Math4Girls and KFIVE: Meet the local high schoolers offering free tutoring and learning support to younger students

Photo above courtesy of Nidhi Ram/Math 4 Girls.

New Brighton High School student Viki Huang has loved math since she was a little girl. She likes the challenge of it and the complexity, and loves discovering the ways that math skills can be used in the real world. But while her own interest never wavered, she could see other girls around her losing interest in this once-fun subject.

The standard school math curriculum wasn’t offering these girls a learning experience that they could get excited about, and some weren’t feeling challenged enough to stay interested. Last summer, Huang discovered a solution: While participating in a math learning program, she met another math-loving high schooler named Nidhi Ram, founder of a national organization called Math 4 Girls.

Ram, who lives in eastern Pennsylvania, created Math 4 Girls to solve exactly the problem that was troubling Huang. She wanted girls to really have fun with math, so she built an afterschool club where these young students could get free tutoring and get excited about STEM learning. It’s been a hit: The group now has more than 10 Math 4 Girls clubs in schools around the country.

Joyful noise and silliness are heartily encouraged at Math 4 Girls. Photo courtesy of Nidhi Ram.

Huang decided she wanted to bring Math 4 Girls to New Brighton. She emailed her high school principal and asked to be connected to the elementary principal, Dr. Jason Hall. He was impressed by Huang’s entrepreneurial spirit and glad to help.

For Huang, the best part of Math 4 Girls is the spirit of fun and experimentation.

“Nidhi has this standardized curriculum, and I looked over it, and it was all the math topics that really intrigued me to continue learning math,” Huang says. “I really wanted to help her expand that.”

To create the curriculum, Ram had worked with fourth- and fifth-grade math teachers in her district to get a clear sense of what students that age are learning. Then she explored ways to combine that with things that fascinate her, like how to create a mobius strip.

“I thought about things that I personally still find interesting and how I can kind of apply them to their level,” Ram says. She also brought in facts about famous female mathematicians, and created an atmosphere where girls in the club “can be so open and free without having to worry like, ‘Oh, what if I get the answer wrong?’ Because it’s not directly one question/one answer kind of math. I call it ‘exploratory math.'”

New Brighton elementary students are due to begin afterschool Math 4 Girls meetings this month.

A student gets free one-on-one afterschool tutoring at KFIVE. Photo courtesy of KFIVE.

At the same time, two Deer Lakes High School seniors have been busy tutoring younger students in their district through a free, homegrown program that they call KFIVE.

KFIVE co-founders Anita Zhu and Brook Emery, along with other high schoolers they’ve recruited, offer one-on-one tutoring to kids in grades kindergarten through fifth. Zhu and Brook decided to offer free tutoring services to ensure that all kids in their community had access to learning enrichment, even if private tutoring was outside their family’s budget.

Like Huang, they took the initiative to reach out to their district’s primary and elementary principals to explain what they were offering. They asked the school district to let parents know about their offering, and also arranged with a local church, East Union Presbyterian, to use meeting space that’s located just a short distance from the elementary school, Zhu says.

KFIVE co-founders Anita Zhu and Brook Emery want to make sure all kids have access to learning enrichment.

Parents in the Deer Lakes area quickly embraced the service, and soon KFIVE was launched. Tutors now meet with young students each week on Thursday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. (Learn more and register here.)

Emery says the inspiration for KFIVE came partly from the example her father set when she was growing up.

“He was working full-time and going to college full-time in order to get a degree and do better things for our family. So I kind of looked up to him,” Emery says. “He would help me with my homework, but sometimes he wasn’t able to because of his responsibilities. So being able to provide students who may have been similar to me the help that I knew I had wanted and needed — that’s something that is kind of rewarding.”

Along with academic support, Zhu and Emery have another priority: making sure every young student knows that “they’re worth the time, and they’re worth the effort, and they’re worth the energy that it takes to find material or to review material ourselves if we don’t remember how to do something,” Emery says.

To keep the good going after they graduate this spring, Emery and Zhu have begun training other Deer Lakes high schoolers to run KFIVE in the future.