Getting Comfortable with Math

May 11, 2022

When 9th grader Valentino Santana talks about Saga Math Lab, the first word he uses is “comfortable.” Why comfortable?” “Miss Weiss greets me in the morning, she asks me how I’m doing, I trust her,” he said.

Santana said that working with his tutor is a different experience than being in a classroom. As teachers become more and more overextended, it becomes more difficult for them to provide customized support for each student. That’s where the AmeriCorps members serving with Saga come in. “My old teachers would sometimes scold me if I got something wrong but Miss Weiss helps me,” he said.

Anthony Onica, Site Director at Roberto Clemente Academy in Chicago, IL, noticed something special about the relationship between Santana and Weiss. “Ms. Weiss saw a kindred spirit in Valentino, and her patience has coaxed a lot of academic and emotional growth out of him. He’s a remarkable young man, and his relationship with his tutor has only accentuated that quality,” said Onica,

Their relationship began with …pastries?

“I remember on one of the first days we worked with him, he bonded with Ms. Weiss over their shared love of The Great British Bake-off. He did an impersonation of one of the people on the show, and the rest, as they say, was history,” said Onica.

Weiss said that she “loves math,” but she remembered when she didn’t like it as much in high school. “I try to express that to my students, and make it less intimidating,” she said.

A Math Mind
But as Santana improved in his understanding of the subject, the math became more challenging. At that point, Weiss said that she treated it as a partnership. “Let’s take this more seriously,” she told him. As time went on, Santana was able to work more independently. “Santana has a math mind,” said Weiss.

How to Study for Algebra
Of course, Weiss tutors her students on the foundational skills of Algebra 1, but she also focuses on the grade-level content that teachers are covering and shows them how to study. It turned out to pay off for Santana, because he ended up raising his grade from a D to an A. “He takes beautiful notes, he’s shown that he can do it. He’s challenging his fear of math,” she said.

In fact, Santana has come so far that now he helps other students in his class, and he even catches Weiss when she makes a mistake. “I gave him an example that had a mistake, and he found the mistake right away,” she said.

Onica said he’s also seen Santana make strides in his grades, confidence and overall maturity. “We’ve seen growth in Valentino’s math grades, and he’s been a lot more consistent with holding a strong score. Even so, I think the most impressive growth we’ve seen from Valentino is emotional. He’s more willing to engage in conversations when he’s struggling with content or personal challenges. He’s a student that I feel like I can always talk things through with, which is an impressive sign of maturity, in my opinion,” said Onica.

Although high school graduation is a few years away, Santana knows what he wants to do next. “I want to go to college. I want to become an engineer,” he said.

This goal comes as no surprise to Weiss. “I have so much faith that he can do math at such a high level,” she said.

“We’re very proud of him for being chosen for college preparation/planning programs here at Clemente,” said Onica.