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Launching Scholars gives kids leg up

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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Doing math in the summer and staying past the bell to do even more math during the school year, all in hopes of eventually learning calculus, is such a nightmare to most students that when a group of kids from an impoverished LA high school did it, they had a movie (“Stand and Deliver,” starring Lou Diamond Phillips) made about them.

Yet, the kids in Needham’s Launching Scholars program were chipper last week during the program’s summer camp that features icebreaker games and math support, as well as literacy and SEL programs.

Launched five years ago, Launching Scholars is a program designed for kids who, with a little bit extra help, could potentially be groomed to take calculus courses in high school.

“Launching Scholars is a program that started five years ago. The goal is to get more kids into higher level math classes at the high school,” explained math teacher Rachael Silver. “It’s based off of Adrian Mims’ Calculus Project, so we’ve worked with him over the years about modeling it more for the middle school level, but essentially it’s a group of individuals who were seen as people that, with an extra hour of math throughout the year, could really help boost them into getting into those higher levels of math classes at the high school level. During the summer, we meet for the five days we do camp, which is a mixture of team building, collaborative games and previewing math, and then we meet once a week during the year to do math review, preview, homework help - basically meeting the needs of the students.”

For the seventh and eight graders at Pollard Middle School, taking part in the summer camp provided many other advantages. While they split apart for the math element, for much of the day, the seventh graders got an early preview of their new school and friends, while the eight graders got an early introduction to their newest classmates when they began the day together.

While Silver mentioned that they were not especially strict about attendance, because they understand kids play sports and have other commitments that may make it hard for them to commit to the program every season during the school year, she did say that they’ve already noticed the Launching Scholars kids are finding increased success at the high school level.

“The kids that consistently come every week are the most successful,” she said. “The teachers know who they are. The teachers look to them as leaders in the classroom, and they feel more confident, because they’re getting that review and preview.”

While the program is too young to have any concrete numbers on how many of its graduates went on to advanced math classes, Thomas Lee, a high school junior from the first Launching Scholars class, said that he thinks most students are, or will end up in, the advanced math classes.

Silver also noted that the summer camp has gotten great help from the community, with various local restaurants donating lunch to the students.

It’s not the same as getting a Lou Diamond Phillips movie made about you, but it’s something.

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