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Student Support: Math Academy

Math illustrationFor some students, math can be one of the greatest academic stumbling blocks. “I never liked math,” said Lola Fagbule. “Growing up in Nigeria, our math teachers came into school, taught class, and then left. I had no opportunity to ask questions. I did not enjoy it.”

Fagbule’s incoming student placement test at Howard Community College indicated that she would need to take two noncredit review classes to prepare for college-level math courses. Then Fagbule received an unexpected email inviting her to join the Math Academy, a brand-new, free, one-week college program. The Math Academy provides incoming students with a structured environment to practice skills, get help, and then retake the placement test with the goal of improving their score and placing into a higher-level mathematics course.

“Everyone uses math. If you have a strong base, it’s going to make your life a heck of a lot easier. The ability to progress in education can change a person’s life and give them hope. And, it empowers the community and this country to move forward,” said Alton Scavo, a Rouse Company Foundation trustee. “Every student who walks through the door, we want to be successful. We don’t want them missing a skill set they weren’t able to get.”

The creation of the Math Academy was made possible through a $500,000 grant from The Rouse Company Foundation.

“Our teacher was wonderful and helped us when we had trouble,” said Fagbule. When someone asked a question, we could all see and learn too. It was fun! I enjoyed every little bit. I never believed I would be able to improve so much in one week.

Every one of the 35 students who enrolled in the Math Academy completed the program. The average gain in placement score was 15 points. Seven students advanced two levels and are now registered in college-level math courses for the fall.

“I am elated with my results!” said Zachary Otiji-Spizler. “My initial score was in the single digits. When I retook the placement test, I improved enough to register for statistics. If you have the time to dedicate to the Math Academy, I would highly recommend it. The time was well worth it, and I built a solid foundation of math skills.”

During the next two consecutive summers, the Math Academy will add a program for rising high school seniors who are dually enrolled at the college, allowing them to prepare for college-level mathematics, followed by a college-level Math Academy extension for high school students who excel in math.

The math placement test identifies the areas in which a student needs to improve and creates an individualized “learning carousel” of lessons.

“Students who score low on the math placement test are from all different backgrounds,” said Dr. Mike Long, dean and professor of mathematics. “They may simply not have had a positive math experience. A teacher is the strongest influence on the student’s math success.”

Dr. Long credits his own sixth grad math teacher as the reason he became a math professor. “Algebra was really confusing
for me, and I started falling behind. She had me replace the letters with empty boxes. Visualizing them as place holders made it clear to me.”

With the Math Academy, students get virtual face-to-face instruction and guidance from HCC math faculty. The small-group instruction enables opportunities for flexibility and encouragement.

“It was a big step forward for me,” said Lola Fagbule. “It saved me a semester of time and money too. Plus, I got a $250 scholarship for completing the program. This paid a chunk of my tuition for fall. The most important thing was that I learned. I am so glad that I didn’t miss the opportunity. I feel confident that I will do well in my next math class.”

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