The Albemarle County Public Schools’ continuing effort to encourage African-American achievement in mathematics took away top honors Sunday at the National School Boards Association’s annual Magna Awards in San Diego.
Each year, the association presents the Magna Award to a select group of districts from across the country for outstanding programs that advance student learning and encourage community involvement in schools.
“We have an independent panel of judges that come in every year,” American School Board Journal magazine coordinator Margaret Suslick said. “It’s a great honor and they even get a $4,000 contribution from [our sponsor].”
This year, Albemarle won the grand prize for M-Cubed, a program developed to improve the academic achievement of black male students in middle-school mathematics.
The school division developed M-Cubed after educators and administrators recognized a growing disparity in achievement between black male students and their counterparts enrolled in middle-school algebra courses.
“There was data indicating very poor participation by young, African-American male students in middle school in Algebra I classes, made all the more significant because Algebra I is considered by most educators the gateway to honors curriculum,” county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said.
Partnering with State Farm Insurance, the University Virginia and 100 Black Men of Central Virginia -- an organization dedicated to ending the racial achievement gap in the area -- the school division designed M-Cubed (Math, Men and Mission), a two-week summer mentorship for black, male middle-schoolers.
The program’s impact, Giaramita said, is reflected in the numbers.
“In 2008 there was only one African-American [male seventh-grade] student in the entire county enrolled in an Algebra I class,” Giaramita said. “Last year we graduated 60 kids. We went from one to 60 in the M-Cubed program.”
Two-thirds of those 60 students are currently enrolled in honors math courses.
“In their peer group, that is, African-American males not enrolled in M-Cubed, that number is only 27 percent,” Giaramita said.
But academic guidance is just part of the equation.
“There’s no question that the work in the academy has had an enormous impact as far as moving these kids along in their academic skills in math, but even in their lifelong skills,” Giaramita said. “Those are the kinds of things those mentors work on, not just homework, but their approach, the kids’ approach to life. They talk about things like college. They talk about things like what it takes to be a success.”
Giaramita said the program doesn’t just promote math skills, but life skills: self-confidence, goal-oriented performance and careers strategies.
Giaramita said it's important that the entire community, not just schools, is involved.
“Part of the program is parental workshops to bring parents in on a regular basis,” Giaramita said. “So the kids are getting support not just from mentors, but at home, as well.”
The program hosted 30 students this past year.
Ninety percent of those students have shown consistent year-to-year growth, according to the school division’s statistics.
That sort of progress has only been possible with help from community partners such as State Farm and 100 Black Men of Central Virginia, said Giaramita.
“The really key players are obviously the private sector, State Farm who is providing the funding, community partners like the 100 Men of Central Virginia,” Giaramita said. “State Farm has continued to be a supporter. We’ve actually received $115,000 from State Farm total over the past five years.”
The collaborative effort will be honored at a local reception at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Jefferson School City Center auditorium.
Refreshments and entertainment will be provided for invited guests celebrating M-Cubed’s success and the school division’s national recognition.
Those interested in attending are encouraged to contact school division consultant Mary Huffard Kegley at 760-1142.