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Summer academy promotes math for Black middle school boys

M-Cubed Academy
Forty students took part in a special summer program designed to keep Black middle school boys on track toward college and careers in STEM.

Over the years, teachers and administrators in Charlottesville and Albemarle public schools noticed that few African American boys were enrolling in algebra classes in the 8th grade. That put them behind on the path to college and a possible career in science, technology, engineering or math, and it worried a civic group called 100 Black Men of Central Virginia. The head of its education committee is retired teacher Rickey White.

“Teachers and administrators are making decisions about what classes students are going to be tracked in, and if they don’t know, if parents don’t know the capabilities of the students, many times students will get overlooked,” he explains.

So this summer, 100 Black Men offered students a free intensive course called M-Cubed, short for Math, Men and Mission.

virtual reality
Students at the M-Cubed Academy experiment with virtual reality headsets as part of a lesson on systems engineering.

Today, the kids are trying out virtual reality headsets – learning about systems engineering from a professor at UVA. On other days they’ll do various hands-on activities and experiments which underscore the importance of math.

“We’re teaching them the math they’re going to be learning next year to kind of give them that head start, so when they get to the classroom they’re not thrown off by new concepts and ideas,” says Daniel Fairley, president of 100 Black Men.

The program also works to instill a positive mental attitude about school and life.

“We have a saying within the group: good, better, best! Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.!" says Rickey White. "We say, ‘Hey, if you find yourself dropping down in your attitude and your work, you need to learn how to shift at least to good and then better, then best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.”

And Fairley says organizers want students to meet education professionals of color.

“Our model at 100 Black Men of Central Virginia is: What they see is what they’ll be. Very few of them actually have Black male teachers. I’m a person with a master’s degree in education, and I have never once in my life had a black male teacher from kindergarten through my master’s degree," he recalls.

Here, students have that opportunity, and they get early exposure to academics who are excited about their fields.

“We are now taking our students and putting them in front of professors, putting them in front of people who have PhDs, and are understanding math on a completely different level than what they’re being taught in school," Fairley says.

The credo of M-Cubed pledges: We never fail, because we never give up. We never make excuses. We choose to live honestly, non-violently and with integrity. We believe in ourselves and in each other. Talk to the kids, and it’s clear they are fully on board.

“They motivate you to do more than you think you can, and I’m very excited for next year," says one child. "I’m happy to be with my African-American brothers, and the teachers are really welcoming," reports another.

“The teachers push me to be better than what I am now, “ says another. "Not everybody can get this opportunity. It’s a privilege. I feel comfortable around my brothers, and it’s just a wonderful place.”

Rickey White says even more students will be part of the program this fall with free tutoring and instruction on how to put math to work in the market.

“We actually pay students $25 just to come in and learn about the stock market, to learn about savings, to learn about investing.”

But the extra curriculars don’t stop there. Members of the Math-Cubed cohort will also meet professionals from many different fields – exposing them to the many career options that lie ahead.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief