Project plants seeds of academic success

Kids who are confident in reading and math are more likely to stay in school. That has been the guiding principle of United Way of Central Indiana’s "Ready to Learn, Ready to Earn" initiative to improve graduation rates in Marion County’s high schools.

United Way already is tackling literacy with its ReadUP tutoring program. This year, it’s adding a stable of math experts who are specially trained to work with kids. United Way is spending $114,000 to bring Project Seed to 11 Indianapolis Public Schools on the near-east and nearnortheast sides.

Project Seed is a national program that trains people with at least a bachelor’s degree in math to teach and use the question-driven Socratic method.

Eric Williams, senior planner at United Way, observed Project Seed at work before United Way decided to back its use in more IPS schools. The method dwells on just a few problems at a time, but approaches those problems from numerous angles.

"They want them to get the core principle of mathematics," he said. "It’s actually a very tried and true way of teaching."

Project Seed, which uses whatever material the teacher already is covering, will be in fourth- and fi fth-grade classrooms for 45 minutes a day, four days a week.

Another reason United Way is backing Project Seed is to promote teacher training. Teachers stay in the classroom while the math specialists are working, allowing them to pick up on advanced teaching techniques.

Along with parental involvement, teacher quality is a main factor in standardized test scores, said Jay Geshay, United Way’s senior vice president of community planning and strategic initiatives.

"One of our primary goals is to help more children pass the ISTEP test in sixth grade," he said, referring to Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress.

Project Seed will conduct two workshops for teachers and host family math nights at the United Way-funded schools.

Project Seed has been working in Indianapolis-area schools since 1993, local Director Tim Davidson said. The specialists, whose pay is on par with public school teachers, travel to different schools, conducting five or six sessions a day. Recently, they’ve worked with schools in IPS, as well as in Washington Township on the north side, and expect to hit 35 schools this year.

Davidson said United Way is eager for the results that earned Project Seed its reputation in the education world.

"It sounded like they researched many mathematics programs," he said.

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