Education by the numbers

Annual Algebra Academy held at Graniterock

(Students in the annual one-week Algebra Academy at Graniterock in Watsonville take part in a team-building and problem solving exercise Tuesday. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — A total of 120 students from 11 different middle schools across the region were given a head start on their math skills this week at the Bruce W. Woolpert Algebra Academy, held at Graniterock’s corporate headquarters and Driscoll’s Cassin Ranch facility in Watsonville.

The week-long camp, started in 2010 by late Graniterock president Bruce W. Woolpert and vice president Kevin Jefferey, is open to students about to enter eighth grade. It is taught by professors from CSU Monterey Bay and UC Santa Cruz, who aim to teach through interactive learning, games and activities. College math majors assist as aides.

“I really like this approach to education,” said UCSC’s Nandini Bhattacharya, who has worked at the Algebra Academy for the past six years. “Just doing classroom work, just seeing numbers on a paper … it doesn’t really teach these kids the broader impact of math, or any subjects.”

Woolpert’s wife Rose Ann Woolpert, who remains heavily involved in the project, said she wants students in the Pajaro Valley to be confident in their math abilities — especially at this age.

“We tell them: go back to your other classmates, your siblings, show them what you’ve learned,” she said. “Be proud.”

Employees from Driscoll’s and Graniterock speak to the students every morning of Algebra Academy about the importance of a stable math education, and how it will help them in the future — no matter what they choose to do. According to Rose Ann Woolpert, one of this week’s speakers will be a current Graniterock intern who was part of the Academy’s first graduating class.

“We want these kids to get the education they want and need, so they can come back and work for us someday,” Woolpert said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Algebra Academy students were participating in ice breaker activities on the floor of Graniterock’s ballroom area before their lunch break.

"So far, it's going OK," said CJ Brindeiro of Tres Piсos Elementary School. "Once they explained how this all worked it really made sense. I feel comfortable working with everyone here. I feel like we are moving ahead with the problem solving. At first I was a little nervous but it's such a nice environment to work in. When the new school year starts I'll be glad to have this as a good head start."

“It’s helping me understand how numbers really work,” added another participant, Jasmine Jaramillo. “I don’t get as confused anymore. It’s really helping me a lot.”

Jaramillo said she hoped her cousin, who is in sixth grade this year, might try out the academy in the future.

“You learn math, but you also get to meet new people and learn how to work together,” she said.

A graduation ceremony is planned for the students on Saturday at Watsonville’s Henry J. Mello Center. Academy aide Jenny Stenger-Smith, who is currently working on a Ph.D. in chemistry at UCSC, said that watching the kids at graduation is always a rewarding experience.

“They all look so proud and happy to have accomplished something,” she said. “And they should be. It’s a big step.”

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