Why did you want to start GTS?
A high percentage of students in our school district are failing to meet the state standards for performance in mathematics. In addition, some students perform at a high level in mathematics and need opportunities to develop their abilities. We believe in the value of STEM education and pushing students to the highest level. Each of us has had joy and success with competitive mathematics and has had amazing teachers who have inspired and motivated us. We would like to return the favor and do the same for others in our community.
How did you go about starting GTS?
We knew we wanted to make a difference and read a book for young people called Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something that Matters. This gave us some ideas for how to proceed. As a family, we sat down together and discussed all of the problems in our
community and narrowed it down to one in which we could make the most impact and that fit our personal interests.
How do you “encourage under-represented groups to pursue STEM education and activities”?
We have focused on starting new programs at Title One schools, where students’ families are more likely to struggle with certain challenges and which sometimes have fewer academic enrichment programs available or parent accessibility to fee-based programs outside of school.
Additionally, we strive for equal representation of boys and girls in our programs. Research indicates that girls are under-represented in STEM fields. Girls’ lack of interest and confidence in math often starts very young. In order to ensure that girls are participating in STEM activities, we encourage teachers to reach out to girls who may be a good fit for our programs and we seek out young women as visible leaders.
On the other side, we have found that elementary boys are often not as forthcoming as girls in taking on a role to teach another child in our Mathletes Mentor program. We have found it worthwhile to have teachers reach out to boys who would be a good fit to encourage them to pursue this position, and have seen success with that approach.
Why is it important to GTS to develop youth leaders?
There is such an emphasis on youth volunteering and community service, which is a movement that we applaud. However, opportunities for youth are often not as fulfilling as they might be. We strive to create positions for youth that truly encourage their capacities in leadership, problem solving, team building, responsibility, and generosity. We believe in our youth, who are our future! We also believe that by creating fulfilling and meaningful volunteer roles for them, we can spur them to become adults who contribute in important ways to their
If you are focused on STEM education, why are your current programs centered mainly on math?
We think that mathematics is the building block to success in STEM education and everyday life; it is the last but the most important among the letters in the acronym. Skills in math are often essential to truly succeed in science, engineering, computer science, technological innovation, and other related areas. Math education is also an acute need in our community at this time. In the most recent standardized tests, only 29% of our high schoolers were on grade level in math, and we start to see math scores drop off as early as fourth grade, which is the grade at which our Math is Cool teams start. And, math is a personal interest of our family.
How are you funded?
We are currently funded by the Idaho Future Fund of the Idaho Community Foundation, Idaho STEM Action Center, Coeur d'Alene Tribe, United Way of North Idaho, Mountain West Bank, Idaho Central Credit Union, bankcda, Kootenai Electric, and contributions from individuals, families and school PTOs. We also host an annual fundraiser event and have applied for grants and support from other entities.
Because GTS relies greatly on volunteers, we keep our costs low. We also believe it’s important that the schools and students involved in our programs invest in them in some small way. Our Math is Cool teams host a bake sale each year to raise funds for their school program, and sometimes school PTAs contribute support as well.
How do teachers and schools fit into what you are doing?
Our programs work in collaboration with schools. Every step of the way, we work to engage the support of school principals and select a teacher at the school to oversee the program and guide the student coaches. We also look for support from school parents and PTAs.
What is the significance of your logo?
Our logo concept was developed by Adeline Smith and executed by Benjamin Mandel. It represents the Chinese orchid, which in flower lore symbolizes academic pursuits, friendship, integrity, tenacity of character, and higher growth. These are exactly the values that we want our programs to embody! Additionally, the flower has a stem, and we focus on growing STEM experiences for young people who might not otherwise have the opportunity and exposure. It is our hope that students’ math confidence and joy in learning will bloom in GTS’s programs.
What does the future hold for GTS?
We are currently working on expanding our two main programs within our school district: Math is Cool competitive math teams (elementary and middle) and the Mathletes peer mentoring programs. We would love to see programs in every school in our district! Some additional programs we have considered include summer math camps, high school math programs, scholarships for national math programs, and hosting our own math competitions. Finally, we hope to explore ways to expose students in our programs to opportunities in STEM fields and to collaborate with other STEM entities in our state and community. This may involve engaging STEM professionals to share information about their field or provide demonstrations to our students.
Who else has helped to make GTS possible?
Collaboration with so many wonderful people, many of whom are educators, has taken Growing the STEM from an idea to a reality. Lilian and Adeline would like to thank:
Charlene Babb, Advanced Learning Program teacher at Sorensen School for the Arts and Humanities, for years of wonderful math lessons, for introducing the Math is Cool program to Lilian and Adeline, and for lending her space and expertise to the Mathletes Mentor program. Over 50% of our student coaches in Year 2 were Ms. Babb's former students, which says it all. She is a gifted and dedicated teacher who inspires many!
Kate Orozco, Director of Elementary Education for Coeur d’Alene Public Schools, for believing in the idea of Growing the STEM, championing it at every step, and initiating relationships with principals that allowed our Math is Cool and Mathletes programs to start and to grow.
Brett DePew, Principal at Sorensen, for listening to Adeline’s idea for a peer tutoring program, for being willing to let her try it, and for being so supportive along the way.
Shanna Marshall, fourth grade teacher at Sorensen, for advising on and shepherding the design of the Mathletes program, for being (truly) the best fourth grade teacher ever, and for serving as Education Advisor on the GTS Board.
Kathy Livingston, Principal at Fernan STEM Academy, for being a willing innovator by suspending disbelief and letting two teenagers (Lilian and Kevin) and a parent from another school start an after-school math program for her students; and, for being such a strong and nurturing guide to the student coaches and supporter of the program.
Tracy O'Brien, Advanced Learning Program teacher at Skyway Elementary, for her generosity in sharing the wisdom she has gleaned in many years of success with her own Math is Cool teams. She provided an excellent model for us to build on, especially in the incorporation of youth leaders.
Brian Hadley, of Qualfon, for being the capable and dedicated adult leader of our first Math is Cool program at Fernan STEM Academy.
Kevin Eaton, then a senior at Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy (and now studying engineering at the Colorado School of Mines), for taking the leap and co-leading GTS’s first Math is Cool team with Lilian.
Heather Mangini of Fernan STEM Academy, Sigurd Panke of Bryan Elementary, Todd Best of Lakes Middle School, and Nicole Symons of Lakes Middle School, for generously donating hours and hours of time, over many months, after a full day of teaching to oversee our Math is Cool teams and guide our student coaches. Their contributions have paved the way for stronger programs with teacher oversight and engagement.
Kari Tapia, math teacher and scholastics coach at Coeur d’Alene High School, for going out of her way to recruit the majority of our student coaches during our second year. This allowed us to grow from one Math is Cool program to three and to spread the word about the opportunity for student leadership. It is impossible to over-state how important her efforts have been to our program!
Lauren Gage and Kellie Hanna, parents at Lakes Middle School, for forging connections that led to the launch of a Math is Cool program at Lakes.
The United Way of North Idaho and Mountain West Bank, for investing in a new idea and serving as our first financial supporters. Thank you for taking a chance and believing in us!
Idaho Community Foundation, Idaho STEM Action Center, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, Mountain West Bank, Idaho Central Credit Union, bankcda, and Kootenai Electric for their generous support of our programs in 2019-2020. You have enabled us to share the love of math with so many students in our community!
Lilian quizzes the Fernan team at their first Math is Cool competition in 2018.