This morning, 20 of Oakland’s best 8-year-old math students strutted into Lafayette Elementary School’s auditorium to adrenaline music and applause. It sort of felt like that moment before a big boxing match or basketball game, when the competitors enter the arena in their warmups.
The organizers of OUSD’s first math competition of its kind were careful to say, over and over, that everyone was a winner. All of the kids had already out-multiplied the other third-graders at their schools, so it wasn’t just a platitude. But you could see, in their eyes or in the cross of their fingers, how much they wanted to win it all.
The room fell still as the rules were explained: Erase your last answer. Start the problem. Markers down. Repeat.
There in their folding chairs, their feet barely touching the ground, they answered a quick succession of questions on small whiteboards, starting with multiplication tables. Children who missed an answer were gently taken away.
One boy, who didn’t answer within the allotted five seconds, stared at the moderator for a few moments after getting the dreaded tap on the shoulder. He walked slowly back to the audience, found his mother and buried his face in her arms. Another boy, stone-faced after losing late in the third round, continued to solve the three-digit multiplication tables from the back of the room, as if to show that he could have just as easily won.
“We’ve been going over this for the last couple of weeks,” said DeShaunte Gibson, mother of 8-year-old Lafayette student D’Shun White. “I was more nervous than he was.”
Gibson said the whole experience taught her something important: Her son was good — really good — at math. “I didn’t even know that he liked math this much,” she said. “I just took him as any other third grader. Once the teacher told me, I started paying more attention.”
I’m writing a story next week about the contest, and about the (Si Swun) math program behind it, so stay tuned.
First place: Chanburak Jordan Phal, Allendale
Second place: Skye Evans, Emerson
Third place: Jovany Lopez, New Highland