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In three classrooms the students sat, using graphing calculators, solving problems and teaming up to figure out sports statistics, the rate at which endangered species are disappearing and other math-related issues.

It looks just like any other day in the classroom, but there’s one wrinkle to this: it’s late July, and summer is only half over.

No, these students haven’t been expelled during the regular school year, and they’re not even in trouble. Far from it, in fact.

The Chehalis School District has opened up its first-ever Summer Math Academy, targeting middle schoolers over six weeks throughout the summer. The academy aims to teach students math skills, with the end goal of preparing
them for what is commonly known as STEM — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics — courses in high school and college.

But who wants to go to school at 8:30 in the morning, much less in the summer? Nearly 100 kids, according to the Chehalis School District — that’s the number of students who were part of the academy last week.

“We’ve heard from a lot of parents and a lot of students who wanted to step up and be a part of this,” Vice Principal of Teaching and Learning Rachel Dorsey said.

The math academy differs from the traditional classroom environment in that students are encouraged to help each other solve problems, many of which are above their own grade levels. Several teachers are on hand to discuss and teach the materials, but students largely drive discussion and problem solving. “It gives them more ownership of their work,” Dorsey explained. “One skill set we really want to teach the kids is perseverance.”

Each week, students take a field trip that allows them to put what they’ve learned into practice. Last week, they visited a Seattle Storm game and were tasked with computing statistics for an entire quarter. This week, it’s a Seattle Mariners baseball game — and the kids will compile stats in order to capably predict a player’s future performance.

It’s tough to take stats without a bit of practice first, so students watched three innings of the Mariners’ iconic 1995 Game 5 American League Division Series victory over the New York Yankees. The game was thrilling, but students had to also put pencil to paper and jog their brains as fast as Ken Griffey Jr. could round third with the winning run.

“It brings the work they’ve done together with an activity they enjoy, and they see it in a whole new way,” Dorsey said.

Two of the students in Becky Coyle’s class agreed. Sixth-graders Daniel Hawkins and Kolby Hansen said they were excited to see the Mariners game, and saw it as a reward of sorts for putting their brains into overdrive during the math academy.

“(Taking stats) takes awhile to learn, but I think the game is going to help us,” Hawkins said.

“And getting to go on a field trip is really cool,” Hansen immediately replied.

Katelyn Walsh, who is visiting the district from Educational Service District 113 in Olympia, serves as a math coach for the school. Walsh helped put the curriculum together in an effort to help make what students would normally consider run-of-the-mill subject matter more appealing.

“If you bring in real-life examples and connect with the students that way, you see the kids and the teachers all start sharing the same enthusiasm,” Walsh said.

The academy is part of a broad vision from the Chehalis School District to better prepare students for STEM-related jobs. Not only is it a district focus, but the Washington State Legislature has also seen a need to train up students in local school districts across the state to fill thousands of open STEM positions.

That’s why the district is starting out young, hoping to inspire their young students to think outside the box not only in the classroom, but to be ready once it comes time to pursue a college education and a career.

“If you give the kids that passion, they’ll begin to seek out opportunities,” Walsh said.

Written by: Christopher Brewer :: cbrewer@chronline.com :: (360) 807-8235

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