Voices: Expanding math tutoring in Denver

Seth Vander and Tim Johnson of the Denver Math Fellows program discuss how daily small group math instruction can help improve student outcomes.

In November the voters of Denver passed a number of ballot initiatives to expand city services and increase funding to our public schools.  A portion of that funding is going toward the expansion of an in-school math tutoring program that was piloted in Denver’s far northeast and will now be expanded to an additional 40 schools across the city to serve thousands of students in the upcoming school year.

The Denver Math Fellows program presents a unique opportunity for Denver Public Schools students to receive daily small group math instruction from a corps of over 300 highly motivated and engaged recent college graduates, career changers, and retirees who participate in a full time year of service.  Fellows come from Denver and across the country to be a part of our team and then transition into teaching positions or continue on to graduate school or a career outside of education.

Fellows work with students during the school day in groups of no more than four students per fellow.  The small group context facilitates a mentoring relationship as fellows help their students realize that they are capable, cared for, and connected.  Students have responded with huge academic gains as well as an increased sense of math self-efficacy.

Many students enter the program lacking confidence in their ability to achieve at high levels.  One particular student, Jessica, struggled early on in the year and was multiple grade levels behind when she came to tutorial.  Based on years of struggling with math Jessica did not feel capable and her confidence was low. In order to instill in her that she was capable of mastering the material, we identified her misconceptions and gaps in foundational skills and worked each day to address her individual needs while also reinforcing what Jessica was learning in her regular math class.  Jessica would work with me on fluency facts, she would practice strategies at home with parents and siblings, and she would come to tutorial prepared and ready to learn.  Jessica began to feel more and more capable as her foundational understanding of math increased and by the end of the year she was performing at grade level and actually told me that she enjoyed math!

In addition to having academic challenges one of my students regularly acted out throughout the school day for a variety of reasons.  Due to this Dae’veon was not participating in Math Fellows and was falling behind in class.  Dae’veon’s classroom teacher and I met to develop an action plan about how to fulfill his needs.  We contacted Dae’veon’s parents to solicit their advice and met with Dae’veon for lunch and at recess. After these attempts to show Dae’veon how much I cared about his success, our relationship blossomed and Dae’veon was back on track with his schoolwork.

Another student, Manny, was initially difficult to reach but as part of my fellowship year I was also able to coach basketball and I encouraged Manny to join the team.   He did and began to feel more connected to the school community.  Over time the coaching relationship that we developed transferred to tutorials and I was able to push Manny to achieve at high levels with the ultimate goal of being prepared to complete college in mind.  This June Manny graduated from high school and will be attending college in the fall.

The Denver Math Fellows program has been successful because of the exceptional individuals who commit to participating in a year of service.  Fellows support classroom teachers by reinforcing grade-level material and by filling in gaps in foundational math skills.  Fellows support students by making them feel capable, cared for, and connected.  In return, fellows gain experience utilizing data to drive instruction, receive professional development in the areas of classroom management and instructional delivery, and are rewarded for the impact they have made on each of their student’s lives. To learn how you can be a part our program, please visit www.denvermathfellows.com.

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