With many U.S. high school students lacking critical math skills required to compete in an increasingly global economy, a University at Buffalo program is helping secondary school students better prepare for college and technical careers.

“Our focus is to get students to really understand and love mathematics,” said Kristi Martin, an instructor in UB’s Gifted Math Program, which enrolls nearly 250 students each year from seventh through 12th grades from both public and private schools across Western New York.

Founded in 1979, GMP has continued to provide outstanding mathematics students a curriculum that challenges them. For instance, last year the Nation’s Report Card, based on the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, found that only about one-quarter of high school seniors are performing proficiently or better in math.

In particular, the report revealed that math scores were higher on average for students who took calculus and lowest for students who had not taken a math course beyond Algebra I. That’s where UB’s GMP helps to fill the gaps by providing practical applications of math to technical fields and other areas of study.

“It’s not math for math’s sake. One thing GMP offers me is the application,” said Christopher Zwink, a GMP student and senior at Williamsville North High School. “My teachers will say ‘this is how you use this equation’ or ‘this is how this integrates into physics’ or ‘this is how this integrates into engineering or business.’ ”

Participating schools accept the UB coursework in place of home school mathematics and participating students receive GMP grades on their report cards. The first few years of the program involve accelerating students through standard school and state curricular topics. Students are not only prepared for New York State Regents exams but also are educated in topics unique to the program such as logic, relational systems and transformational and analytic geometry.

“I always found math too easy for me at my school,” said Kasia Kryzanska, a freshman at Nardin Academy and a GMP student. “But here they always have something you wouldn’t normally see at school. It’s a real challenge.”

The final years of GMP are highly accelerated. GMP IV is comparable to two high school courses, namely algebra II/trigonometry and precalculus. GMP V and GMP VI are equivalent to two semesters of college math each. A bonus for participating students is that they can earn up to 22 semester hours of college-level credit for their coursework.

“I have always been good at math ever since I can remember, but when I came here they really challenged me. I was introduced to new topics like modulus math and logic,” Christopher said. “I learned for the first time that I’m not good at everything and that’s OK, and this program has made me a better student for that.”

With close to 350 applicants competing for 60 spots in the first year of the program, GMP is a highly selective program that attracts students with exceptional mathematic abilities from around Western New York.

In order to take the entrance exam, students must be nominated by a teacher or parent in January of their sixth-grade year. Interested nominees are evaluated on the basis of a three-hour series of tests. The 60 highest scoring students are invited to participate in the program.

Once admitted to the program, every Monday and Wednesday GMP students attend classes on UB’s campus in the form of two 70-minute sessions per day.

“You only meet twice a week so you don’t see the material every day, and sometimes you have to be doing work on your own to familiarize yourself,” said Michael Djaballah, a GMP V student and a junior at Frontier High School, who has participated in the program since seventh grade.

To date, more than 600 students have successfully graduated from the program. Graduates have gone on to attend many of the nation’s finest universities including Harvard, Yale, Duke and Cornell.

“I think the biggest thing that (the students) gain from GMP is a sense of community,” Martin said. “Students work collaboratively to teach each other and learn from each other. That kind of teamwork is critical to success, now and in their futures.”

Hannah Slabodkin, a sophomore at City Honors, will be a GMP V student in the fall.

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