Urban Math Collaborative Students Celebrate Black History
By Dianne Anderson
Top teenage mathematical minds in the Long Beach Unified School District are gearing up to teach students half a world away about how to build, program and code computers.
Kids with the Urban Math Collaborative will soon catch up with students off the coast of Africa in a new long-distance learning project alongside Cabo Verde students to help develop math and science programs at their schools.
“Our students are excited, we’re excited that we’re going to be working with another country,” said Terrance Bryant, MS, co-director of the Urban Math Collaborative for LBUSD along with Michael Crowder-Jones at Wilson High School.
The project is a partnership of the Urban Math Collaborative with Bob Barboza of the Space Center.
As part of Black History Month, Bryant said he was inspired by Dr. Kimberly Johnson with the Office of Equity, Access, and College & Career Readiness.
Her Hidden Figures Project in partnership with the Concerned African American Parents is also presenting its living museum featuring students from elementary through high school, including some from the Math Collaborative.
Students researched African American male and female hidden figures, creating their displays and are ready to step into character at their upcoming event.
“Students will be dressed up as their Hidden Figure. When parents and district members and board members go around to talk to the students, they will respond as if they are that person,” Bryant said.
One of his students is representing H. Rap Brown of the Black Panther Party. He will speak to all of the important community services that the Party fought for in the 60s, including housing, jobs, and access to free breakfast for young students at schools. Some students are also representing Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, and Booker T. Washington.
Lots of other good things are happening this month, but much of the excitement for the Math Collaborative is the holistic approach that promotes cultural awareness and leadership. He said they also work with the nonprofit Elevate Your Game to help students understand math, from the very simple to higher levels.
But he is concerned about the impact on students deprived historically from learning about the many unspoken math and science heroes. Most people did not know NASA’s research mathematician Katherine Johnson, who worked the trajectory calculation that enabled the first humans to go to the moon.
“Teachers do not teach about Katherine Johnson, or any prominent African American or Black figures. In my own personal studies and research, everything was a shock to me,” he said.
Meanwhile, Black students continue to struggle in STEM fields and studies, which is why programs like the math collaborative are critical to close the gap.
These days, everything is math-intensive, and all about STEM, from self check grocery orders to ordering food at a fast food restaurant self checkout.
“The world is shifting when we look at technology, it’s these ideas of programming, engineering, it’s these machines that are going to be taking over,” he said.
Currently, at the Barboza Space Center, students are working on a project and building a robot to teach math. It says a lot about the future of teaching, and robots that do the work of humans.
Lately, Bryant has read some notable economic reports that predict Black wealth is expected to fall to zero in the coming decades. He believes that Black students need to understand the importance of coding, reprogramming, and ideas of STEM and tech.
“How do we prepare our students for the near future that looks so futuristic? Part of that is what we try to do through the math collaborative to expose them to STEM fields,” he said.
Through his program at Wilson and Cabrillo high schools, he officially serves 175 students, and many others that drop in for assistance. Next year, they expect to cap the program at 210 students. Both he and Crowder Jones seeks to recruit potential students in eighth grade into the program, and follow and encourage them through the next four years.
To participate, students must show potential through SBAC and PSAT Scores, but not necessarily making the best grades. Through the interview process, students also must be interested in STEM or higher education. From there, 25 students per site are selected.
“Our history is hidden from us so much, H. Rap Brown and Thurgood Marshall. Our students had no idea about what they did. It’s due to the fact that for Black people in general, we’re not taught that. These ideas and these people are left out.” he said.
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