GFS's Algebra Enrichment Program offers public and charter school students the opportunity to take algebra in middle school, opening a door to college and professional success.
Algebra comes from the Arabic word "al-jabr," meaning "reunion of broken parts,” and is a unifying thread through almost all mathematics. The significance of this subject’s roots and meaning are amplified today at GFS, as our new Algebra Enrichment Program (AEP) is unifying more than mathematics.
Math teacher Mark Anderson identified an educational roadblock for students of color seeking independent school admission: the lack of access to algebra and advanced math courses in middle school. To combat this problem, Mark worked with the academic leadership at GFS, with funding from the Maguire Innovation Fund for Progressive Education, to develop AEP, a free math course for passionate public and charter middle school students in Germantown and throughout the city. The program not only enables more students to gain the credentials needed for independent school admission, but also opens the door for underserved students to achieve success in STEM—further highlighting the importance of independent and public schools working together.
AEP is intensive and interactive, and meets three times per week after school. It offers a deep-dive into algebra, provides a secure platform for individuals to build academic and personal confidence, and allows students to find peers with similar interests. Students learn more than just how to get the right answer; they are challenged to describe why they perform each step and work in groups to teach and learn from one another.
In addition to immediate math advancement, the program has the potential to impact students long-term. Research shows that math skills are a strong indicator of future success, and that taking algebra before high school is an important milestone on the pathway to college readiness. While many public schools do not offer algebra in middle school, some do have it as an option, but students of color still face unequal access. When courses are assigned through subjective processes, qualified black and Hispanic students are less likely to be placed into advanced courses than their similarly qualified white peers.
This systemic disparity continues beyond secondary school, as studies show that STEM college graduates are predominantly white or Asian, a pattern that has persisted for years despite an increase in black and Hispanic college attendance and completion rates.
GFS also has bigger goals surrounding this program, with a hope of changing the local and national dialogue from “private vs. public” or “school choice” to a norm of “school collaboration.” The school feels strongly about providing support to fill in educational and resource gaps for our hardworking neighboring schools, which face challenging budget and policy constraints. Instead of serving as completely separate entities, independent schools and publicly-funded schools should work together to provide access for students to gain the education they want and deserve.
“I’m learning a lot, not just here, but I’m more prepared when I go to school,” says student Micah Elliott. “My regular classes are so big and here I can get one-on-one help. I like math, and here I can ask lots of math questions and also meet friends.”
GFS plans to grow this program from 13 students to 20 next year, and to build on relationships with public and charter schools for continued collaboration.
“If you have talented students and you give them access, their potential is limitless,” Mark says. He notes that educational opportunity not only impacts school acceptance and career success, but also helps students find their voice. He adds, “We must focus on our young people, all of our young people. They can make change happen if given the tools, confidence, and trust to reach their potential.”
The program reflects GFS’ Quaker underpinnings, which encourage a commitment to becoming responsible, informed citizens who have a developed sense of agency to affect positive change. These Quaker practices are rooted in the belief that all people should be treated as equals and with dignity. Every student can shine, regardless of their circumstances, and everyone deserves an equal chance to succeed.
“This program serves as a practical and meaningful way for GFS to support education beyond our campus walls, which is our responsibility as educators, community members, and as a Quaker institution,” says Head of School Dana Weeks. “I am proud of Mark’s leadership and grateful for the support of Jamie and Lisa Maguire together with the Maguire Foundation, whose generosity has made this program possible.”
GFS sees this pilot program as a step in the right direction for independent schools, and hopes to inspire more such enrichment opportunities for underserved students, helping to unify and improve the current educational landscape. “This program is an opportunity to lean into a broader national dialogue about school collaboration,” Dana says. “GFS looks forward to continuing this conversation, engaging others in it, and deepening it through the programming we offer.”