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.
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.”
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
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