After Literacy Wins, Oakland REACH’s Parent ‘Liberators’ Take on Math Tutoring

More than 20 tutors will be placed in 11 district elementary schools this fall, boosting support for the many students below grade level in math.

The Oakland REACH held its first Math Mindset session March 19 where it offered training to parents (The Oakland REACH)

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The Oakland REACH and the Oakland Unified School District have teamed up to pilot a math tutoring program that has shown early positive results and is modeled after one that has already delivered significant student gains in reading.

MathBOOST began last fall with six trained tutors — all of them parents or caregivers — working across four of the district’s 50 elementary campuses. It will expand to more than 20 tutors assisting children in 11 schools next year, said Oakland REACH’s CEO, Lakisha Young.

The tutors, or Math Liberators, as Oakland REACH calls them, work inside the classroom alongside teachers and also pull children out for small group instruction, said Alicia Arenas, the district’s director of elementary instruction. 

“We really want our kids to be algebra-ready by the time that they enter middle school and high school,” she said, adding that at least one principal reported that participating children truly enjoy the program. “And the teachers bring up the great math progress they’re seeing from students who work with the math tutors.”

She added that students who are not involved in the program regularly ask if they could join. 

Tutors are paid an hourly rate and qualify for full benefits. Most assist third- through fifth-grade students and two of the six work with younger children. All have strong ties to the district and were carefully chosen, Arenas said. 

“We were looking for that connection and that investment in Oakland and OUSD,” she said. “We also wanted our tutors to represent the community that they serve.”

Some are graduates while others have children in the district. Math tutor Janine Godfrey, 55, works primarily at Garfield Elementary School. She said she helps children better understand their lessons and maintain their focus on the subject during class. 

“I chose this work because I have spent the last three years working through the middle school math curriculum with my son and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed math and teaching,” said Godfrey, who has run her own catering business for 25 years. “It felt like it was time to give back to the community and this felt like a perfect fit for me.”

Godfrey said she’s been moved by the students’ openness and by their ability to forge a solid bond with her.

The Oakland REACH

“I truly hope that the work we have done together will somehow inspire them to work hard in math — and perhaps even enjoy it once in a while,” she said. 

As part of the new tutoring effort, Oakland REACH launched a series of outreach-focused “Math Mindset” meetings at the Think College Now Elementary School campus. 

The organization uses the time to help parents confront their own insecurities around the subject — they remind participants of the groundbreaking strides African and Mayan cultures made in the topic — as a means to improve their own students’ success. 

REACH secured several respected math educators of color to inspire families, Young said, adding that she hopes the gatherings will also serve to identify possible math tutors. 

Recruitment has been a challenge as many people in the Oakland school community identify themselves as “bad at math,”  an idea that leaves parents thinking they can’t help their children progress in the subject, Young said.  

Oakland REACH founder Lakisha Young (Oakland REACH)

“We have to employ a different strategy when it comes to bringing our communities along in math,” she said. “We need to do the work of building the confidence and awareness they need to feel like math is something in my ancestry.”

Young said REACH’s math-related efforts will extend beyond the school year as the organization recently secured a summertime partnership with the district. SummerBOOST will allow math tutoring at two pilot sites serving some 350 children in kindergarten through fourth grade. 

Children all over the country have long struggled with math. Systemic inequity has caused Black, Hispanic and poor children to fall behind even further than their peers nationwide, a gap that grew worse because of the pandemic. Fourth-grade NAEP scores fell a stunning five points in 2022 from 2019. Eighth graders suffered an eight-point drop in that same time period, erasing decades of growth.

Results are equally troubling in the Oakland district: Just 19.03% of its sixth graders scored proficient on the 2022-23 state math assessments. High school students fared even worse, with just 14.11% of 11th graders reaching that same benchmark.  

“The mindset shift is key,” Young said. 

Young started REACH eight years ago with the goal of empowering Black and brown families to advocate for a high-quality education for their children. During the pandemic, REACH launched the Virtual Family Hub, providing online learning opportunities to families that resulted in significant literacy gains for students. 

In its December 2021 Hub parent satisfaction survey, 88% of families wanted more math intervention support for their children. So, after crafting an effective literacy model, the group turned its attention to math. 

“Let’s go back to K-2 when they are most flexible around deficits and excited about learning,” Young said. “This is a full frontal attack.”

Disclosure: Walton Family Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies provide financial support to The Oakland REACH and The 74.

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