Founder, STEM Parents Network
Los Angeles, CA
Photos by B. Alyssa Trofort
Photos by B. Alyssa Trofort
What is your organization and what inspired you to start it?
Our mission is to achieve world class math literacy for children of color. We help students enter kindergarten as confident and proficient math learners, prepared to succeed in later grades.
Our organization consists of two primary programs. The first, STEM Parents Network, is a community platform that connects parents and/or grandparents, students in grade K-12, teachers, tutors, mentors and STEM professionals across the nation for networking, training and access to digital resource tools. The second, Empowered Parents Math Workshops, is a series of four workshops that provides parents and/or grandparents of African-American students with tools and strategies to help their family and children learn math.
My passion for math began many years ago, when my single-parent mother with 10 children decided to return to school to become a nurse. As an 11-year-old child, I was able to help my mom with her math homework on unit conversions and ratios. Many of her classmates didn’t make it, but my mom did. At an early age, I saw the advantages and importance of math literacy. I saw math as a way out and up.
In the early 2000s, I became active in the education of my children and became even more aware of the disparities in the education outcomes of black students, especially in mathematics and science. As minorities underrepresented in STEM fields, we must do all we can to bring students of color into the mainstream mathematically. I believe older adults can offer their experience and fervor to help prepare black and brown students for 21st century careers and professions.
What did you do before you started your organization?
I have spent the past 50 years working in aerospace, communications, engineering and physical science milieus. My STEM career has included stints as a technician and spacecraft engineer at TRW and Hughes Aircraft Co., an elementary and high school math and science teacher in South Central Los Angeles, and adjunct college professor, teaching science education to prospective teachers.
I was instrumental in the startup of multiple charter schools across Southern California, wrote my doctoral dissertation “Charter Schools and Market Segmentation,” created Mobile Math and Science Labs for the effective teaching of K-12 hands-on science and math activities, and have been deeply involved in the STEM Education and Research Collaborative.
I currently serve as president of the Los Angeles Council of Black Professional Engineers, which is deeply interested in fostering a desire for STEM courses of study in African-American and other minority youth.
What problem are you trying to solve? Why is it needed?
For children of color living in Los Angeles, math education is in crisis. More than 80 percent of black and 70 percent of Hispanic students attending schools in LAUSD do not meet the standards for math proficiency. Our programs focus on mathematics literacy for children of color, because math is a pathway to success and makes them eligible for 21st century careers.
Those raising children of color must be empowered with the tools and strategies to help their preschoolers learn and succeed in math. These early years are so important.
How does your organization work?
Our training focuses on improving the math skills and attitudes of both the guardian and the child. We begin with workshops, which include hands-on activities aimed at helping children improve their math skills via personal and online media-based interventions and interactions.
Thanks to the Gen2Gen Innovation Fellowship, we’re working now to engage adults aged 50+ as mentors, instructors, guides and supporters of parents and students in their journey toward mathematics literacy. Gen2Gen volunteers will provide guidance and training in how to work with 0-48 month children. They will provide career and life skills guidance to young parents and families. And they will communicate the persistence it takes and provide the example of how to navigate the inherent difficulties in math learning, especially in the early years.
What makes your approach different or unique?
We are directly involving parents and grandparents in increasing math literacy for students of color. Our project removes the barriers and phobias that parents might feel and replaces them with concrete knowledge and activities that can assist students in a journey toward math success.
We unapologetically focus on African-American students, the lowest performing group. There are few if any math-based programs that explicitly target this population. The math achievement gap for children of color exists across the nation. This presents a large opportunity to replicate our solution and benefit other communities.
What is your big, audacious vision? What does the world look like in 5-10 years, if your organization achieves what you want it to?
In the next five years, we want to increase math proficiency by 150 percent for students of color, as measured by California’s standardized assessments. This would mean moving from a 20 percent to a 50 percent proficiency rate, putting students of color closer to the levels attained by the highest performing groups.
We would become a model for improving math performance by students of color, with the linchpin of our success being the emphasis on early childhood and family involvement. We would disseminate best practices to other school districts. And students of color everywhere would begin graduating from high school with the skills necessary to be competitive and successful in the job market.
Paint a picture of a moment when your organization is doing exactly what you intend it to do.
You would see a room full of parents and/or grandparents, older adult volunteers from the community, trainers and facilitators, and toddlers ages 0-48 months. They are arranged into three groups according to the age of the children, so the guardians can get specific ideas about what will be happening as their child progresses. The adults are playing with the children and allowing them to explore the rich environment of toys, games, books and other materials. The adults look fully engaged and happy, observing the children learning and thriving in a loving, inclusive environment.
How can people get involved with your work?
Tell others about what we’re doing. I’m running for a seat on the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District and I never miss an opportunity to talk about our work and the intergenerational opportunity. Spread the word to any families you think might benefit from our programs. Help us recruit. Attend our workshops. Fund our efforts. Become a mentor.
What advice would you give someone who wants to replicate what you’re doing in their community?
Become knowledgeable about common core math standards. Transmit a love, respect and understanding of mathematics and its importance in our everyday life. Use our expertise — we want our successes to be shared and replicated with fidelity for the benefit of future implementers and recipients. And find someone who believes in your vision and will support your continued growth.