Success adds up at summer math camp

Algebra camp 1

Getting kids to wake up early and give up a chunk of their summers to attend math camp sounds like a tough sell.

But the Stanislaus County Office of Education and a crew of local teachers have pulled off that feat.

The Summer Algebra College Awareness and Math Proficiency program, which aims to help area middle school students find success in the classroom, has exceeded attendance expectations, according to Kandy Woerz, a program coordinator at the Stanislaus County Office of Education.

“We realize the importance of mathematics,” Woerz said. “The community and the parents also know the importance of mathematics. The teachers do a really good job of motivating. They give positive reinforcement, praising the kids, and kids love to go where they get praise.”

Locally, about 15 Creekside Middle School students are honing their math skills from 8 a.m. to noon five days a week at Patterson High.

Patterson Joint Unified and Newman-Crows Landing Unified school districts are hosting the summer programs as part of a trial aimed at improving students’ success in math and sparking interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often collectively called S.T.E.M. careers.

“Summer C.A.M.P. students are in the gap — neither failing nor proficient or advanced (in math),” Woerz said. “Hopefully, by their participation in C.A.M.P., it will move them into the advanced or proficient range.”

Seventeen school districts in California are participating in the S.T.E.M. Learning Opportunities Providing Equity project. S.L.O.P.E. is funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation grant program and aims to help students become proficient in eighth-grade-level algebra.

Students also learn about S.T.E.M. careers and other academic career paths through college-awareness curriculum that has been customized for each district participating in the project.

“The grant program is providing new and innovative techniques for teachers,” Woerz said. “The project-based curriculum, in conjunction with the college-awareness component, connects math to the real world for students.

“Students are beginning to understand that math is used in every career path, from landscaping to the medical field.”

Teachers who volunteer to participate in S.L.O.P.E. received professional training through hands-on, project-based learning and took part in ongoing collaborative coaching with other experienced educators.

Ivan Cheng, a teacher at Michael D. Eisner College of Education at California State University, Northridge, oversees the educators during the project.

“This approach to teaching will help so many students see the connections in math,” Cheng said. “This approach can really help students gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter as they see it used in real-life situations.”

Being in class for nearly four hours a day lets students learn nearly a school year’s worth of curriculum during the four-week session, which began June 11 and ends July 9 . But it’s not as grueling as it sounds.

Teachers and students share a more flexible attitude during math camp classes, Woerz said. Students are encouraged to learn at their own pace, and if family vacations cause them to miss some time, they’re not penalized.

“The relaxed atmosphere kind of helps, but kids that want to get ahead, they’re going to be motivated to do just about anything,” said Leigh Krebs, a Creekside math teacher who is working the camp this summer.

Krebs, who has taught math locally for seven years, is teaching algebra to a class of 15 incoming eighth-graders. Her class is noisier than a normal one during the school year, but the boys and girls are engaged in their work.

“I’m learning a lot more,” said Angel Rosas, 12. “I’m getting more things explained to me when I have problems.”

Brittaney Villalobos, 13, said she missed having the summer off “a little bit,” but she still recommended the camp.

“We get to make cool projects,” Brittaney said. “It’s actually very interesting.”

“It’s big for these kids to give up a part of their summer,” Krebs added. “But they are all dedicated enough to want to try, and that is what’s going to help them later in the classroom.”

Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or

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