Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Tribute to Our Summer MATHletes

In July, we piloted a program for MATHletes, proficient but underserved math students.  After the four weeks, I wrote these general tributes and specific ones.  I’ll put in the students’ first initials.

General thoughts—
I’m really happy we did this program.  I’m outraged that there are so few constructive things for kids to do during the summer.  (I am outraged about a lot of things.)  I’m really pleased we could pay everyone.

I really loved the work ethic I saw.  Everyone except one student faithfully did their homework.   My favorite time was when everyone was working quietly in class.  I feel really good that we could have such a good group together that would feed off each other so well—a really nice group dynamic.  You were silly at times, but if I had a real problem or issue, you always came through.

I love to say to our donors that our students are great kids but they haven’t been dealt a full deck of cards.  I don’t mean to make you self-conscious about this, but there is a lot of wealth out there, but that wealth is not around here.  But you do not complain.  

(Wealth is nice, but I can tell you that acquiring material goods or luxuries does not measurably increase your happiness level.  Except for my condo at the beach, I have very few material goods—an old car, old shoes, an old TV, no cable, no electronic games, etc etc but since I get to spend as much time with hardworking, grateful students whom I look forward to knowing for many years to come, I am quite content.)

I hear you guys talk about race a lot, but when you go off to college, no one will care what your heritage is, who your parents are, or where you grew up.  (If anyone really does “care,” they’re idiots.  Move on from them.)  They will immediately be able to tell the content of your character, however.

(Everyone, particularly teenagers, are self-conscious about something, whether it is their family, their home, their body, their race, etc. etc.  Part of growing up is learning that you are not perfect and never will be, and your parents aren’t perfect and never will be.)

There were a lot of times I don’t think I prepared everyone adequately for their daily tutoring sessions.  Part of the reason is we started preparing this program just a few weeks prior.  Another reason is I’m not really a little kid math expert.  You guys hung in there nicely, though.  

I felt like the matrices unit went the smoothest, if only because most everyone started with virtually zero knowledge about the subject.  With the other units—combinatorics, linear systems and linear programming, and exponents and logs, I went a bit too quickly and should have made sure students could do basic things like graph lines and solve equations using square roots.  Again, though, you guys did not complain and tried your best.

You are wonderfully hard workers, non-complainers, patient, flexible.  

Special accolades—

A—Pretty much a perfect student.  Asks good questions but is mostly independent.  Someone I never needed to worry about.  It’s great that a female was the top student in the class, since it has been hard to attract female MATHletes.  (A lot of girls are expected to do child care more than boys are—grrrrrr.)  I loved the fact that Ashanti took ownership of Stephon.  She really cared about him.

Q—Another super caring tutor.  She was so nice to Angelo, kind, patient, flexible, hard working, cared so much that he learn his facts.  She was a very good student, too.  Very patient with all the attention she received from the boys. 

R—Courageous to move to DC and “start over.”  Someone I really am rooting for to stay with his good habits.  Wonderfully mature and understanding of people.  A great person to work with younger boys.   Just off the chart people skills, really intuitive.  Math may not be his favorite subject, but he should and could excel in a lot of areas.

P—A great personality, someone whom I can envision having a large family and grand-kids who gather around him and hear him tell stories and joke with them.  Generous to a fault (walked over one night when I needed to move in the couch).  A great sense of humor and fun.  I understand why he feels college may not be right for him (does he realize college can be a social paradise?), but he needs to find out what he does love to do, and do it.

T—One of the funniest people I have ever met.  I love the way your brain works, a brilliant math brain.  You are honest without being hurtful.  Try not to worry about girls.  Just find one who is as smart as you and enjoy talking with her.  (Think brains first.)  Your sense of humor will carry you a long way, but try not to be too self-conscious about “who you are” and “where you’re from.”  (Like I said, if anyone cares too much about that, just move on.) 

D—Started to get to know you as a student and tutor, and I really liked what I saw.  Wonderful personality, wanted to learn what he missed, but it was a lot to bite off.  Always doing extra things to help me.  Too bad you missed too many classes.  The only student who could beat Mr P in a sprint.

W—I am in awe.  Anyone who can earn straight A’s without seeing the board (even while squinting) just defies explanation.  The youngest student, he “complained” but worked his butt off.  Very thoughtful, smart, witty, does not miss anything.  Asks really good questions, limitless potential.  Maybe interested in humanities more than math???  (Loves to read.)

E—One of the greatest in-class students I have ever had in 30 years as far as asking questions is concerned.  Great intellectual curiosity, loves to try different things (debating! Acting! Math contests!)   I envision him running his own business with four children and his wife out in the suburbs unless we convince him to stay in the city.  I would recommend you for anything.

Try not to worry too much about your future.  It is in your control if you work hard the next few years.