Down the long hallway of a makeshift school building where bright, colorful student art covers the walls, Noelio Espinal, 12, and Derick Pagan, 11, sit around a small, round table playing with colored plastic cubes. But these students are not in art class — they’re learning how to divide fractions.
It’s Thursday afternoon and their tutor, Daniel Kornfield ’03, is teaching the Fair Haven Middle School fifth-graders new math skills. Twice a week, Kornfield and some 60 other Yale students, paid through a federal work study program, come to the school to tutor the 125 children in mathematics as part of the America Counts program.
The program also has an English as a Second Language component, bringing in Spanish speaking Yalies to tutor children who have English language barriers.
The Yalies have not only helped the fifth-graders academically, but they have also developed friendships with them; the youngsters flock to the door to anxiously await their arrival.
“We work with them in a variety of settings,” said Caesar Arroyo, a teacher in the school’s bilingual program. “The kids have created bonds with these Yale students, not only academic but personal.”
At a press event Thursday afternoon, New Haven Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo and Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and state affairs, toured the school and learned about the program in honor of April as National Mathematics Education Month.
Walking into a classroom, Mayo told the students, “you’ve got to remember all of this math.”
“When you come back next September, there’s a very important test,” Mayo said, referring to the Connecticut Mastery Test.
Mayo said he looks forward to strong results in mathematics next fall, crediting the America Counts program.
“Anytime you can reduce the ratio of instructors to students, kids are going to get more out of instruction,” he said. “It’s been proven that smaller class sizes are important for kids. The impact will be great. You can tell these kids are on top of their game.”
Alexander said Yale has grown increasingly involved in the city and said this is one of many community-based initiatives the University offers.
“It’s one of a myriad of programs,” Alexander said. “You know, we have thousands of Yale students engaged in community activities. Yale students serve as great role models for these young people.”
Yale also participates in the America Reads program, which helps children read independently at grade level.
“There’s a trend across the nation where kids aren’t getting enough attention,” said Jacques Pouhe ’03, one of the program’s organizers. “[The mentors] get a more sincere sense of the state of public school education. We really didn’t know the kinds of struggles the kids in New Haven are going through.”
And Espinal and Pagan wait anxiously until next week when Kornfield returns to review fractions.
“I think it’s really helpful to isolate their problems and work individually,” Kornfield said. “It’s good to get out of the cloistered 18-22 year old environment.”