Math Power Hour Bolsters Kids’ Aptitude & Attitude

Two Black children sit at a schoolroom table counting out coins as part of a math lesson Second-grade students at Norma Coombs Elementary School count coins during a Math Power Hour session.

In 2019, PUSD’s African American Parent Council (AAPC) debuted Math Power Hour (MPH) to bolster the math skills of PUSD’s Black first and second graders and close persistent opportunity gaps in academic achievement. At six elementary school campuses, volunteers work in classrooms during daily math instruction to provide students with small group or one-on-one assistance. A recent Education Grant from Pasadena Community Foundation will help AAPC expand the program to two additional schools and serve 100 additional children.

intervention based on data and with community input

MPH began after the AAPC spent years analyzing data of underperforming demographics within the school district. The organization and district stakeholders spent time learning from teachers, principals, educational experts, students, and nonprofit organizations that center their missions on academic intervention, like Reading Partners. “We brought everyone to the table,” remembers Natasha Mahone, who recently joined PCF for a conversation along with her colleague Nate Bradley. Both are PUSD parents, leaders within AAPC, and two of the originators of MPH.

AAPC’s mission is to identify how to affect the opportunity gap among PUSD students. “Black students have historically performed at a lower levels when it comes to English and math,” says Mahone. “So AAPC’s academic goal has always been to ask ‘what can we do to move the needle?’”

Bradley describes a listening session held at Marshall Fundamental High School as MPH was just starting to take form several years ago. Teen students recounted that as early as kindergarten, they had negative experiences in math. “They made a decision that early that math was just not something they could do. So that really opened our eyes and energized us even more to pull the program together and help these kids as early as possible.”

With data and community input in hand, AAPC designed Math Power Hour to offer early intervention and provide assistance in tiers. All Black first- and second-grade students, regardless of skill, participate in the program. Next, Latino students who struggle in math are assisted. Finally, if space allows, the program opens to any PUSD first- and second-grade students who need extra math support.

A side-box graphic is used to explain the African American Parent Council in Pasadena Unified School District. It reads: Created in 2010, the African American Parent Council (AAPC) is a coalition of parents, teachers, principals, district administrators, and communities in acknowledgment of the need for targeted programming, resources, and advocacy for PUSD’s Black student population. It is paired with a photo collage of four second-grade students at Norma Coombs Elementary School in Pasadena CA.

Building Relationships to Elevate Students’ Confidence

Bradley and Mahone describe MPH as a holistic program, one that specifically focuses on relationship building to elevate students’ confidence in the math classroom. Adults who are reliable and consistent are the cornerstone of MPH. Their regular classroom presence helps build trust with their students. Mahone adds that having volunteers who look like the student population and/or come from the same neighborhoods or similar backgrounds help students feel a sense of common ground:

“We found that in building these relationships, that’s where we’re growing their confidence and strength. Now we’re truly able to influence that young heart, that young mind, so that when they get to third and fourth grade, their confidence has been growing for two years. When they take those standardized tests, they can say, ‘I got this!’”

An adult male volunteer sits at a circular table inside a Pasadena second grade classroom. He has five students gathered around him at the table, each working on math concepts using coins and dollar bills.
Marc Ellis is a Math Power Hour volunteer. Here, he works with five second-graders at Norma Coombs Elementary School. MPH volunteers often look like their students and come from similar backgrounds – something that helps build trust and strong relationships.

A quote reads: "“Folks might think that math is just numbers, no emotion involved. But a lot of success in math is built around confidence, persistence, and repetition. We understand that a lot of failure in math is centered on fear. We’re just looking to build our children up so that they’re equipped with the emotional tools to hang in there and stick with math and science.”