, is to improve scores in math, improve attitudes in math, increase parental involvement and increase community involvement.

In addition to math tutoring before and after school, East Valley also has after school programs that lets kids cook, make quilts, make craft projects and play games. “The enrichment activities you could fairly call stealth math,” he said.

The math comes in when the kids are measuring, adding numbers and designing projects. They’re having so much fun they don’t realize they’re learning. The grant pays for all materials and supplies so kids don’t have to pay anything. Plus, there’s usually something the student has created that he or she gets to take home at the end of it.

The after-school activities have been well received by students, but it’s too soon to tell if there has been an impact on the school’s test scores. Last year only 50 percent of students passed the math WASL. “We believe we’re meeting with excellent success,” Purvine said. “Our grades have improved. We have fewer students earning failing marks. We won’t know about our WASL scores until next fall.”

Some students have signed up for multiple activities. Since January, 245 different students have signed up for at least one activity, which include everything from sewing to mask making to creating gingerbread houses. The programs are offered four days a week for two hours a day, but not every activity is offered every day.

North Pines Middle School is also using the grant for a mix of tutoring and activities. The program runs after school until nearly 5 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and attracts 30 to 40 students each night. “We’ve had a photography class, we’ve had WSU’s Food Sense program in,” said Principal Gordon Grassi. “The enrichment part we try to keep changing up. You have to keep their interest.”

The school also bought an interactive math computer program that kids can use to test themselves. “Kids kind of compete against each other,” he said.

East Valley Middle School is also making progress in getting parents involved. There didn’t used to be a parent organization, but now there’s a large, loosely organized group of parents who have put on a movie night and a game night. The game night drew more than 200 people, Purvine said. “It was wonderful. We had to referee a couple of board games because people were so competitive.”

Future plans include an end-of-year barbecue and a summer program in August for students who need a get a jump on the school year in math. It will include the same sort of activities the school offers after school now.

Teacher Nicole Sweet was heading up a group of half a dozen students working on video productions on a recent Monday, though it seemed at times that the students were teaching her instead of the other way around. Or maybe it was just a sneaky way of getting kids involved and excited about their project. The grant money paid for several different kinds of production software, including the program Sweet was struggling to operate. “When I have kids begging me to stay after school, you know it’s working,” she said.

At the other end of the building, the school’s long-idle shop room once again echoed with the shriek of power saws. It was all about the power tools for sixth-grader Seth Schryock, who eagerly listed all the equipment he’s been able to use. “I’ve wanted to do woodshop all year,” he said. Since the groups are small, students must often join a waiting list to get into the activity they want. Schryock said he lucked out this time and the woodshop program wasn’t full.

“It’s cool,” he said. “It gives kids a change to work with power tools.”

There were no power tools involved in the kitchen down the hall, unless you count the mixers students used to mix the batter for bunny cupcakes. Forty students signed up for the cooking program, but teacher Nicole Larsen could only accept nine. “I like to cook,” said sixth-grader Makayla McGuire. “I’m liking it a lot. It’s really fun.”

The students carefully followed the directions for each package of mix and scooped the oozing batter into cupcake cups. There was a whole lot of measuring and math going on, but no one seemed to mind. They were focused on eating the end result.

It’s that enthusiasm that makes Purvine happy. “Any connection to school is positive,” he said. “We know it’s changing our climate in a positive way.”

His comments were echoed by Grassi. “It’s a very good program,” he said. “It’s been real positive for us.”

Reach staff writer Nina Culver at (509) 927-2158 or by e-mail at ninac@spokesman.com.


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