Math and Science Partnership Offers New Hope For Inner City Students at Hunter College
August 16, 2006: A group of high school students, all wearing crisp white T-shirts emblazoned with the logo, “The Mathematics and Science Partnership,” hover around a desk at Hunter College, where a cadre of professors is busily correcting their tests. “I passed!” yells one student jubilantly.
These students are part of something far bigger than a traditional summer school program. Rather, they are participants in the second year of a $12.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded, five-year project known as the Mathematics and Science Partnership. Its goal is deceptively simple: to ameliorate the math and science performance of NYC public school children by improving teaching techniques in the classroom. Under the leadership of Principal Investigator Dr. Pamela Mills, a chemistry professor at Hunter College, each student has taken a five week, remedial course designed for New York City high school students who have failed either the Regents course or the Regents exam in Biology, Chemistry, Math A, or Math B. But unlike their counterparts in traditional summer school programs, students in each of the Mathematics and Science Partnership classrooms have benefited from an intensive student-teacher ratio (there are nearly three head teachers or college/high school tutors for every four students), as well as one-on-one tutoring sessions. Most will end up passing the test this time around, but that’s not what this program is all about.
“This grant is about changing the cultures in schools,” explains Mills, who, like her students, is dressed in a “Mathematics and Science Partnership” t-shirt. “For average kids, lecture doesn’t work. What works is opportunities for the kids to do things for themselves.” So, in a chemistry classroom, for example, students experience hands-on learning by rotating through “carousels”, which are activity-based stations designed to impart particular learning objectives. “This program built my confidence and helped me to aim higher,” says Fatima, who just found out she passed her chemistry Regents. “In my old classroom, I used to just take notes from the blackboard, but I really liked the group activities here,” she adds. Ultimately, Mills and her team will help twelve public high schools to become exemplars of math and/or science education, while simultaneously promoting a collaborative teaching model for professional development.
Yet another goal of the Mathematics and Science Partnership is to create a Cadet Corps of high school math and science tutors. Students who pass the Regents test this summer will be invited back as tutors in paid internships next summer. Billy Green, a chemistry teacher at the High School for Environmental Studies and a teacher in the Mathematics and Science Partnership program, believes this goal has met with success already: “When these kids finally pass the Regents they are inspired. They come in hating chemistry and now they want to teach.” Indeed, Fatima and her friends all enthusiastically announce that they want to sign on for tutoring next summer.
Ultimately, according to Dr. Mills, the Mathematics and Science Partnership is not a simple project at all. “This is a true social justice issue. Almost all our students are students of color. These are the people who are failing and who are in failing schools. It is important for all of society to be literate in science.” Billy Green notes that many of NYC’s public high schools no longer teach chemistry, physics or higher level math because these subjects are not required by the Regents for graduation, further diminishing the math and science opportunities for inner city youth.
As the day ends and more students find out about their test results, there are cheers of delight and some sad faces. One boy heads dejectedly down the elevator, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. Dr. Mills and her staff return to their offices to go over the results of the day, preparing for an uphill battle as they meet the myriad challenges that lie ahead.#