Adults dig math class for kids

EDMONDS — Kierston Bach and her brother Chad, both 13, walk to College Place Elementary School every weekday morning to work on math at a free summer program offered to students in the Edmonds School District.

Although they’re learning a lot, it doesn’t feel a whole lot like summer vacation, they say.

“I’d rather be outside with friends,” Chad said.

Their live-in aunt, Debbie Satterlee, said that while the program has received mixed reviews from her niece and nephew, she is happy with the results so far.

Students can attend the program at one of seven schools in the district, where they receive a computer with access to Kahn Academy — a library of videos and “challenges” that allow students to practice math — and a group of tutors and volunteers who assist students when they are having trouble.

Through volunteering at Edmonds-Woodway High School, Bill Henning, 57, noticed that a lot of students were struggling in math.

Henning and Victor Esquivel, a volunteer from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, began exploring options to provide support for students in the summer that would improve their success in math during the school year.

During the tutoring program’s inaugural year in 2011, organizers had one site that could support a maximum of 157 students. This year, the program has more than 400 regular students at seven locations.

Students can improve their learning through games like brain teasers and trivia, allowing them to earn points, badges and awards called “leaves” which let students unlock new avatars.

Kierston’s favorite game is “Guardian Rock.”

“It’s fun ‘cause you get to move a block around and crush all the people,” she said. “(The class) is kinda like a video game.”

Though not yet in eighth grade, Kierston said she has mastered ninth-grade math skills through the program, and is progressing into 10th.

Chad said that the games are better than a lecture, but “summer is meant for fun.”

Their aunt worries that the district’s curriculum is more focused at improving statewide test scores than academic fulfillment and said that a major challenge for her niece and nephew has been the middle school’s policy that students leave their textbooks at school.

Henning said that while limited access to textbooks at home may contribute, a larger problem is that students don’t always have access to instruction outside of the classroom.

“People not getting math is nothing new,” Henning said.

Henning explained that this can extend to parents, who may not know how to support their struggling students.

“If we look at providing additional support to kids who may be lacking good support at home, or who need extra help, we can help them succeed,” he said.

Henning is working with school officials and parents to replicate the tutoring program during the year. He invites volunteers from middle school-age and older to donate an hour a week.

Maribel Sanchez-Ortega, who will be a sophomore this fall at Edmonds-Woodway High School, volunteers at the program about five days a week. The 15-year-old tutors younger students, ages 9 to 13.

“Math has been a good subject for me, but it’s something I need to work on sometimes,” she said. “Helping the other children helps me, too.”

Learn more

To learn more about free math tutoring in the Edmonds School District, visit or call 206-579-6121.

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