California Head Start’s Math Focus Adds Up

Teacher assisting a 3-5 yr. old boy in mathA California Head Start program is going the extra mile to ensure their teachers can provide the best possible math instruction.  Pacific Clinics serves approximately 500 children in Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Altadena, Glendale, and Pasadena, CA. Director Wassy Tesfa explains that the program views “math as the foundation for all learning… a way for children to structure their thinking and make connections.” Research backs up the program’s approach. In a longitudinal study of over 20,000 children, early math skills in kindergarten predicted fifth grade achievement in math and reading.

Despite the importance of these skills, the program found that many teachers were not specifically trained in teaching math or lacked confidence in their own math abilities. Tesfa along with Judy Cashell, her Education Manager, took a multipronged approach to strengthen math instruction in their program.

Pacific Clinics starts their teacher training with a program they call, “Falling in Love with Math.” The course emphasizes that math is everywhere, a natural part of daily life, and is not “scary.” They use the High Five Mathematize program to help teachers highlight and explore the math in children’s daily lives. The program provides hands-on approaches to not only teach counting, but also geometry, patterns, and measurement. Finally, the program regularly hosts curriculum fairs where seasoned teachers share strategies and practical tips. In collaboration with other Head Start programs, Cashell also helps organize the annual Region 9 Early Childhood STEM Institute, which provides teachers with new strategies from researchers and experts in math and science education. Through these opportunities, teachers are confident in their ability to integrate evidence-based approaches to math learning throughout the school day. 

However, the enthusiasm for math doesn’t stop with the teachers. Parents on the Education Advisory Committee help fully incorporate math instruction throughout the program and in children’s homes. Families play a critical role by highlighting the math in children’s home routines. “You rarely hear about low-income children becoming engineers and scientists,” said Director Tesfa, but this Head Start community is ready to change that.

Read more about Pacific Clinic’s work to bolster math skills.