DECATUR – Maressa Brown made up her mind in her junior year at Eisenhower High School that she did not want to sign up for Advanced Placement calculus.
“It's my senior year,” she said. “I wanted to just lay back and chill.”
Nothing her teachers and assistant principal said moved her. Rather, it was her own conscience and ambition that convinced her to change her mind.
“I'm going to college,” said Brown, who will be a senior this year and who is not only signed up for AP calc, as they call it for short, but is in the summer Operation Calculus class to prepare herself. “I want to challenge myself. I know I'll have to do that in college.”
Operation Calculus, now in its second year at Eisenhower, is an effort to make sure African-American students, who disproportionately fail and drop higher math classes, get the support they need to succeed in those classes. The first year, the School Improvement Grant paid for most of the expenses. This year, the program relies largely on donors, chiefly Archer Daniels Midland Co., James Millikin Trust, Ameren, Rotary and the Robinson Fund.
Laura Anderson, assistant principal for the sophomores, and Amy Zahm, assistant principal for seniors, organized the class. The program has doubled in size from last summer's group, with sections for incoming honors algebra II students, pre-calculus and AP calculus students. Students attend class five days a week, two hours a day, for four weeks.
Micaela Tatum said she was afraid to take algebra II, but the staff talked her into taking the summer class first, and now she feels very confident she can handle the work.
“This is just a really good program to help us,” she said. “A, don't drop out of (higher level math), B, do very well in it, and C, actually confident enough to say hey, I'm taking a higher level math class. It's just a really good head start on math.”
Instructor Justin Hampton has made the concepts easy to understand, she said, and she's memorized formulas and theories that have made her feel sure she can do well in the fall semester.
Hampton worked with the school's math teachers to be sure he would cover the concepts they plan to teach, and will also be available to students during the semester if they run into trouble.
The numbers show the program works. In the 2012-13 school year, 49 percent of African-American students dropped their honors math course. In the 2013-14 school year, none of the Operation Calculus students dropped an honors math course.