While reading an article on CUNY's SEEK program (here), I was reminded about several discussions I have had recently about math and education and what is needed for low-income children to succeed. First, The Math Club's Jefrey Blake worked with students from a soccer program that he realized weren't doing well in math. He found as have many others that students seemed to need a mentor more than a math tutor. Students were absolutely capable of learning math with some guidance. Similarly, Future Leaders of Jamaica includes not just financial aid, but mentorship as part of their scholarship program.
Why is mentorship important? Imagine a child with a parent who prioritizes education. Ben Carson's mother was not educated, but made sure that he put his academic work in. If students get financial aid, but make poor decisions that get them off-track, mentors can work with them to make better decisions playing the cards they are dealt. Not all parents are able to do this.
One issue in trying to introduce mentorship programs will be that not enough adults volunteer for such programs. Rather than throw their hands in the air, many schools are using other students who have high achievement to reach other students. Even at the elementary or primary school levels with children below age 11, there are programs that successfully improve academic outcomes by using peer-tutoring and mentorship.
In addition to helping students who are not doing well academically, volunteer academic tutoring and group work has been shown to improve the academic performance of the volunteers and high performing students as well as those being helped. This is a WIN-WIN. Let's utilize all our resources to move forward in Math!
Dr. Linda Bailey-McWeeney is the Executive Director of Reggae Math Foundation, an economist, and an educator. She is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Economics at College of Staten Island, City University of New York and has been an Assistant Professor at Baruch College, City University of New York, Yeshiva University, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.