Blair’s Math Team is attempting to reach out to more non-Magnet students to increase the diversity of the club. Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.
When Lisa Wheatley asked her seventh-period math class if any of them were interested in joining the Blair Math Team, her students were confused. “Wait, they let non-Magnet kids in?” one of the students asked her.
This confusion among non-Magnet kids is reflected in the demographics of the team, which are majority white and Asian, male, and Magnet. Among the members of the Math Team interviewed, not one of them could think of a member of the team that wasn’t in the STEM Magnet program.
This lack of diversity has less to do with a lack of interest and more to do with fears of embarrassment and fewer opportunities. Many non-Magnet students feel intimidated by the competitiveness of the Math Team, which prevents them from joining.
In addition, girls who may want to join will have to deal with the added pressure of being a representative of their sex and having to prove themselves academically. Historically, men have dominated the STEM field, and the Blair Math Team is no exception.
As an algebra teacher, Wheatley felt like she always had to be perfect, even if her colleagues didn’t intend to come across as judgmental. “When I first came to Blair, I was working with some male math teachers who taught the same subject that it did. There were times when I would ask for clarification on a certain problem and the way that… male person spoke back to me came off very condescending. Almost like, ‘Why don’t you know this?’” Wheatley says.
Magnet sophomore Anannya Trehan, one of the girls in the Math Team, says while there is a difference in the numbers of boys and girls in the team, she doesn't notice it much. “They’re really welcoming and there’s a lot of girls. There’s definitely more boys, still a lot of girls,” Trehan says.
In addition to worries regarding academic pressure, often non-Magnet students don’t know enough about Math Team to consider joining it. Many Magnet members of the Math Team, like sophomore Steven Wang, learned about the team through friends who were upperclassmen. “A lot of upperclassmen that I know are part of it so they told me to join the Math Team… A lot of my friends were going and it also gives you a lot of opportunities to go to math competitions and also learn about interesting math topics,” Wang says.
Without these connections to upperclassmen members, non-Magnet students don’t know that they can join, and some don’t even know that the team exists. John, a non-Magnet student who spoke anonymously about the Math Team’s reputation, says he knows absolutely nothing about the team. The only way to recruit these non-Magnet students is through increasing the efforts of the Blair Math Team’s outreach team, which is currently attempting to connect with more non-Magnet students.
Magnet senior Matthew Casertano, a member of the outreach team, says the outreach team has been visiting non-Magnet math classrooms and encouraging students to join.
“We emailed a bunch of teachers who teach advanced math classes outside the Magnet, for instance Honors Precalculus and Honors Algebra 2… We’ve gone to classrooms like this and we’ve essentially told them about the opportunities that the Math Team can provide for them. [Depending on] what types of careers they might be interested in pursuing, we explain how the Math Team could help them in that career…” Casertano says.
As many Math Team members often have the advantage of taking more advanced math classes through the Magnet program, the outreach team is working to help out any members who may feel they are being left behind.
Casertano says that the club had been hosting extra meetings on Wednesdays during lunch where they provide extra help and mentorship to underclassmen and any other members who may be struggling. During those sessions, new recruits can have one-on-one time with more experienced members of the team.
Unfortunately the lunch meetings were discontinued due to schedule conflicts with others using the room on Wednesdays, but the team has been working to move them to another day during lunch. Until then, these introductory lessons will be provided Wednesdays after school during Math Team meetings in room 313.
In addition to providing students with extra help, the Math Team has pushed to be more inclusive with the content that they cover. Most of their lessons are about topics that aren’t covered in any math class’s curriculum, such as game theory, which leaves Magnet and non-Magnet students with a pretty even playing field in terms of having a background on the subjects.
They are also working on hosting multiple lectures per meeting for students at different ability levels, including those taking Algebra and Geometry.
As well as hosting more inclusive lectures, the leaders of the Math Team also want to emphasize that the purpose of the club is to learn, and they don’t want to be gatekeepers of knowledge. Magnet junior Nathan Shan, one of the team’s leaders, says that interested students should join the Math Team mailing list to learn about the various topics covered in meetings. “[If a student wants to join,] they should show up one time right after school on Wednesday and maybe ask to be put on the mailing list, and that way they can get notified of every single topic that we’re doing every week,” Shan says.
Though the Math Team has had a reputation for being a competitive and judgmental environment, they hope to leave that in the past.
As most members have had past experience in math competitions, potential members may feel overwhelmed at their first meeting, “I think that a lot of people are intimidated because most members of the Math Team did some type of math competition in middle school and have been doing it for a while, but… we have many members that don’t fit into that box. They do very well in the Math Team and it’s not like you have to be at a certain skill level. There are opportunities for pretty much everyone,” Casertano says.
Speaking about the Math Team and Magnet’s reputation, John thinks they can both appear discouraging. “They’re like the kind of people that would ask you some math question and like… execute you if you didn’t get something right,” John says.
Despite this, Trehan says that though she felt intimidated by the team at first, she quickly learned the ropes. She has a lot of fun learning about concepts that may not be taught as much in the average high school math class. “Yeah, I felt intimidated. I was thinking, oh my gosh, everybody here is so much better than me, but then when I actually started to understand the concepts I liked it. So I’m not intimidated anymore,” Trehan says.
With its outreach team, perhaps the Math Team can change the perspectives of non-Magnet students and increase membership among less-represented communities.
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