Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM)

October/November 2015 Member Spotlight: Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM)

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SNAPSHOT:

Elevator Speech: Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM) is a free, five-year program for middle and high school students from low-income neighborhoods all across New York City, which begins with a three-week intensive residential summer program hosted on college campuses. BEAM is an initiative of The Art of Problem Solving Foundation, which was founded in 2004. BEAM recognizes that despite decades of efforts, students of color and low-income students remain vastly underrepresented in science and math related fields. BEAM addresses these statistics by meeting students early and bridging the gap between their aspirations and the opportunities provided to them. The mission of BEAM is to create pathways for underserved students to become scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and computer scientists.

NPEA Member Type: Organizational Member
Leadership: Daniel Zaharopol, Executive Director
Contact Information: info@beammath.org, (888) 264-2793
Location(s): New York, NY
Year Founded: 2004
Staffing: 4 FTE and 50 seasonal staff and volunteers work with BEAM.
Students Served: BEAM annually serves over 250 students (primarily grades 8-12) and alumni.
“About Us”: About BEAM, Why Beam?, History, What We Do
Get Involved: Donate, Volunteer, Work at BEAM, Contact Us
Main Website: http://www.beammath.org/
Social Media: Facebook


INTERVIEW:

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Q: Please provide a brief overview of your organization, Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM).
A: The question we ask ourselves is: how can we help students discover advanced mathematics? To us, mathematics is beautiful, exciting, and fun; it is a way of exploring human thought. We want to share that with students, and to help them get access to advanced work so they can enter careers as scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and programmers.

Our main program is Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM). BEAM is a five-year program that students begin the summer after seventh grade. Students spend three weeks living on a college campus, forming close bonds with their peers in an intellectual community, and exploring advanced mathematics unlike anything they have ever seen before. After those three weeks, we work with students and their families to help them enter into great high schools, take algebra while in 8th grade (so that they can take calculus in high school), and enter into other programs for advanced study. During high school, students are paired with an individual staff adviser to help them navigate high school and reflect on their study practices, find additional enrichment opportunities, schedule tests (such as SAT subject tests), and ultimately complete their college applications. BEAM has a small year-round staff with just 4 FTE, so we work as a very tight-knit team to support our students. In addition, we rely on 5-10 volunteers during the academic year for support with afterschool and Saturday programming, and over 40 summer staff members—including teachers, a social worker, nurse, and administrative staff—to run our residential programming, which has traditionally been hosted at two sites: Bard College and Siena College.

The goal of BEAM is to help underserved students find a realistic pathway towards entering STEM careers, and currently all of our students come from predominantly low-income schools in New York City. We believe that by creating a “bridge” for our students to enter the same programs for advanced study as more affluent students, we can ultimately help them find paths to realize their dreams.

Q: Please share a little more about the history of your organization. What significant events and/or people have shaped the mission and goals of your organization?
A: Richard Rusczyk founded The Art of Problem Solving Foundation in 2004 to advance the mathematical education of young people in the United States, with a special focus on promoting substantive problem-solving opportunities. Its first project was the USA Mathematical Talent Search (USAMTS), a national mail-in math contest that is still running today. The contest has three rounds; in each round, students are invited to work on five math problems for a full month. This removes the typical time pressure from math contests. Students then send in their solutions and get detailed feedback from our graders.

The Art of Problem Solving Foundation soon grew to provide logistical support for locally-run math circles, a project that has since ended. I was a graduate student studying mathematics when I met Mr. Rusczyk through this math enrichment community, and we talked extensively about how I wanted to move into a career in education. The Art of Problem Solving Foundation was just a small, all-volunteer organization when I founded the Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving (SPMPS) there in 2011. We had 17 students the first summer, expanded to nearly 40 students in 2012, and began to offer comprehensive year-round academic advising and programming in 2013. The next year we doubled in size again by opening a second residential summer program while still continuing year-round support for alumni. In 2015, SPMPS served 80 residential students in the summer and continues to serve 250 program alumni, including several high school seniors now approaching the college admissions process. Most recently, we changed our program title from SPMPS to Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM), which reflects both our mission and new initiatives we have planned for program growth

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Q: Speaking of growth, please share what plans your organization has for its future. What next steps and goals are you focused on?
A:
BEAM is currently planning for implementation of a new initiative: a 200-student, non-residential summer program that students would begin the summer after 6th grade. This program would allow many more students access to beautiful and interesting advanced mathematics by providing the fundamentals for continued learning and cementing basic skills that are often problematic for our students. By beginning with a large number of students earlier, we hope to both connect interested students with strong programs that also begin early, such as Prep for Prep and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, and to increase the number of students connecting with our residential program the following summer. We want to increase students’ awareness of and access to strong education opportunities, and to help them find the right “fit” as they consider the possibilities at each juncture in their lives.

Within the next five years, BEAM is considering adding a capstone program to its model for the summer after 11th grade, which would bring students back together after four years to help them prepare for the SATs and write college application essays. BEAM also plans to continue adding new summer residential sites, including expanding to a new city. Ultimately we would love to see BEAM become a national model for supporting underrepresented students who are interested in pursuing STEM careers.

