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Adding a Calculus Boost for Local High Schoolers

Virtual Course, Summer Program Taught by UMD Faculty Give Prince George’s Students Free College Math Experience

By Annie Krakower

student works on calculus problem on whiteboard

A collaboration between UMD and Prince George’s County Public Schools allows high schoolers to take a virtual calculus course taught by College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences professors and coordinated by the College of Education.

Photo illustration by Adobe Stock

Savannah Grooms ’27 hated math in middle school and stewed over the C she got in her seventh-grade introduction to algebra. But just a few years later, she found herself on the other side of the desk, tutoring students who had similarly struggled with the subject at her alma mater—and a University of Maryland program was a big factor in her turnabout.

As a rising senior at Bowie High School, Grooms enrolled in a virtual summer program and calculus course taught by University of Maryland math professors and coordinated by College of Education faculty. Launched in 2020 and funded by the Office of the President, the collaboration with Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has allowed more than 100 students from demographically diverse high schools—some of which don’t consistently offer calculus—to get a leg up on their math education for free.

“It’s a way to allow students to get a sneak peek to what studying at Maryland is like,” said Francesca Henderson, a UMD Ph.D. candidate in mathematics education who’s helped coordinate the program for three years. “For a lot of people, getting some college credit while you’re still in high school makes college less of a financial burden.”

Since the partnership began, students at 16 PGCPS schools have accessed the course, including this past year at Charles Herbert Flowers, Northwestern, Chesapeake Math and IT South, and Oxon Hill high schools. Students must have at least a 3.5 GPA to enroll in the three-credit class on Zoom three days a week; UMD teaching assistants hold discussions and office hours during the same time slot on the other two days.

While the program initially taught Calculus I (MATH 140), it now instead eases students into the subject with Elementary Calculus I (MATH 120), which is “more accessible for students at different math levels,” Henderson said. It’s similar to what’s taught in AP Calculus AB, but students taking the UMD-taught course need to pass the class, not a national exam, for college credit.

For the past two years, the program has also incorporated a summer component, where enrollees get a college algebra and precalculus refresher, also taught free of charge by UMD faculty.

“If you’re going into engineering, physics or chemistry, calculus is sort of a gateway. Having some exposure to it before you get to college is very valuable,” said Professor Larry Washington, associate chair for undergraduate studies in the Department of Mathematics, who’s also helping to coordinate the course. “We’re taking the most talented students and trying to keep them going and giving them a push. And maybe some of them find out, ‘This is not what I want,’ but it’s good to find out (in high school).”

For Grooms, the class inspired her to become a tutor and minor in math at UMD, and the skills she learned also translate to her journalism major, she said.

“I learned the rigor of college early on. I know I have to go to office hours, become close with my teacher and ask questions,” she said. “I also built relationships with the people in the class. We all still remain friends. We all had our own study sessions. That really is also what happens in college.”

The program has evolved into a partnership with UMD’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Henderson said. Most students who take the course apply to the university, and they receive support throughout the application process.

Partners from both UMD and PGCPS hope to build on the program’s success in helping open doors to college, STEM fields and beyond.

“The constant collaboration and conversation between the university and the school system has really created a model that works,” said Olivia Pearson, PGCPS college readiness supervisor.

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