Everyday Math Skills Wanted

Mary Lu Kelley and Nathan ‘Aiwohi want to make math instruction practical. Amanda C. Gregg photo

One comes from engineering, the other from education, but Mary Lu Kelley and Nathan Aiwohi agree there’s a better way to teach math

Kapa’a Middle School administrators and business partners want to give math students a boost from residents willing to give their most precious asset: Time. Having recently launched a volunteer math tutoring program for the school, principal Nathan ‘Aiwohi and Oceanit assistant program manager Mary Lu Kelley are looking for math talent among community members, and hope to match them with students.

Originally partnered as part of a leadership program, Kelley and ‘Aiwohi are from vastly different sectors he’s an educator, she’s in defense engineering. But the two saw a need for enhanced math programming for youths ages 10-13. Using their connections, experience and insight, ‘Aiwohi and Kelley are now hoping to get people on board to help show students how useful math can be.

“We have a lot of accolades in fine arts and science competitions, but we’re still missing some of our kids we’re not reaching them,” ‘Aiwohi says. “While the majority are really improving with No Child Left Behind, we want to and need to provide that connection for every child.”

One area that is lacking in particular, math, is a subject ‘Aiwohi says can be more easily grasped by students when given practical applications by professionals from the private sector. It’s not only bank tellers and accountants who can help prepare the Garden Island’s keiki in arithmetic, ‘Aiwohi says, but entrepreneurs and contractors are great tutor candidates as well.

Relating the idea of book learning versus applied knowledge, ‘Aiwohi says he didn’t “use” geometry as a youth until his first job working for a contractor, who taught him the Pythagorean theorem.

Kelley and Aiwohi hope to ‘engage’ students in learning. Amanda C. Gregg photo

“How to square the foundation of a building I learned in a matter of minutes,” he says, explaining he used the 3-4-5 ratio triangle to verify the foundation was truly set at a 90-degree angle.

‘Aiwohi hopes that by using that kind of practical application, potential tutors will be able to teach Kapa’a Middle students.

“Engagement is so important, and it either makes or breaks the connection with the kids,” ‘Aiwohi says. “Either they’re going to be engaged or fool around. The most important part is making the lesson relevant to them.”

That’s where the rubber meets the road for students, ‘Aiwohi says, noting the ability to assimilate and adapt to students is key, something he credits teachers such as special education teacher Eric Huttger, and Kyle Cocherham, an earth and space science teacher, with doing well at Kapa’a Middle.

“I’ve seen some awesome things happening in (Eric’s) classroom,” ‘Aiwohi says. “He is so effective with the kids because he is able to tie in his construction background … And Cocherham was a scientist, so he actually brings that experience into his classroom. Those experiences help kids engage in the lesson.”

The type of tutors they’re looking for should have professional experience, anything ranging from engineering to masonry.

“Our teachers are extremely well-versed in content, and have a lot of book knowledge,” ‘Aiwohi says. “Some have reallife experience in math, but some don’t.”

The idea to merge the business and education worlds together began for ‘Aiwohi and Kelley thanks to a nationwide program called

Principals Leadership Academy, which now includes several local schools and business partnerships.

“The idea was to have businesspeople mentor principals,” ‘Aiwohi says. Getting businesses involved not only with principals but also students will help augment one of the goals ‘Aiwohi already has in place for the school: growing “social capital.” Achieving this relies on community involvement and a general sense of having a stake in the island’s future generations.

“These are kids who will later be knocking at (employers’) doors,” he says. “Building these partnerships, we can have a local work force in technology. Unfortunately, many times we don’t have kids that go into high levels of technology or mathematics.”

It’s here that Kelley and ‘Aiwohi share the common goal of getting Kaua’i’s youths into the tech industry. Kelley and former Mayor Bryan Baptiste formed the Team Tech Kauai Adopt-A-School program. She has made it

an expressed goal to get some of the island’s own into jobs like the ones her employer, Oceanit, a science and engineering firm, offers.

While donating time might be a tough sell, Kelley hopes people will be moved to give what they can, noting if everyone helps a little, the island’s future generations will benefit.

“For those of us who are fortunate to be employed, there is a sense of duty to give back to the community,” she says. “I think we owe it in general to our community and the young people to pass on what we’ve learned.”

Want to help?

Those willing to tutor students in areas of measurement, geometry, algebra, data analysis, statistics and probability are encouraged to volunteer.

Class options are from 7 to 7:45 a.m., 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., or 2:45 to 5:15 p.m.

For an application, email Roberta_Zarbaugh@notes. k12.hi.us.