Choosing math: OPRF's math team actively recruiting young women

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Sheila Hardin remembers being a student at OPRF and never having a female math teacher. After graduating and student-teaching at the school and with 24 years as a teacher under her belt, she says the school has made great strides in providing female role models in math. Now the OPRF Math Team moderator and A.P. Calculus teacher, she hopes this will play out in future generations of females feeling more at home in the field but acknowledges that it's still an uphill battle to recruit females for the school's math team.

"We are constantly worried about balance," she says noting that teachers help identify students who might be interested in the team. "It's not always the top students and not just honors students. It's the math interest we are looking for."

Senior Emma Lofgren says a number of factors played into her joining the math team last year. "All of my friends are on it, and my Tuesday afternoons were free."  The A.P. Statistics student adds, "I really loved my math class last year, and my math teacher was the senior team coach of the math team."

In Hardin's experience girls are often more comfortable joining the team with a group of friends, and she says that activities like marching band can siphon off potential members during busy seasons. She is always happy to work with other coaches and to accommodate full schedules to get more females on the team. While upper level math classes are balanced in terms of gender, she says, "Pushing females into STEM beyond the classroom is the next level."

Sophomore Amelie El Mahmoud is one of those students who was initially drawn into math team by a friend while at Percy Julian Middle School. It has proven a good fit for her skills and personality. "I love the people, I love that math team makes math fun, and I love the competition."

Teammate Charlotte Reynders, who hopes to work in a STEM field someday, also loves the competition and loves math. "I like going to meets and working under pressure. You also learn a lot of things on math team that you don't learn in math class."

Fellow sophomore Eleanor Siegel initially joined the math team at Brooks but soon left the team. She remembers the junior high team as "male-dominated and uncomfortable."  She tried again in high school because she says, "I was ambitious and I wanted to get back into math and science." She enjoys team competitions, as well as problem solving.

For junior Rachel Taylor, the math team has enhanced her initial interest in the subject. "I've always liked math because you can analyze things from a logical standpoint." She joined the math team to find others who felt the same way about the subject. "A lot of people I know say they hate math, so math team is a great way to find people who like it too. It also really helps with my other classes."  

For Taylor, taking her love of math outside of the classroom setting may pay dividends beyond high school: she is considering pursuing a career in mathematics.

SIDEBAR: Girls + Math = Gender stereotype

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).

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