RICHFORD – A new statewide math program will be piloted at the Richford high school next year, offering some Richford twelfth graders a chance to fulfill some of their remedial math classes that might otherwise keep them from college.

The program, dubbed Essential Math for College and Career, or EMC2 after physicist Albert Einstein’s famous equation, is built on more than a dozen mathematical concepts deemed essential by a statewide group of educators and administrators.

EMC2 was facilitated through a Vermont Student Assistant Corporation GEAR UP grant, funding typically earmarked for helping students prepare for post-secondary education, and in cooperation with the Vermont Agency of Education and Vermont State Colleges system.

According to VSAC Academic Support Coordinator Anita Long, the program was established to pierce at least one barrier that might keep students from college or other post-secondary education options.

The problem she described was one where students’ mathematical skills aren’t strong enough when they arrive at college, something education experts both in Vermont and nationwide have identified as a challenge.

“They need to do either remedial math courses or somehow go back and recover those skills before they can proceed, and all of that costs money,” Long explained. “That presents a barrier to students.”

The Richford Jr./Sr. High School is one of six schools in the state piloting the EMC2 math program. (Michael Frett, MESSENGER STAFF)

According to Long, taking remedial courses at the college level might discourage students who can’t afford the class or lead students to delay their start to college. It might also turn students away from a career in the science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – field, skills Long said will be in increasingly high demand from employers.

“We do know in Vermont, a lot of students graduate high school don’t go on to secondary school,” Long said. “We suspect part of that may be this math and STEM barrier.”

By keeping the remedial courses in high school, where education is tax funded rather than paid for directly by students, Long said the state hoped to partially erode some of those barriers keeping students from college or other post-secondary education options.

Specifically, the program sets out to bring students up to a pre-calculus level. EMC2 was parsed down to 16 skills a group of educators identified as essential, ranging from algebra to graphing to statistics.

Those skills are taught through larger mathematical problems involving more investigative work on the part of the students.

An example Long gave was the so called “Bucky Badger problem.”

Per tradition, Bucky Badger, the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s mascot, does a pushup for every point the Wisconsin Badgers’ football team has scored over the course of a game every time the team scores.

After a certain score, Bucky Badger will have left the arena. Students, given the game’s final score, will be tasked with finding out how many pushups total the mascot will have done by the time he’s left.

“It’s a little different from what people might remember as a traditional math course,” Long said. “It’s more exciting for students… and they have to dig into the math.”

Richford’s Liza Bordo, pictured here teaching a math course at the Richford high school, will be helping to pilot a new statewide math program at the Richford school. Richford is one of only a handful of schools piloting the program. (Allison Witherspoon, RICHFORD JR./SR. HIGH SCHOOL)

There are other skills tested as well, according to Long, namely the communication behind explaining a problem, the critical thinking required to investigate a problem and the confidence that comes from being able to parse those problems. “I cannot understate the importance of confidence,” Long said. “Building confidence is essential.”

Richford was selected as one of six high schools to pilot the program.

While the plan is to ultimately offer EMC2 in each of Vermont’s high schools, Long said VSAC sought to provide the program’s first year to a diverse spread of high schools in every corner of the state.

Richford, a rural school of 136 high schoolers and already a partner with VSAC’s GEAR UP program, provided a smaller high school in Vermont’s northernmost bounds. In that way, it might contrast with Springfield High School, a larger high school in the southeasternmost corridor of Vermont that’s also piloting EMC2.

The other schools participating are Stowe High School, the Green Mountain Union High School in Chester, Rutland High School and West Rutland School.

In Richford, the class will be taught by math teacher Liza Bordo. VSAC, through GEAR UP, will be funding the materials for the course as well as the professional development program to prepare Bordo for teaching the program.

“I’m not sure if math in particular is the barrier [for Richford],” said Allison Witherspoon, Richford’s guidance director. “Definitely cost barriers exist. I wouldn’t say because of remedial courses, per se, but the cost of higher ed in general is so high that it’s definitely a barrier.”

The Vermont State Colleges system and the Community College of Vermont has already said it’d accept students who pass EMC2 without requiring any remediation courses or an Accuplacer placement test.

It’ll likely be some time before EMC2 is introduced statewide. Long said VSAC will still need a few years of piloting the program and collecting data before EMC2 is fine tuned enough for the Vermont-wide rollout.

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