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Non-Profit Solves Math Phobia Problem In California's Silicon Valley

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More kids are scared of fractions than they are of Frankenstein. Anxiety about math, if not addressed, can quickly escalate and make it harder for students to grasp concepts ever-increasing in complexity. The longer math phobia goes unchecked, the harder it is to reverse, creating an escalating, downward spiral, resulting in poor grades and lowered aspirations. This usually results in particularly negative consequences for disadvantaged students and for girls.

You'd think Silicon Valley, America's affluent techtopia, would birth heirs immune to math phobia, but in California's mecca of technology, the number of high schoolers able to meet University of California and California State University requirements for admissions hovers at around 50 percent; a number lower than the state's overall average.

This statistic also skews significantly along ethnic lines, with Asian students outperforming all other groups, mostly Hispanics, by 47 percent. The implications for Silicon Valley and the rest of the state are far-reaching. If students are unable to access and achieve in college, their professional opportunities will dwindle and the region's economy, infrastructure and forward-thinking culture may diminish.


Empowering Kids By Creating Solutions

"Kids make decisions about college when they're still in middle school," says Muhammed Chaudhry, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF), a non-profit resource which produces STEM-centric, school-based programs such as Elevate Math, a highly intensive workshop currently available in 26 school districts.

The group's objective is to increase Silicon Valley's percentage of high school graduates who are academically ready to attend and be accepted to the college of their choice.

SVEF's research indicates that math phobia begins early, when children start learning fractions and proportions. Elevate Math, given as an after-school program or summer class, supports incoming eighth grade students who are not ready to take algebra. A 75-hour intervention that addresses their fear of math by concentrating on areas of core weakness, like fractions, the program works intensely with kids and also supports their parents' aspirations by providing college tours.

Elevate Math helps kids acquire mastery of basic concepts by using a project and problems-based learning approach. The program also provides a strong focus on technological elements and small teacher-to-student ratios.

"Girls and boys do similarly in math and other STEM subjects, up until the fifth grade. At that point, data indicates that girls start to fall behind. Elevate Math puts all kids on a trajectory towards calculus by removing key misconceptions, and therefore the fear, of math. This helps eliminate both anxiety and gender bias," he says.


Empowering Teachers Through Training

Even the most highly-motivated students can fall behind if their teachers are not up-to-date on current techniques and technologies. To address these issues, SVEF provides 40 hours of professional development training for Silicon Valley teachers.

To support innovation and learning enrichment, the non-profit also has a grants program.

Teacher Innovation Grants, offered in conjunction with Wells Fargo, target classroom development and field trips with a STEM component. The grants enable educators to create enhanced learning experiences both within and outside the classroom specifically geared towards inspiring students to learn and interact more effectively with their fellow students and teachers.

In acknowledgement of the hard job teachers have, the group partners with local radio station 94.5 KBAY to highlight a specific Silicon Valley Teacher of the Month, singled out for excellence.


Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at

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