Two years ago, Michael Cunningham's grades were consistently in the 70s. On Saturday, he received an award in math for improving one letter grade or better.
The award came from a tutoring program called A Bridge to Academic Excellence. ABAE tutors helped Cunningham raise his Algebra II grade to an 87. In that regard, Cunningham might be considered a typical ABAE tutee.
"We bring in students from Baltimore City and Baltimore County and tutor them in subjects they need help in -- mostly math," Michelle Taymuree told me two weeks before Saturday's awards ceremony.
Ah, math! Is there any one subject that's more of a bugaboo for students in all 50 states? After I stumbled across the term "body mass index" in my handy diabetes source book, I asked a pediatrician just what it was. After she told me the definition -- your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters -- I advised her she'd lost about 85 percent of the American public with her explanation.
We are a society obsessed with who the next winner of American Idol will be. We are not obsessed with math. So if you find out that your child is sinking in a sea of sines and cosines, secants and cosecants and tangents and cotangents and such, then an organization like ABAE just might be what the education doctor ordered.
Taymuree is the president of the ABAE executive board, which is made up of tutors from the organization that, this year, brought together 62 tutors -- all students at University of Maryland professional schools in downtown Baltimore -- with 100 middle and high school students from Baltimore, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Harford County, Montgomery County and Prince George's County.
That's not bad for a tutorial program that started only seven years ago, when Margaret Hayes got the idea that a tutoring program for area high school students might help them pass standardized tests. Hayes, the director for student services and outreach at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, had just helped develop a pharmacy technician program for city public schools.
Hayes mentioned her idea to Renee Hilliard, who was a pharmacy student at the time.
"She took my idea of a tutoring program and ran with it," Hayes said Saturday, the last day of ABAE for this academic year. Actually, the last day of tutoring was a week before -- April 28. Saturday was for handing out awards of achievement and recognition for tutors and tutees. Hayes said tutoring sessions usually start the third Saturday in September and end the last Saturday in April.
Hayes, in addition to her full-time job with the pharmacy school, acts as ABAE's academic adviser. She raises the money and, she says, is "always looking for donations and funding sources." Tutoring is free for the students -- who come from private and public schools in the city and the 'burbs (mathophobia, it seems, knows no class or geographical boundaries) -- and Hayes has seen students' grades go from F's to C's, B's and even A's in her seven years as academic adviser.
With passing high school assessments becoming a requirement for graduation, tutoring help from ABAE -- and similar organizations -- might be more crucial than ever. But, Hayes cautioned, students and parents shouldn't expect to see high school assessment test questions in the tutoring sessions.
"When the high school assessments began to take effect," Hayes said, "we had parents and even some school administrators calling and asking us if we'd teach to the test. We don't teach to the test. We teach concepts and skills."
Teaching those concepts and skills has clearly helped some students. Cunningham, who will be a junior at Coppin Academy in September, says he has already passed one math high school assessment test. Paul Ku and Frances Wong, vice president and treasurer, respectively, of the 2006-2007 ABAE executive board, showed me progress reports on other students.
There was the Edmondson girl whose teachers wrote that she was improving in Algebra II after attending ABAE tutoring sessions. Then there was the girl at Western High School whose scores in geometry went from a 58 to a 79. One boy at the Western School of Technology and Environmental Sciences saw his world history grade improve from a C to a B.
Robin Samples, a Towson High School sophomore, is taking Advanced Placement world history. Her first-quarter grade was a C. Then, with the help of ABAE tutors, she got an A in the most recent quarter. Tutors also helped Samples, who's been an ABAE tutee for two years, raise her SAT score by 210 points and with geometry and -- you've probably guessed by now -- Algebra II.
Hayes said such help awaits any student willing to register. Registration forms can be obtained on the Web site -- www.pharmacy.umaryland.edu/studentorg/ABAE/. Those who don't have computers can contact Hayes the old-fashioned way.
Her phone number is 410-706-6586.
Find Gregory Kane's column archive at baltimoresun.com/kane