SAI Math Academy at Hayward Unified School District: Northern California
The seed for the SAI Math Academy was planted at the end of 2017 in a casual conversation, during which an elementary school teacher from the Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) bemoaned how much her students were struggling in their math. In no time, that seed took root. In three years, it grew from a math tutoring project started by the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Fremont in a single school, Southgate Elementary School, to becoming a multi-center, multi-school program called SAI Math Academy at HUSD, or SAIMA. Currently, the Math Academy is offered in six elementary schools in Hayward, CA and pairs more than 50 high school volunteers and nearly 20 adult volunteers with about 150 to 200 at-risk students to provide them weekly tutoring in math. A majority of these students come from low-income families, lack adequate support and supervision at home, and struggle with performance on standardized math tests. Hence, math tutoring is very welcome and well-received by the schools, the students and their families. Pre-COVID, tutors would meet the students at their respective schools to teach Math every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m., with a 15-minute break for snacks and sometimes, a quick game of basketball. Adapting to the pandemic, the program has moved to a virtual platform successfully.
The program is being managed by a core group of members from the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Centers of Fremont, Tri Valley and Peninsula, who are ably supported by adult volunteers who act as class leads and mentor the high school student volunteers. The bulk of student volunteers are mainly Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) students, while thirty percent are made up of their friends and classmates. All volunteers go through a rigorous interview process and need to meet specific criteria set by the school district.
The program is mutually beneficial for the students and the student tutors alike. The high school volunteers have the opportunity to develop leadership skills, time management skills, public speaking, mentoring and communication skills. Their commitment has been outstanding. Some travel over 40 miles and give up their Saturday mornings to coach the students. Time is also spent in planning lessons during the week. Planting the seeds of selfless service in youth at such a young age augurs well for society. In appreciation of their service, the high school volunteers have been provided with various enrichment programs including workshops on mental health, public speaking, managing high school stress and COVID anxiety, and assistance with college application.
Other enrichment activities
Sai volunteers have also made a concerted effort to provide other types of enrichment activities that benefit both the students and their high school tutors. For instance, volunteers organized a Values Day at Southgate Elementary school in April 2019. Values Day aims to raise awareness of the core human values (Truth, Right conduct, Peace, Love and Non-violence) through exploring them in interactive ways such as value-based activities, games and arts and crafts. The outdoor event, with several booths dedicated to fun and engaging value-based activities, was so well-received by the children and their families alike, that Values Day will eventually be an annual event at all of the adopted schools. Another goal has been to expand opportunities for students to develop an interest in STEM activities that will encourage them to pursue careers in such fields. A high school volunteer, guided by one of the adults, initiated and developed a Coding and Robotics class at Southgate Elementary School. The class has proven to be such a popular extra-curricular activity for the elementary students that there are plans to eventually make it available to all the adopted schools. Sai volunteers from the region have also taken the lead in building community gardens in a few schools, in which they involved the students, their families and members of the local community. The gardening activity aims to foster in the students a sense of responsibility and caring for their school environment.
Partnership, engagement and testimonials :
The hallmark of the tutoring program has been engagement and partnership with school principals and the school district administration. School principals and the Director of Elementary Academics, Mr. Hector Garcia, make it a point to be present at the semiannual volunteer orientation to address and inspire the volunteers and recognize them for their selfless service. The adult class leads also attempt to keep in touch with the school teachers to provide focused intervention to close a specific skill gap. The efforts have paid off. For instance, Southgate Elementary saw a 28% increase in the average Math scores, which was one of the largest increases in Math score in the state of California. Principal Brian White expressed his gratitude: "You make such a difference in the lives of our children. Our parents have come to depend on you and your volunteers for math support and mentorship. Again, thank you for all your generosity and for being such a blessing for the children of Hayward." The Hayward school district is currently requesting support to onboard another six additional schools this coming year.
The inspiration and force behind this program is Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and His directive to help the community that we live in. We offer our gratitude to Him for inspiring so many dedicated volunteers to offer their time and energy in the interest of improving the lives and the future of the children within the Hayward community.