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Math Camp Expands through Cooper Foundation Grant [04/02/2019]



School of Education student Bethany Levallais served as a teaching associate for MELA in summer 2018.

Baylor’s Mathematics for Early Learners Academy (MELA) program, hosted at the Mayborn Museum each summer, received $74,000 from the Cooper Foundation for the summer of 2019, allowing the program for children in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten to expand to more schools. The Baylor School of Education previously funded the program, but now MELA is expanding with the goal to serve a hundred students.

The four-week experience, led by Dr. Sandi Cooper, professor of mathematics education, aims to build on children’s developing understanding of early number concepts with children from five Waco ISD elementary schools: South Waco, Crestview, Brook Avenue, JH Hines, and Alta Vista. The grant will now allow MELA to expand to LaVega ISD. Students with low district assessment scores are eligible to attend, and Cooper’s research has shown that math abilities of the participants progressed to get them ready for the next grade level.

Cooper said her goal is to help the students who need it the most get a strong start in mathematics education. She said the Cooper Foundation’s generous grant allows the program to do just that as it extends its reach to more children. As the program expands to serve La Vega ISD, two new teachers from the district will join the MELA team.

LaVega ISD Superintendent Dr. Sharon Shields (left) and SOE’s Dr. Sandi Cooper

Cooper Foundation Executive Director Felicia Goodman said, “We hope to see growth in the students who participate in the program. The project results statement in the grant application addresses this. Every grant applicant provides a project results statement, which outlines exactly what they hope to accomplish.”

Cooper said MELA’s three summers of data showed the children’s math abilities grew entering kindergarten or first grade, which interested the foundation.

Cooper said, “Originally, the MELA proposal asked for $50,000 to continue working in the five Waco ISD schools, but they asked if the program could expand outside of Waco ISD. So I came back and calculated what it would take to have more classrooms for 100 more children, extra teachers, and more Baylor students.”


MELA master teacher Jennifer Williams with a MELA student

Cooper said there is a growing interest among educators in providing an earlier and stronger educational foundation because it makes a difference as they follow their academic trajectory through middle school and high school. Mathematics interventions often happen in later grades, and Cooper believes if the students’ foundation is solid at a younger age, their later struggles will lessen. Part of this process is collaborating with their peers for support and learning in an inclusive, focused environment.

Two-year MELA teacher Jennifer Williams, Alta Vista kindergarten teacher said, “We are striving to provide a math learning family in a positive environment where kids are encouraged to take on challenges. MELA provides a diverse support system of teachers, Baylor School of Education student teachers, and encouraging peers that children can lean on to gain encouragement.”

—By Cameron Bocanegra

LaVega ISD celebrated the Cooper Foundation grant, along with other LaVega grants, at a special reception in March. Pictured L-R: Dr. Sharon Shields, superintendent and Cooper Foundation board member; Virginia DuPuy, Cooper Foundation board member; Bill Nesbitt, Cooper Foundation board member; Dr. Sandi Cooper; Cooper Foundation Executive Director Felicia Goodman; and Dale Fisseler, Cooper Foundation board member.

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For more than 100 years Baylor educators have carried the mission and practices of the School of Education to classrooms and beyond as teachers, superintendents, psychologists, health education professionals, academics/scholars and more. With more than 50 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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