Irene Gee, summer school principal at A. Philip Randolph
Campus High School in Harlem, was pleased to hear the
anecdote: A student had been caught working on math problems
while on a field trip to Lincoln Center.
"She said she couldn't wait to get home to do the math, so
she was doing it on the bus," said Ms. Gee, with some
amazement. "The kids are really getting motivated. It's very
In spite of oppressive temperatures at uncooled Harlem
schools this summer, engineering students from City College
of New York and Columbia University helped to instill
unprecedented enthusiasm for fractions, decimals and algebra
problem-solving in math-challenged high schoolers.
Though the students are entering the ninth grade, it's not
too soon to start grooming them for college, said Gil Lopez,
project director for the program, called the Harlem
"Study after study shows that students who do not master
algebra in the ninth grade do not take or complete the
advanced math and science courses necessary for engineering
college consideration," Mr. Lopez said. "This is the
appropriate time for intervention. If these students can
gain some confidence about their math abilities prior to
high school enrollment, they have a chance of making great
Pending receipt of external funding, the network will expand
this fall to a three-year development effort, with some
1,800 students and 40 teachers expected to participate. In
addition to Randolph High, the project will include
Frederick Douglass Academy, the Manhattan Center for Science
and Mathematics and Intermediate Schools 43, 195 and 275 in
Community School District Number 5 in Harlem. After the
three-year project ends, the network is to be expanded to
include more Harlem schools. Administrators at the two
colleges hope to see the model of engineering students
coaching high schoolers in math replicated in inner cities
across the nation.
"Too often, mentor programs focus on the top students, when
it's precisely the students at the bottom who need the
attention," said Jack McGourty, associate dean in the Fu
Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at
Columbia. "We think this model can make a difference."
Over the summer, in a pilot run of the program, 13 student
engineers from the two colleges helped about 200 students
who this fall will enter Randolph High, located on the City
College campus at West 135th St. in Manhattan. The students
took placement tests at the start of the six-week term,
which ran July 1 to Aug. 11, and were divided into four
groups, the lowest two of which received the individual
attention provided by the teaching assistants. The pilot
program was funded by the New York City Board of Education,
the Urban Systemic Initiative and the Gateway Coalition, a
consortium of seven East Coast engineering colleges.
The student engineers worked under the supervision of
regular summer-school teachers, who broke classes up into
teams of two to five students, each assigned to a teaching
assistant. On most days, there was a quiz, and until the
entire class mastered a topic, the entire class continued
working to understand it.
"The students have math problems in front of them all the
time, and their attention to the subject has to be
undivided," said Marvin Robinson, a math teacher at Randolph
High who worked with the most-challenged students. "They
need the kind of discipline this small group relationship
Randolph High enrolls about half of its incoming first-years
in the summer program. Students attend three 97-minute
classes, in math, science and in special projects to help
them understand high school work. The high school, which at
one time housed the city's performing arts high school, now
enjoys a special relationship with City College, which gives
the high school students access to labs and libraries and
allows seniors to take tuition-free college courses. In Mr.
Robinson's class one July morning, four groups of students
wrestled with homework problems, and the teacher moved among
them, conferring with the four mentors. On this day, clouds
moderated the heat.
"I think the students are really coming around, really
beginning to look forward to math," said David Babb, a City
College engineering student. "But the kids who are slower at
comprehending the new lessons get frustrated sometimes and
lose motivation. There are all kinds of human emotions we
have to take into account."
Elizabeth Viriya, a biomedical engineering major at
Columbia, agreed. "I found my students diligent, ready to
work and ready to conquer the problems that used to be
intimidating. In terms of interest level, I have never seen
a more dramatic improvement."
The Harlem network builds on the experience of the
Comprehensive Model School Project, a collaboration among
the Board of Education, Cooper Union and Columbia from 1991
to 1995 to prepare seventh- and eighth-graders for high
school. Eighth-graders in the program achieved an average 90
percent pass rate on the Regents' Algebra Examination
administered in June 1995, the second-highest rank of 28
Manhattan schools. Since 1995, the project has evolved into
the CMSP High School on the Lower East Side.
For more information, interested parties may contact Jack
McGourty, Associate Dean, Fu Foundation School of
Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University, (212)
854-4814 or email@example.com.