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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, July 2, 2012, 6:59 am

Algebra academies expand in North Bay

Public, private partnership exposes English learners to real-world math

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    NORTH BAY — A unique summer algebra academy pioneered in Santa Rosa has grown throughout the North Bay, and organizations as far away as Arizona are expressing interest in duplicating the public-private partnership that works to expose English language-learners to real-world applications for math.

    This year, the city of Novato has joined the ranks of areas offering the program, which enlists local companies to host and teach in classes for students that were hand-picked from area schools. The North Bay Leadership Council expanded their version of the program to Novato this year, having begun offering classes in San Rafael in 2011.

    Students in the Mike Hauser Algebra Academy visit Medtronic in Santa Rosa. (Photo courtesy Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce)

    The council modeled their program after the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce’s “Mike Hauser Algebra Academy,” which was launched in 2008. The academy, named for the former chamber president, enlists 9th graders from four city school districts, with classes hosted at Agilent Technologies, JDSU, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Medtronic CardioVascular.

    The intention for the three-week program, organizers said, is to use hands-on experiences to increase confidence and enthusiasm for algebra and help to further narrow an achievement gap for English language learners.

    “As we are looking at learning at this point, we know that students need some kind of practical education to learn better,” said Arlen Agapinan, director of curriculum and instruction for grades 7-12 at Santa Rosa City Schools and a member of the academy’s organizing group in Santa Rosa.

    The Santa Rosa program has hosted approximately 60 students each year, after 30 in the initial offering. The North Bay Leadership Council’s program has graduated approximately 25 students during each session.

    While data concerning student outcomes is limited, Mr. Agapinan said that the first round of graduates appear to have a higher rate of enrollment in advanced math classes — a prerequisite for many universities.

    “You talk to the students afterwards, and they say, ‘I had no idea that I might use algebra down the road. I might be able to become an engineer,’” he said.

    Students attend class five days a week, with sessions that include instruction from a local teacher and by the staff at participating companies. The most recent rounds of students, in Santa Rosa and San Rafael, each graduated on Friday, with the Novato class graduating later this summer.

    For the companies, the benefits of participation are twofold: addressing concerns of community responsibility, and working to seed a local talent pool, said Fred Van Milligen, corporate chair for the chamber’s academy committee and vice president of research at JDSU.

    “On some level, it’s part of being part of a community,” he said, along with the camaraderie built among company staff.

    He added, “Quite frankly, we want to hire as many people as we can locally. The more people that get through high school and go to college in the area, the greater pool that we have.”

    Finding corporate partners for the program is essential for the model, said Kelly Bass, director of workforce development at the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and coordinator of the academy program.

    In Marin County, the council’s efforts to launch a similar program hinged on finding those partners. San Rafael partners include the Central Marin Sanitation Agency, Kaiser Permanente, the Marin County Department of Public Works and Sheriffs Office, the Marin Sanitary Service and Redwood Credit Union. The credit union is also a partner in the Novato program, along with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Sonoma Speedway, CSW/Stuber-Stroeh, the Novato Sanitary District and Veiolia Water.

    The group hopes to bring the program to Petaluma next summer, and is currently looking for corporate partners to support the effort, said Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council.

    “We decided that education had moved to the top of our list of priorities,” she said.

    Fundraising is also a concern – both Ms. Bass and Ms. Murray noted that their respective programs are funded entirely by donations, rather than the dues of members. Expansion could be possible in the future with increased support, and others seeking to start similar academy programs have consulted local sources for advice.

    “I wish we had more academies,” Ms. Bass said.

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