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    Aki Kurose Middle School: Where All Students are Labeled as Mathematicians
    Posted on 12/14/2018
    Students and a teacher sit around a desk working on math problems

    Aki Kurose Middle School: Where All Students are Labeled as Mathematicians

    Aki Kurose Middle School serves students and families in the southeast area of Seattle. As one of the district’s high-performing middle schools in mathematics, Aki Kurose takes various student-centered approaches to narrow the student achievement gap in historically underserved populations.

    Particularly in math, Aki Kurose has made progress over the years by employing student-focused strategies that are centered on positive relationships, positive beliefs, and a unified school focus on math achievement.

    Positive Relationships and Positive Beliefs

    “Each and every student is labeled as a mathematician here,” said Dr. Mia Williams, principal at Aki Kurose. She emphasized that each student is reminded of their unique strengths, and all staff are expected to have high expectations of all students.

    In Suzanne Mayers’ Algebra I classroom, students are grouped into teams of four to five students. As they work together on a set of math problems, Mayers walks around the room aiding students that need additional support. She seems to know where each student’s level of math mastery lies, as she’s able to provide just the right amount of support needed for each individual student.

    “Ms. Mayers runs math camps in her classroom before school, after school, and at lunch; sometimes, she’s here in the summer,” said Williams. “She makes herself available for students that need that support, and she also expects a lot from her students.”

    Toni, an 8th grade student at Aki Kurose is in Mayers’ class for two math classes: Algebra I and Geometry. Like many students, he is enrolled in two math classes, as studies have shown that students who have access to Algebra I in 8th grade and an additional math class have more success in college and in careers.

    He enjoys math, as it veers away from being prescriptive, “I like math because it’s more of a challenge. When stuff gets too easy for me, I just go right through it. When I’m in math class, I don’t have much time, because it’s challenging.”

    Toni likes the quiet environment of Mayers’ class, as it helps him to focus. He likes working with groups, but he prefers working on his own, which Mayers understands and accommodates.

    He also values the learning connections he’s making in math class, “Whatever we do in the real world, math is involved in it.”

    Toni understands that for some students, math can be a challenge. He provides this advice to his fellow peers, “You’re always going to have a challenge in math, but definitely go to class. When you have a teacher that breaks it down, it makes it easier.”

    For students like Toni, who once struggled in math, a factor that changed his view of math was how his math teachers made him feel welcome in their classrooms. The welcoming culture of the school is permeated throughout the building, especially in the classrooms.

    School Focus on Math Achievement

    Aki Kurose is focused on narrowing the achievement gap in mathematics and will continue to prioritize this goal in the years to come. Williams believes that the work begins with peeling away the lack of confidence students have in their math capabilities.

    Building up students’ confidence as “mathematicians” begins with teachers encouraging students that they are capable and, despite what they’ve been told in the past about their math abilities, teachers remind students that there is nothing stopping them from achieving in math. The school works with families by inviting them to “Math Nights” to lay out different approaches families can take to support their student’s learning at home. Most students at the school take two math classes: a grade-level standards class and an enrichment class. The purpose behind this school-based decision is to increase students’ exposure to math during their formative years in middle school. Aki Kurose teachers and staff also educate students and families on the math pathways in middle school and high school, so families and students have the knowledge to advocate for their education.

    Williams and the staff at Aki Kurose share a common belief: an unwavering assurance that all Aki Kurose students will be successful. In addition to providing rigorous math instruction, the school is deeply focused on building positive relationships with students and creating a positive climate for learning.

    She is confident that all Aki Kurose students can achieve. “They are so smart and so capable. We challenge our students, because we know that they can do that and more.”