4th graders explore STEM, college at Maryland Counts Day

By Kelly Zheng

Local fourth-graders in America Counts, an after-school math tutoring program, visited the University of Maryland on May 4 and participated in S.T.E.M related activities to put their acquired math skills to work.

America Counts is a component of America Reads*America Counts*Partners in Print (AR*AC*PNP), which is a partnership between the University of Maryland and Prince George’s County Public Schools.

Maryland Counts Day celebrated the work the participating fourth-graders have done throughout the year, introduced them to math in the real world and exposed them to a college setting, said Ali Barlow, coordinator for AR*AC*PNP.

Eight elementary schools including Adelphi, Bladensburg, Lewisdale, Mount Rainier and Springhill Lake participated with 249 total students in attendance. This was the culminating event of the AC program.

“Our goal is to provide a strong mentoring and tutoring experience for elementary school children,” Barlow said. “Ultimately, we want to help more children be successful and reduce the impact of the achievement gap.”

At the event, about 300 college students ran seven different stations some more directly related to math than others. UMD students, who volunteer for the program, benefit from it by developing important skills such as adaptability, communication, patience and teaching, Barlow said. These volunteer mentors worked with the children twice a week during the semester.

“Many other colleges and universities have some version of an America Reads or America Counts program,” Barlow said. “They fall on a continuum of student Federal Work Study employment program on one end to leadership and social justice oriented program (like ours at UMD).”

The schools in attendance were able to learn about the Carbon Footprint, demonstrate light refraction using lasers and gummy bears, make circuits, design different kinds of buildings, and solve fraction problems and puzzles to assemble a trail mix recipe. All groups also went on a campus tour.

“This program is valuable on so many levels,” said Andrea Mark, mathematics instructional lead teacher at Adelphi Elementary. “I’m a huge supporter of it, and I really appreciate the willingness of mentors to help reinforce [math] fluency skills. The kids have definitely grown to like math more, especially with the teaching.”

Like other schools, Adelphi has been participating in America Counts for about 10 years. Mark said they determine their students by interest. She said any fourth-grader who wanted to stay after school to do math was welcomed, which was a total of 45 students at her school.

Mark added that this program has helped students realize that math goes beyond the classroom. She said real-life applications give a hands-on approach to learning, which is beneficial to the students.

America Counts also provides pre- and post-test for all fourth grade students in the program.  The program has two components: homework help and math centers, which are 30-minute large group math activities designed to review math concepts, Barlow said.

“Our students didn’t score that well on the pre-test, but hopefully there will be improvements on the post,” said Cliff Cool, a fourth grade math and science teacher at Springhill Lake. “This program really allows kids to get extra support in math that they may not have at home.”

He said America Counts has helped the 20 students in the program from his school better understand the concepts of area, perimeter, multiplication, division and fractions with new methods and strategies on how to solve a problem.

The program intends to teach the students about college and show them that it is an achievable goal, Barlow said. She added that she wants kids to get excited about going to college and “all of the things that need to happen to get there hard work and resilience.”

“We have first-generation college students, so it’s important for them to know that college is for everyone no matter their background, they can attend,” Mark said. “Having such a close relationship with the mentors is invaluable and really exposes them to the setting.”

Cool said his students always look forward to working with their mentors, and the program allows them to meet young adults. It also gives the fourth graders a sense of community they may not have seen before, he said.

The program not only improves the kids’ math skills, it increases their confidence and persistence in math and academics in general, Barlow said.

Fourth grade math and science teacher Thaddeus Brathwaite agreed; he said he has seen this specific effect of the program with his class at Mount Rainier Elementary.  

“The program has helped show and teach the students that they can do math, especially for the ones who are not as strong,” he said. “At first, they feel like they have ‘taken a back seat’ compared to the others, which seems like they don’t have anything to contribute. But now, they do.”

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