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Merced students get leg up on algebra in summer

Some students struggle with learning mathematics throughout school.

It gets harder as they get older.

A program under way in Merced seeks to erase that compounding deficit and help high school freshmen grasp algebra concepts.

It's called the Math Summer Bridge Academy and it's a collaboration among the UC Merced Center for Educational Partnerships, local school districts and the Boys & Girls Club of Merced.

Albert Gonzalez, Merced Union High School District program administrator for curriculum and assessment, said 53 ninth-graders from Merced and Golden Valley high schools are taking part in the five-week program that meets Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon at the Boys & Girls Club at 15th and M streets.

"Some students don't experience success in math in their early years and it compounds," Gonzalez said. "They are weak on foundational skills like fractions, decimals, ratios and proportions. That will give them a stronger foundation when they go to the next level of math."

Ismael Serrano Jr., program manager for the Fresno-based UC Merced Center for Educational Partnerhips, said the program's intent is to close the achievement gap with students. The program is in its fifth year.

Most students are low-income and their parents don't have college degrees, Serrano explained.

Merced High School math teachers Darrell Cherf and Katina Austin teach the two classes, helped by two UC Merced student learning assistants and a parent liaison.

Cherf has taught the summer academy four years. The class focus has changed from preparing students for geometry to getting them ready for high school algebra. "I think it's a great program," Cherf said. "It's been really successful. Last year we had two-thirds of the students advance directly to algebra and I'm hoping for similar or better results this year."

Students "qualified" for the course based on below-par results on algebra readiness tests given in May at local middle schools. At the end of the academy, they are given the test again. If they do better they can skip the prealgebra class this fall.

Gonzalez said when he taught math at Merced High, students could grasp some algebra concepts but struggled with math fundamentals.

Tenaya Middle School student Uriel Santos, 14, who will be a freshman at Golden Valley High School, said algebra is starting to make sense to him now. "It's a good help to us," Santos said. "We have good teachers who have lots of patience with us and try to go over things we don't get well. My parents said it was a great opportunity for me to get prepared for high school."

Fellow student Uriel Quintana, also a Tenaya graduate who will be attending Merced High, said he has learned a lot in the academy. He said he has had trouble with math in the past but algebra now is "easier than it used to be." He wants to go to college and become a veterinarian or medical doctor.

Tony Slaton, Boys & Girls Club executive director, said the academy program is an outgrowth of discussions among participants in the "Concerned Men Cook" program. "It started with a vision how more youth in Merced could get into the UC system," Slaton said. "We're glad to partner with the city school district and high school district in linking local students to the UC and making it a reality for them. We're now seeing kids we had who are actually in college now and doing well."

Serrano said academy offers enrichment activities introduce students to the four systems of higher education, the UC system, state colleges, community colleges and private schools.

Students also cover study skills and note-taking techniques. As a reward for completing the program, they will get a tour of a university later this summer.

Serrano stressed the program's intent isn't to recruit for UC Merced but is focused on higher education in general and what's beyond the local horizons.

Parents of the 53 participating students are being recruited for a parent empowerment program starting in the next few weeks.

"We are targeting these kids' parents so we can provide information to help them get their children to a university," Serrano said. Two-hour workshops on the four levels of higher education, eligibility requirements, financial aid and the standardized tests students take during their careers are part of the program. Parents also will get a chance to visit a university campus.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at 385-2407 or