Math Corps boosting DIS students

Posted on: Dec 18, 2019

Math Corps boosting DIS students

An extra service is helping DIS students solidify the skills they need, as Minnesota Math Corps has joined the district for the first time this year.

The counterpart to Minnesota Reading Corps, which has been entrenched at the elementary school for more than a dozen years, Math Corps helps reach students who do not have proficient scores on the MCA test, but who do not score low enough to qualify for one-on-one help through special education.

“We are so lucky that AmeriCorps approved us for this program,” said Kellie Makela, the internal coach for the program at DIS. “There is no cost to us, no schedule disruption for the students, and it is a lot of money the federal government is putting into this.”

Makela oversees two tutors who have been brought on to work directly with students. Michael Karpen and Dan Christensen, recently retired from careers in finance and engineering, respectively, are the face of the program to about 45 participating students.

“Both my sons went through the Delano school system and I was very happy and impressed with the quality of services and education they received,” said Karpen. “As I retired, I wanted to give something back to the schools that were so good to our sons and our family, so I checked into programs. This was a great fit to give back to the school, and I’ve loved it so far.”

Christensen, who was a Math Corps tutor at Cologne Academy last year, said he has enjoyed the opportunity to help students excel in a core subject matter.

“Hopefully we can make a difference, because people with technical skills have a lot of options in life,” he said. “There are so many professions people can go into that need good math skills. You don’t have to be an accountant or an engineer to need math.”

Karpen and Christensen received training before the year began, and now meet with two or three students at a time to review a specific lesson set up by Math Corps that builds students’ skills incrementally.

“Those lessons are fairly well scripted out and we know what to do. It gives us a game plan,” said Karpen. “You study it beforehand so you know what to say, and then you tailor it for your own personality and the student’s personality, and you go as fast or as slow as the students can manage.”

After each unit the students take an assessment to make sure they are grasping the content, and the next lessons build from there. If a student does not pass the assessment, there is time to review and try again.

“That’s one of the positives of math -- it’s pretty objective. Can you do the problem or not?” said Christensen.

The ultimate goal is to get students to the point where they would score proficient on the MCA test. Christensen said that since standard tests often pose the same types of problems in different ways throughout, helping students grasp three or four key concepts they might be struggling with unlocks a broader understanding that applies to many situations and leads to better scores.

There are two ways students can exit the Math Corps program. They can either pass through all of the lessons, which would take most of the school year, or they can test out earlier. Karpen and Christensen have already seen strong progress in many of their students.

“It’s fantastic to see the energy the kids give off at this age,” said Karpen. “The students want to learn. They’re eager to learn, and they’re engaged.”

The way the DIS schedule accommodates extra time for students to focus on areas of need has also been a benefit.

“What’s great about this program is the way the school has organized it,” said Karpen. “It’s during the students’ WIN (What I Need) time or through their specials. It’s built into their schedules so the student really isn’t missing anything. Everyone else is going to something else at that time, whether it’s extra help in reading or math, or enrichment activities.”

Makela said the students are fortunate to have Karpen and Christensen working with them, and said that over the first month of the school year the results have been promising.

“We’re extremely happy with how it’s going so far,” she said.

• For more information about Minnesota Math Corps, see

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