Written by Aaron Staudinger, with Sarah Binning
Aaron Staudinger is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the PTC team at The English High School. Sarah Binning is a Communications Coordinator at City Year Boston.
When the school year began, the Algebra class that I serve was a combination of a lack of focus and a dearth of confidence; this manifested itself in a competition for who could distract the class the most. This behavior was most prevalent in one student, Justin*. Justin did not believe he had the ability to learn a single math problem and refused help from both his teacher and me.
This was frustrating for me because I know that—despite what our students may think—math really is applicable to the “real world.” John Stuart, Senior Vice President of Global Education at PTC (our team’s sponsor), agrees. “The way you’re going to separate yourself now and in the future is through innovation. There’s a lot of competition in the world out there for innovation,” Stuart said. “One way to be able to innovate is to have solid math skills and solid science skills.”
Despite meetings and interventions with his teacher, and even the school’s Dean, Justin fell further behind in his work. His acting out continued, but on the rare occasions that he would permit me to speak to him he often spoke of his inability to do the work and doubted he would never be able to catch up.
After a particularly difficult week, during which not a single student completed an assigned task, the teacher struck a deal with her students: if they could pass the next quiz she would excuse their missed assignments from the week. If not, they would have to complete their missing work after school with either her or me. The students—Justin especially—jumped at the deal, hoping to earn that “get out of jail free card” for all their incomplete homework.
When Justin failed the quiz, he begrudgingly signed a contract stipulating that he would meet with me twice a week after school to work on math homework.
The first week was spent hunting Justin down. By week three, however, I started to see a change. Justin completed six homework assignments and finally passed a quiz—his first of the year. He started to stay after school one extra day a week and joined a tutoring program at another local organization.
“City Year compels them to become better students and to have higher achievement. That’s good for us, because even if they don’t go to work for PTC, they could still go to work for our customers, or go work in the industry and have a higher level of skills.” Stuart said.
Whether Justin will go into a STEM profession, it’s difficult to say. One thing I do know is he’s gaining skills that are valuable to his future, regardless of his profession. After a full month of afterschool support, Justin not only reached an overall passing grade for the class, he consistently completed his homework, passed three tests in a row and continued to honor the contract, despite no longer being required to. His confidence increased leaps and bounds and his classroom behavior has done a complete 180.
Most surprisingly, however, he no longer wanted my help. He wanted to complete the math by himself and only seeks me out in extreme cases, typically after having tried a problem five or six time. I have never been happier to have a student refuse to work with me.
On Saturday, PTC employees will join City Year Boston in painting murals and landscaping at The English High School. Check back next week to see photos of their service projects.