Algebra Academy gives middle schoolers a head start

More than 100 incoming eighth-graders will spend the last days of their summer break immersed in math at the Bruce W. Woolpert Algebra Academy, which began Aug. 7 at Graniterock headquarters in Watsonville.

Dr. Hongde HuThis is the fifth year Graniterock has opened its doors to provide a fun, safe environment for students to sharpen their algebra skills with college professors, including Dr. Hongde Hu of CSU Monterey Bay, providing instruction.

Classes are held Aug. 7, 8, 11 and 12 at Graniterock’s corporate office in Watsonville. Students will visit CSU Monterey Bay for a field trip and additional algebra work on Aug. 13. The academy graduation ceremony will take place Aug. 14 at the E.A. Hall Middle School in Watsonville.

Dr. Hu said his job is to inspire students, to show them they can crack the mysteries of math. He’s quick to add that he’s not just teaching math. “We are teaching habits of mind,” he said. “I want to make these students good citizens as well as good students.”

Research examining 24,000 students in two dozen California school districts found that students already doing well in math in the seventh grade are more likely to take advanced math courses in high school and meet college entrance requirements.

But for many students who struggle with math in grade seven, there is no clear path to learning and achievement. Dr. Hu uses math games, engaging presentations and curriculum he has been refining for years to reach those youngsters.

Students who fail algebra and repeat the course are likely to fail again, a vicious cycle that wastes learning time and resources. That’s according to a study that was commissioned by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd and released in 2012. The Sacramento nonprofit focuses on policies and practices to improve teaching. (Read the WestEd report here.

And that reinforces a point Dr. Hu makes every chance he gets.

Algebra is “the gateway” to studies in college, he says. “Without it, there’s no way students continue.”

The Algebra Academy was started in 2010 by Graniterock’s former President and CEO Bruce W. Woolpert and corporate counsel Kevin Jeffery, who were passionate about the education of local students. They believed in the importance of students having a strong foundation in mathematics. Woolpert and Jeffery invited Dr. Hu to work with students at Watsonville’s Rolling Hills Middle School for the first Algebra Academy, and the program has grown in interest and impact from those beginnings.

Since the program started, four schools have been added and the enrollment has doubled from 55 to 110. Field trips to CSUMB and UC Santa Cruz have been added. Math festivals and math clubs have been developed at participating schools.