Q: NPEA is committed to creating a culture of data with and for its members through NPEA Data Counts. In what ways does your organization currently use data to inform decisions and programming?
A: We collect data on every element of our students’ trajectory, including their performance in middle school, high school, enrichment programs, and academic accomplishments. Our summer programming utilizes pre- and post-tests, satisfaction surveys, and other formative assessments to inform and drive our current and future programming. We pay particularly close attention to understanding our students’ perceptions of math, and to learning what they self-describe as gains they make in our program. We are constantly seeking to better support them in building their self-confidence and realizing their dreams. Students’ ratings of our instructional staff are also critically important, as is their progression through studying mathematics. For example, if we notice that students are having trouble with more advanced math in a high school, we can often pinpoint what basic mathematical skills they might be lacking and work to both support that student and to incorporate building those skills in earlier curricula for future students.

 

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Q: Speaking of partnerships and collaborations, how has your organization developed partnerships with other schools, college access programs, organizations, universities, and others to further the organization’s work?
A: One of the hallmarks of our program is bridging the gap between programs that serve primarily low-income students and those that serve primarily advanced students. Thus, partnerships with other organizations are absolutely essential to our success.

We currently maintain active partnerships with 36 middle schools across New York City, and in each of these schools, at least 75% of the student body receives federally subsidized lunches. These partner schools nominate students to our program, and in return we provide teachers and administrators with support and resources. This includes helping these schools to register students for math contests such as MATHCOUNTS, often subsidizing their registration fees, providing training materials for those contests, providing recommendations for math programs and math curricula, and inviting teachers to visit during the summer and meet our faculty. In 2016, we are partnering with the nonprofit Learning Leaders to create curricula for volunteers to lead math circles within some of our partner schools. BEAM’s goal is to give all students within our partner schools better access to high-quality mathematics.

We also have a longstanding, close partnership with Bard College, including their mathematics and Master of Arts in Teaching departments, the Bard Math Circle, and the Bard Educational Opportunities Program. Another institution that supports BEAM is the Courant Institute at New York University, which provides us with free classroom space for year-round events.

In addition, we work closely with a number of programs for advanced study that are either interested in BEAM alumni or looking to consult on developing similar programs. These programs includes MathPath, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY), the Honors Summer Math Camp at Texas State University, the New York Math Circle, Bard High School Early College, All Star Code, MathILy, MIT, and several other programs nationwide. We also have a partnership with Splash at Yale University; each fall we bring our alumni to the program, and they provide free admission and tours of the campus.

Lastly, we have partnerships established with Google’s New York City office and Microsoft Research in New York City to provide tours and talks led by their engineers and scientists.

Q: What challenges, if any, has your organization encountered in doing college access work? What has your organization learned from these experiences?
A: Students and families have many basic misconceptions about BEAM, and sometimes have trouble fully understanding the value of what they could gain from enrolling in the five-year program. This is one reason we want to begin the program earlier with a lighter commitment, because it is so important to be proactive about increasing students’ and families’ awareness of what opportunities are available to them. Ultimately we know we are working to help students and families move from viewing studying math as utterly intimidating to incredibly empowering, and we try to speak from the power of our programs’ results over the last five years.

Like any college access program, we also find that despite the resources we offer, some families do not stay engaged with our advising. Once students are back in their home neighborhoods after the first summer program, we see common issues arise related to transportation, communication, and/or other challenges. We are constantly working to increase the level of family engagement, and our staff believes firmly in meeting students and families where they are and doing “whatever it takes” to help them access the resources needed to advance their education. Back to the top.

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Q: What are 3-5 pieces of advice or best practices from your experiences in the field that you think would be important to share with other NPEA members?
A:
First, there is a huge variety in the quality of various math curricula. You have to do more than just “teach math” and finds ways to help students really understand how to solve a problem. Resources like http://nixthetricks.com or http://jumpmath.org provide examples of solid curricula that help students really learn the math and not just follow procedures.

Second, you have to teach students to embrace challenge and to learn to grow from overcoming difficulties, You can do this by really challenging them, not just with the goal of achieving a good test score, but with serious learning and sticking with problems they do not know how to solve at first.

Lastly, it might sound cliché, but personal relationships are crucial to keeping students invested in a program, which includes personal relationships among staff, between staff and students, and among students.

 
Q: How has your organization benefited from membership in NPEA?
A: The Art of Problem Solving Foundation joined NPEA in 2013 after I presented at and attended their annual conference in Boston, MA. I have attended and successfully applied to present at every NPEA conference since then, as I find these events to be wonderful opportunities to connect with other members and share best practices. The newsletters have also been an extremely helpful resource for BEAM and really give us a sense of what is current in the field of educational access. We are also currently participating in NPEA Data Counts, and we are really excited to be a part of this national data initiative and to learn from the findings this spring.