Math as a Safe Space

May 24, 2022

Jayoni Roman, a 9th grader at Roberto Clemente Academy in Chicago, IL, stops by the Saga Education’s Math Lab every day just to say hi. “I love this class period. Math Lab is my safe space,” she said.

Site Director Anthony Onica said he looks forward to the daily greeting. “Every day, Jayoni makes it a point to say good morning to Ms. (Natalya) Brown. It’s heartwarming to see the mentor/mentee have such a positive effect on each other,” he said. Brown is an AmeriCorps member serving with Saga.

But, in the beginning, Roman was a bit skeptical about the whole idea of math tutoring. “I was kind of upset because I thought I had two math classes, but then I realized I need more help. When I first started Math Lab, it was confusing, but Miss Brown really helped me figure things out,” said Roman.

Mistakes are Normal
Part of what makes Math Lab a safe space for her is that even when she makes a mistake, it’s all part of the learning experience. “The tutors won’t judge you. You just try your best and they’ll help you not make a mistake next time,” said Roman.

It’s important to Brown that her students know that “making mistakes is fine. We’re normalizing errors here. In fact, Jayoni saw that I made a mistake and that it was OK,” said Brown.

Equations and Supports
Roman said that her relationship with Brown is about more than just math. “Miss Brown helps me with math, but she also lets me know I can go to her for personal things, too,” said Roman.

Brown tries to offer practical help as well. “Jayoni has opened up to me about things going on in her life right now. I know that we are one of her safe places, I try to support her, give her resources and find out who else we can put her in touch with,” said Brown.

Onica said that Roman has seen growth in her skills and in her sense of self. “She always tries her best to be a good person and student. She has consistently made use of school support and the support we offer in Math Lab to grow and work on becoming her best self,” he said.

Questions and Answers
The Math Lab begins with a list of practice questions. “After the bell, we work on our ‘Do Now’ problems for four minutes. We discuss our answers. Then work with our tutor in a lesson. After that, we switch to computer work for more practice. If we need any help, our tutors help us,” said Roman.

Roman noticed that she was “asking better questions” to make sure she understood the concepts. She worked closely with Brown and moved up to more challenging levels. “I was understanding the equations more and helping other students more,” Roman said.

Onica agrees. “At the beginning of the year, I think Jayoni struggled with confidence. She was always willing to try when asked, but when it came to math, I think she started this year second-guessing herself a lot. We’ve seen steady growth in Jayoni’s math class grade, and I’m proud to say I see her taking a leadership role in the classroom helping her group mates with problems.”

Eventually, her grades went from a C to an A. “I’ve seen her foundational skills return. She can articulate learning and she can explain her process. Jayoni has really blossomed this year,” said Brown.