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Algebra Project at Douglass and Beyond

Prior to Katrina, community involvement at Douglass High School was building and took a variety of forms. One of the most important was the weekly adult math literacy class hosted by the Douglass Community Coalition in collaboration with the New Orleans Algebra Project.

Almost every Wednesday night during the 2003-04 school year, Bob Moses would make the six-hour round trip drive from Jackson, Mississippi, where he was teaching at Lanier High School, to co-direct this workshop at Douglass. Students, parents, teachers, and community members worked together to build an understanding of the importance of Algebra and of some of the approaches that can help engage students in its study. Douglass Community Coalition member and University of New Orleans mathematics professor Staffas Broussard led the workshop with Bob.

During the 2004-05 school year, adult community members had begun figuring out ways they could apply what they had learned in these sessions to assist in math classes at Douglass. They were eager to expand their work in the 2005-06 school year. One hurricane, two superintendents, and two principals later, Douglass has been unable to restart this important work.

But students at McMain Secondary School have benefited from the Algebra Project’s important work. Today’s student writing is by Marleesa Thompson, a 2007 graduate of McMain, who explains how her training in the Algebra Project would benefit her work as a math tutor and teaching assistant for younger students at McMain.

Taking Up For Algebra
Marleesa Thompson

“I’m actually taking up for Algebra. Somebody pinch me, because this can’t be real.” Those were the words that crossed my mind as I sat across the circle, defending the one subject I could not stand. Somewhere between “I liked the Algebra Project, but I don’t see how it fits,” and “the Algebra Project was great, but it’s no use to my future goals,” I felt the urge to speak up. It came so fast, like vomit.

“Well the Algebra Project was extremely beneficial to me. I was an intern this past year in an Algebra 1 class at McMain, and the methods I was taught from the Algebra Project could have been used so that the students could connect math to more real life situations.” Once the mouthful of words fell into the circle, I was able to breathe. It was like I could not just sit back and watch the Algebra Project fall under the cracks beneath the chairs of the individuals who surrounded me.

Coming into this workshop, I had no idea that my love for math would be established. In the past, math was something that I never liked, but I did it because I had to. I never saw its use with anything outside class. Math was brought to life during this workshop. Numbers became words, and words became numbers. It was an intertwining language.

Our bus trip and our stops through the stomping grounds of Homer Plessy became a number line. City-building activities transformed into functions. It was like a whole new world that I was exploring. Many of the teachers as well as the students constantly wished that they were taught math this way. In the Algebra Project, no answer was wrong, as long as you had a logical method or approach to your answer.

Part of the reason I believe math has become so appealing to me is because I was an intern this recent school year. Upon entering Ms. Welch’s Algebra class, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that I had to deal with rambunctious eighth graders. When I started the internship, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed working with the students. But what was more amazing is that as I progressed through the internship, my math skills grew sharper than ever before. As I participated in the daily work along with the students, I was learning easier methods to approach problems. I was able to spit out math calculations like a calculator. My ACT math scores even improved four points from the start of my senior year to the fourth month I was an intern.

My journey to taking up for Algebra started when I actively participated in educating younger students. And in the end, everybody benefited.

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