UMass Lowell Students Help Middle-Schoolers Make the Grade

03/22/2011
By For more information, contact media@uml.edu or 978-934-3224

Diverse Group of Tutors Share Enthusiasm for Math

LOWELL, Mass. – Every week, two dozen University of Massachusetts Lowell students head to class – not on campus but to two Lowell Middle Schools to tutor fifth- and sixth-graders in math.

The 24 students spend a collective 100 hours every week at the Henry J. Robinson Middle School and the Kathryn P. Stoklosa Middle School.

The tutors are a diverse group of both undergraduate and graduate students, whose majors vary from chemical and electrical engineering, to education, psychology, sound recording, education, environmental health, English and biology. They are not only helping the middle-schoolers hone their math skills but also serving as role models.

“It’s so good for our students to see the diversity of the tutors,” said Brenda Busta, a math teacher and coordinator of the tutoring program at the Robinson. “They say, ‘Wow, he’s in college? Maybe I can go to college, too!’”

That the tutors aren’t all math majors hasn’t been a problem, said Ann Early, a fifth-grade teacher at the Robinson who often has Devin Ferreira, a music business major, helping in her classroom. 

“While not a math major, he has been able to help students by encouraging them to focus on modeled math strategies, effective use of math notes and strategy posters in the class and he has been especially helpful in getting students to explain their math thinking,” she said. “He gives them extra opportunities to discuss their reasoning and solution steps. He has also been a supportive math mentor.” 

Math + Music = Learning

Ferreira, who is a senior, said he enjoys finding correlations between math and music, and often brings his guitar to class – something, Busta said, “the kids absolutely love.”

With the help of his mother, a teacher in Maine, he even wrote a song about math. (Sample lyrics: “Perimeter, It’s the distance around, add each side and it can be found. Perimeter.”)

Such enthusiasm has worked well in the classroom, said Early.

“He puts a good spin on being a student because he is so enthusiastic about his own studies and he talks freely about his classes,” she said. “He also has some of the students working on their own independent research just for the joy of doing a project.”

Indeed, after having trouble keeping a few students focused on math because they wanted to tell him about their native Kenya, Ferreira suggested they write a report about their country. They did – and spurred several classmates to do the same. 

“I’ve learned so much about places like Kenya, Cambodia, Ghana, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic,” said Ferreira, who wants to be a teacher eventually. In fact, one of the reports has prompted him to start researching graduate schools’ exchange programs in Ghana, he said. 

The program is funded by two grants: one for $35,000 from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation and the other for $20,000 from the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation. Nancy Pitkin, who coordinates the program out of UMass Lowell’s Office of School Partnerships, said almost all of the money goes directly to the tutors, in the form of $15 per hour wages.

“It’s good money, and many of them need to work, so this is a nice option,” she said. “The Centers for Learning and Academic Support at UMass Lowell has been very helpful in recruiting some excellent tutors.”

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. The university offers its 14,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts, Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu.