How Max and Ken Learned to Like Math (Mostly)

March 22, 2022

Max Bratcher and Ken Watson didn’t know each other before they walked into Saga math class, but they had one thing in common: they didn’t like math. Bratcher and Watson, ninth-graders from Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington, DC, voiced these feelings loud and clear to their tutors.

Bratcher said he especially didn’t like fractions and decimals. So, what happened?  “Mr. Bolen gave me all fractions and decimals. He pushed me to do something I never thought I could do. Now I’m attacking something I used to be afraid of,” said Bratcher.

Mr. Bolen is Bratcher’s tutor and AmeriCorps member serving with Saga Education. Although Bratcher has worked with in-person tutoring, Bolen is now his remote tutor. The transition from in-person to remote tutoring hasn’t affected Bratcher’s grades at all, especially since Bratcher and Bolen had a chance to work one-on-one.

Mindset Shift
Bratcher’s improvement has been steady. “When he started, he was C+, now he’s an A student. He now realizes that he’s good at math, and he picks up things quickly,” said Bolen.

Sharanya Balasubramanian, who is the Site Director, agrees. “We just had to work on getting that mindset to shift. Max improved dramatically. Now he has the drive to figure things out himself,” said Balasubramanian.

The mindset shift is something that challenges both students. But for Watson, the mindset shift is especially challenging. In fact, sometimes Watson must take a break to convince himself he can do it. “Most things come naturally to Ken. But with math, he’s scared of failure. In small groups like ours, you just can’t fly under the radar. Sometimes he must psych himself up to do it,” said Balasubramanian.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t do math. He can.

Calling Mr. Robot
Besides, if Watson is having a bad day, he can always call on Mr. Robot. Otherwise known as The Human Calculator, or his tutor, Krishna Kumar. “He can take any number and multiply it in ten seconds. It blows my mind every time he does it.,” said Watson. On this subject, Bratcher enthusiastically agreed. “I call him Mr. Robot,” said Bratcher.

“Every time Ken says, ‘Mr. Kumar, I can’t do this,’ I tell him that I’m going to set a timer and see how long it takes for him to say, ‘Oh that was easy.’ It’s a recurring joke,” said Kumar. 

Math Goals
Both students look forward to Fridays because they get to play math games and win contests. “My tutor is not like other tutors. He makes math fun,” said Bratcher. Another thing that they look forward to is a positive progress report. “It makes me feel good about myself,” said Watson.

A big goal for Bratcher and Watson is to get on “The Board.” The Board recognizes Saga Superstars–students who have shown consistent growth throughout the month, come to class on time, ask questions, and help other students.

The first step to becoming a Saga Superstar is believing in yourself. “I’ve got to stop doubting myself. My Site Director noticed that I’m scared of math, and she told me that I’ve got to let go of that fear and move on. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like I can do certain types of problems alone,” said Watson.

Although Bratcher and Watson are still in 9th grade, they each have ideas about what they are going to do once they graduate high school. Bratcher is thinking of possibly going into the military. Watson is thinking of going into financial investments. “Either way, we’re going to need math,” said Watson.