May 21, 2015 1:00 pm

Math Corps is Bringing Detroit Successes to Philly

The Detroit-based program combines academics and mentoring to reach seventh-grade students

Math Corps, a Detroit-based math program noted for raising the test scores of middle school participants, has expanded to Philadelphia. The program, which is equal parts academic enrichment and mentoring, was founded by math professors at Wayne State University.

David Shen, an adjunct math instructor, was instrumental in bringing Math Corps to the region.

A few years ago, Shen was inspired by a documentary about the program. So he flew to Detroit to learn the Math Corps model, resigned from his former job, and devoted time and resources to get the program off the ground in Philadelphia.

“I’m living off my savings to run this program,” he acknowledged.

Math Corps aims to reach students who aren’t “getting much” in their schools, which Shen described as impersonal.

“In school, you have a teaching ratio of one to 30. With us, the ratio is one to two. You don’t get that in any school,” he said.

In February, Shen implemented Math Corps in Philadelphia with “Super Saturday Math,” a ten-week academic enrichment program for seventh graders at a North Philadelphia branch of the Free Library.

“We knew it was a daunting challenge because we’re taking kids from all over, with all sorts of backgrounds in math and a wide range of skills,” Shen said.

Learning from the experience of his Math Corps colleagues in Detroit and Cleveland, Shen decided to focus on homework help and “made a concerted effort to get some really great tutors.”

The program pays high school students a stipend to guide their younger peers; college students also provide mentoring and tutoring. According to Shen, the Math Corps model is about relationships.

“It becomes a family and the bonds are just amazing to watch. This program is about love and compassion,” he said.

Although only seven students participated in the program’s inaugural Saturday enrichment, the feedback was very positive, Shen noted.

Over the summer, Math Corps will offer a four-week summer camp for middle school students at Drexel University. The camp is designed to teach seventh graders more advanced math concepts, strengthen their existing skills, and help them prepare for high school.

Math Corps is running a crowdfunding campaign to support the camp and is expected to receive a $3,000 contribution from the White Richardson Fund if the group meets its fundraising goal by June 16.

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Image via David Shen


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