After-school pilot uses fun, aims at middle school algebra skills

Huron-Scarlett students team up using Young People’s Project

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

An after-school math program is under way between Scarlett Middle School and Huron High School through the Young People’s Project, a national nonprofit based regionally at the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

The multi-week pilot program is all about math and preparing middle school students for high school and the higher-level courses they will need to graduate.

Young People's Project
Huron High School students prepare an activity for the Young People's Project after-school program at Scarlett Middle School.

Between 10-15 Huron students have been trained to work with 40-50 middle school students at Scarlett. The Ann Arbor Public School program will be a pilot for this school semester running through May and is funded through the district and the Ann Arbor Education Association.

“It’s making math meaningful,” said Gerald Vazquez, principal at Scarlett Middle School where the program is being piloted for one year. “There’s a lot that can happen with group dynamics. I’m excited about the possibilities.”

The Young People’s Project is an outgrowth of a national literacy effort, The Algebra Project. YPP uses math literacy as a tool to develop young leaders and organizers to change the quality of education and life in their communities and to help low-income students and students of color acquire college preparatory math skills. Algebra Project graduates founded it in 1996. YPP  is represented around the country at a variety of sites including the one at U-M’s Ann Arbor campus.

The U-M School of Education hosts a branch of the Algebra Project and the two programs work closely together to achieve a similar goal, said Alexandra Tracy, interim program director for the Young People’s Project in Ann Arbor.

Young People's Project
Scarlett Middle School students do an exercise in trusting each other during the first session of the Young People's Project.

Tracy said YPP was started with seed money and effort from U-M staff, but that students have helped to fuel its success. “The faculty put together funds (for YPP), but it took the college students to help It thrive here,” she said.

The U-M campus project works with students at the U as well as those from Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College and other area colleges. These YPP College Math Literacy Workers train high school students. In Ann Arbor’s case, those Huron High School students are bringing a fun style of math lessons to students at Scarlett Middle School. “The way we train our college students is very important to what we do,” Tracy added.

Program staffing is funded through U-M’s LS&A, with college students doing some fund-raising for the program. School districts that participate also fund their specific programs; in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, the district is funding $20,000 and the Ann Arbor Education Association is funding the remaining $5,000.

Other outreach through the U-M YPP includes programs in Willow Run, Lincoln, Ypsilanti and Wayne-Westland districts.

Young People's Project
Students are eager to answer during a numbers exercise.

Brit Satchwell, a sixth-grade mathematics teacher in the Ann Arbor Public Schools serves as president of the Ann Arbor Education Association. He said he has thought about a similar concept for several years: Involving students at multiple levels, not in place of any district initiatives, but in addition to them. “I thought, let’s forge a link with the community,” he said.

Things began to come together with a connection to the local Young People’s Project, he said. Satchwell and Michelle Madden, former math and science curriculum coordinator for the district, pushed for the program and in 2009-10, former Superintendent Todd Roberts met Robert Moses, founder of the Algebra Project, and Roberts got Ann Arbor Public Schools involved.

Satchwell said where most districts fund their YPP programs through outside grants, this is “the first school district coming through the front door” and dedicating resources to the effort, he said.

“It has fun activities that contain algebraic concepts,” Satchwell said of YPP. “It’s all about algebra readiness.” He said that middle school students are at a prime age for the program. “Cognitively, they’re right at the edge of going from concrete to abstract thinking,” he added.

The program seeks systemic change and ties into the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Strategic Plan, which calls for higher-level math skills in middle school to prep students for more intense high school graduation requirements. Curriculum officials have called algebra a “gateway” course to higher-level math and said increasing student understanding at an earlier age will bring success in high school.

During the program’s first after-school session at Scarlett this month, YPP College Math Literacy Workers were on site overseeing the Huron-Scarlett teams. After some ice-breaking exercises, some of the teams moved right into the math.

The students are a mix: Some who like math, others who don’t; some who say they are good at it and others who struggle. By the end of the two-hour session, most appeared to be enjoying being part of YPP.

Natalie Erb is a U-M senior history major got involved with YPP through the Project Community class at U-M that encourages community service. She started working with students in the Lincoln school district and, this year, she is assigned to Huron and Scarlett.

She said the program makes a difference in middle schoolers’ confidence and their ability to do math and algebra concepts. “If nothing else, they have a new appreciation for it,” she said. “It’s a new way of thinking.”

Casey Hans writes and edits this newsletter for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Reach her at or call 734-994-2090.

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