~ Submitted by Rebecca Reubenstein
In reading about last week’s School Committee discussion on the elimination of the sixth-grade advanced math class, I didn’t see a lot of discussion of what the experience is actually like for a student in this class. I’d like to offer up my experience as an additional perspective I hope administrators might consider. I attended Bedford Public Schools for grades K-12 and graduated from BHS in 2015. I’m currently a master’s student at MIT studying operations research (a branch of applied math). The two people I credit most for where I am today, after my parents, are Sarah Dorer and Lisa Fontaine-Rainen, who taught advanced math at Davis, Lane, and JGMS during my time there.
What I remember about being eleven is that being good at math was not cool. Friends did not cheer you on when you solved a difficult problem. In unleveled math classes I mostly sat around bored, trying not to “show off” or “try too hard”. When I entered an enrichment classroom, it was like I was stepping into a completely different world where all of a sudden math was exciting. We worked on national puzzle competitions and did case studies on how math could be used to solve social science problems. Students worked together and encouraged one another to challenge themselves. We were exposed to the idea that math and related fields could actually be worth pursuing.
As to students not placed in enrichment math, I won’t speak for them, but I am skeptical of how this plan would help them. Are they better off learning from a teacher who is able to offer them undivided attention, or a fellow sixth-grader with no pedagogical training? Do they feel more confident in their abilities when some of their classmates are moved to a different class, or when the person sitting next to them breezes through the problem they’re struggling with?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I just ask that you talk to some students for whom these classes have meant a lot before you take them away.