by Maanas Oruganti ’18
A service project launched by a Bellarmine junior who sought to be a man for and with others has made its way into the school community and become a major contributor to students’ academic success. In addition to challenging the traditional erstwhile fear of mathematics, this initiative aims to help students develop an unprecedented passion for the study of numbers, patterns, and proofs.
Bellarmine’s Math Mentors club, founded by Lewis Zhang, has transformed the school’s mission statement into a reality by nurturing an environment where students can effectively tutor each other in mathematics regardless of their course level.
“At Bellarmine, I noticed that a lot of students struggled in their math classes,” Lewis said. “By creating this club, I thought that I would be able to make a difference at my school.”
Inspiration for the Math Mentors club came from Lewis’ experiences as the teaching assistant for Mr. Reyerson’s AP Calculus BC classes. Having worked with individual students to diagnose their troubles on math homework and tests, Lewis said most students’ frustrations derived from weak foundations and failing to recall previous knowledge of algebra and precalculus. Other obstacles such as simple arithmetic errors and bad problem-solving habits also made the process of learning certain math topics more difficult.
“Sometimes you need another brain and an extra pair of eyes to find a hidden miscalculation,” he said. “The process is tedious and vexing, but it’s important that students know where they are erring so they don’t keep making the same mistakes. Only proper practice makes perfect.”
Math Mentors meets every Monday to pair students with their tutors and provides outside math resources and materials for those who wish to get extra practice. The program also aims to supplement the math curriculum at Bellarmine by creating a friendly and constructive learning environment where students are well suited to succeed.
“You want the students to be serious and get the most out of their mentoring. However, as a tutor, you also want to make their experience enjoyable so they will leave with a new level of confidence and motivation to succeed,” he said.
The tutors, who tend to be enrolled in higher level math classes such as Pre-Calculus or AP Calculus, work with each student on an individual basis. The driving idea behind this intimate approach to learning is to facilitate the Mentor’s ability to understand where the student has difficulties and adjust their styles accordingly.
“This one-on-one tutoring really helps [the students] feel like someone actually understands their frustrations and helps them become more passionate and interested about math, whether it be algebra, geometry, or precalculus,” Lewis said.
So far, the results have been nothing less than outstanding. Students who received tutoring from Math Mentors reported higher test scores, a renewed interest in solving math problems, and “a desire to relate mathematics with other subjects and events happening in their own lives.”
Additionally, the Math Club used to tutor students in their math classes, but Math Mentors was designed to be more inviting to students seeking help. Lewis strives to use his plethora of math knowledge to guide other students who struggle in math and would benefit from a mentor who could teach them solid foundations.
“We noticed that historically, people think of [Math Club] as something that nerds go to and associate it with geeky and higher-level math,” Lewis said. “Some students think, ‘Oh, I’m not in the high-level math classes, so Math Club’s probably not the place for me.’ By adding the ‘Mentors’ title to the club name and saying that we’re focusing on students who need help… we’re appealing to a greater student population.”
The high prospect of the Math Mentors program at Bellarmine has also pushed Lewis to expand similar tutoring services for students throughout the Bay Area and across the nation through the creation of the r/MathMentors community on Reddit that now helps over 1,000 users on a daily basis.
As a part of Bellarmine’s justice summit on racial inequality, Lewis hopes that providing underprivileged students in his community with access to math mentoring will help level the playing field and conduce to greater enthusiasm for math achievement.
Furthermore, Lewis hopes that after receiving help, new members will become tutors for other students and continue to support Math Mentors.
“Leadership can only carry the program so far. You need support from underclassmen and younger students for the project to last,” he concluded.
To register as a student for tutoring, visit goo.gl/dgS6KL.