Not long ago we introduced you to a group of very special young people, the winners of DIRECTV’s first-ever Math Achievement Awards. Each of them had spent twelve months as City Year Corps Members, serving as tutors and mentors to struggling students in high-poverty communities.
What really got our attention was the outstanding impact these folks had as math tutors. So we decided to take a closer look.
Our first interview is with Myeshia Bobo (right).
Myeshia, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to become a City Year Corps Member.
I was born and raised in Carson, California. I attended the University of California, Santa Barbara which I graduated from in June 2013 with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and Feminist Studies. (Go Gauchos!) From an early age I’ve always had a passion for helping others and knew that my purpose in life is to be a blessing to others the way God has blessed me. In college, I began to develop a keen interest in talking with my peers regarding health and wellness issues. This further manifested into my first leadership position within the education field as an Instructional Assistant for UCSB’s Health & Wellness class. That wonderful experience fueled my desire to become a catalyst for change through education and led me directly to City Year. I knew that City Year would offer me the opportunity to shape a group of youth into thoughtful scholars, but I had no idea the profound transformations they would spark in my own life.
What can you tell us about the school where you served?
During my year of service I had the immense privilege of serving at 116th Street Elementary School in the wonderful community of Watts. It was a great honor to work alongside such wonderful educators and staff! Although many of our students come from broken families and poverty stricken households, the 116th community served as a second family for most of our students. The school provided them a positive outlet to nurture their talents and explore their interests.
What were the highlights and notable challenges you faced as a tutor and mentor at 116th Street Elementary?
The opportunity to work with the brilliant students at 116th was a life-changing experience filled with many victories, as well as, many challenges. The challenges I faced throughout the year I believe helped me grow as an individual as well as my students; I can honestly say we grew together. One challenge I faced throughout my service was displaying empathy towards my students. Although I was doing my best to develop positive relationships with them, there still seemed to be some disconnect. During a moment of reflection one day, I was reminded of the quote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” For the rest of the year, this was my mantra. The trust that developed from this shift in mindset propelled my relationships with students into a space of comfort and acceptance, thus enabling these students to make outstanding academic progress.
My service at 116th helped me realize that the serving inner city youth is not a challenge in itself; the challenge comes from opening your mind to understand a lifestyle different, yet just as meaningful, as your own, and continuing to hold fast to the City Year value of “belief in the power of young people.”
What’s your history with math? Have the concepts always come easily to you, or did you struggle with the subject?
I developed a love for math at an early age. When I was in elementary school I would create math problems for myself at home and sometimes even pretend I was teaching a math lesson to my imaginary students on my toy chalkboard. I shared these stories with many of my students and after much laughter and shrieks of, “Ms. Myeshia, you were a nerd?” my students began to realize that maybe it’s not a bad thing to practice skills they learn at school outside of the few pages of homework the teacher assigns.
What math concept/unit was the most challenging for your students to grasp?
During my small group math interventions, I discovered that my students struggled with two digit multiplication. My students had difficulty understanding which digits to multiply first, when to carry digits, etc.
How did you work with them to develop an understanding of it?
I tried various teaching models such as: the square model, partial products, and the bow tie method. While these methods worked for some students, they didn’t stick with my math students so I created an interactive card game called “Multiplication Boom” that my students could play to help them practice two-digit multiplication. My students loved it! The game presented the content in a visual and auditory manner which added in their retention while also maintaining their interest throughout.
Was there one student who really struggled to grasp a math concept that finally had an “a-ha!” moment?
One of my favorite memories from my service year was during a place value and rounding lesson I conducted with four of my students. I gave each student a name tag to wear around their neck with a place value written on it (e.g. hundreds). Students were then instructed to put themselves in proper place value order (i.e. thousands, hundreds, tens ones). Once they were in order each student was a given a card with a value ranging from 0-9. I then asked questions such as, “Person in the hundreds place, if I’m rounding this number to the nearest hundred will your value increase or stay the same? Why?” I continued doing this for about 3 sessions when one of my students came up to me and said, “Ms. Myeshia, rounding is easy now. I just have to pretend that I’m you asking the questions and there are imaginary people holding up the numbers.” I chuckled a bit; then I told her that I was glad she felt more comfortable with rounding and that she had a cool strategy for remembering how to round.
Did you have a great math teacher or mentor in your past that influenced your ability to inspire math achievement?
I can’t recall one particular teacher or mentor that influenced my love for math, but I had several wonderful teachers that made math fun and applicable to my life which is what I tried to do for my students. I know that not every student will love math the way I do, but the opportunity to help them rethink the way they see the subject was a challenge I encouraged and welcomed.
What advice do you have for teachers, mentors and other City Year Corps Members that work with students who struggle with math?
I would advise other educators to seek multiple ways to teach a certain concept and be flexible in your approach. If a student doesn’t understand a specific method you taught it doesn’t mean you failed to teach it properly. It just means that you have to get creative, use other resources, and seek best practices from other educators. Some of my best lesson plans came from conversations with other Corps Members where we problem solved and shared ideas with one another. I would also tell them to be conscious of their attitude and enthusiasm towards the subject because students often model their attitudes and beliefs off of those of teachers and parents.
DIRECTV is committed to supporting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning at K-12 schools, with a strong focus on math as the foundation for organized thinking and problem-solving. What are your thoughts on the importance of STEM subjects, and especially math, for today’s students and their futures?
I believe that STEM subjects are incredibly important in securing a stable future for today’s youth. It is imperative that students obtain elementary knowledge of these subjects at minimum, in order to stay abreast of technological and societal advancements. Math is especially important because many day to day transactions require the use of math skills and without these skills you are left with a disadvantage that can stifle your opportunities for growth. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math professions are the wave of the future. Our students must catch the wave to soak in the warmth of its victories.
And what about your future? What are your plans?
I am currently attending the University of Southern California pursuing a Masters of Arts in Social Work. Once I have obtained my degree, I plan to continue working in the non-profit sector in woman’s rights advocacy or education. I believe that my purpose in life is to use my privilege to secure rights for adverse populations, and I will live out this purpose with dedication and humility.
—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio
NOTE: For more information about City Year, please visit their web site.
© DIRECTV 2017.