U.Va. Summer Math Academy Helps Charlottesville Students Master Algebra

June 30, 2008 — About 45 students and six teachers from Charlottesville city schools, plus staff and students from the University of Virginia, gathered June 27 for a closing ceremony at the University's Observatory Hill Dining Hall, marking the successful conclusion of the Summer Math Academy.

The youth received certificates for completing the intensive, two-week program, which ran from June 16-27.

The University of Virginia's Office for Diversity and Equity teamed up with the Charlottesville Public Schools to expand the program. Now in its second year of operation, the academy's goal this year was to prepare 28 rising eighth-graders and 17 rising ninth-graders to enroll in algebra when school resumes in the fall.

Rising eighth-grader Micelah Coles said, "The program activities made math easier and fun. I made new friends and toured the U.Va. Grounds."

The Summer Math Academy gave the students an opportunity to increase their chances of being prepared for college by getting on the advanced math track in eighth grade, or by doing well in algebra in ninth grade. The diverse group of rising ninth-graders attended the academy as part of the statewide Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP.

GEAR UP, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, gives the students a jump-start on algebra, said Gertrude Ivory, Charlottesville's associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. In addition to the educational enrichment, the academy exposes them to experiences that encourage them to think about college, she said.

In their morning classroom sessions, the students concentrated on pre-algebra math lessons. Later in the day, they attended various enrichment activities to expose them to the University — taking tours of the Grounds, using library and computer labs and talking with U.Va. administrators about what it takes to get to college. U.Va. undergraduate mentors contributed their expertise by answering questions about high school, college life and related topics. Charlottesville High School students, teachers and guidance counselors also shared information and experiences with them.

"The second program [with rising eighth-grade students] is a duplication of last year, because of the success we have seen in the academic achievement of students in Algebra I," said John Rusina, the GEAR UP coordinator from Charlottesville public schools. "Algebra I is kind of that power course that in eighth or ninth grade you really want those kids to master, which is why we spend so much effort to get these kids ready to go on, not only to high school, but eventually to college."

Last year, 26 students participated in the summer math academy. The federally funded GEAR UP effort involves several locally based initiatives, programs and activities to help stimulate an early interest in attending college among low-income students and their families, so they can better prepare for the admissions process and the college experience. And just as important, as they graduate from high school, the students also will be eligible for college scholarships.

"At the University, we see this program as another way to demonstrate our commitment to enhancing the quality of education for pre-college students by reaching out to local families, and working hand in hand with our colleagues in the Charlottesville Public Schools," said William B. Harvey, U.Va.'s vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity. "We are pleased to be able to help raise the aspirations and ambitions of these students, and we hope the University of Virginia will be their institution of choice as they complete high school."