Don’t call them nerds! Geometry prowess at an Oakland middle school

There’s been a big push lately to have all students take Algebra I in eighth grade. A group of kids at Urban Promise Academy, a middle school serving kids from the Fruitvale and San Antonio neighborhoods, have taken it a step further. Their teacher, Abby Paske, shares her story with us. -Katy

photo courtesy of Abby Paske, Urban Promise Academy

After months of hard work and dedication, the eighth-grade geometry class at Urban Promise Academy Middle school is first in the district. 100 percent of students passed the district’s spring assessment, and 83 percent of them achieved a mark of exceeding. The next closest school had a mere 50 percent of students achieving the mark of exceeding.

Urban Promise Academy, or UPA, is an urban school in California where over 80 percent of the students at the school receive free or reduced lunch. It is a small school by design, with the mission of preparing students for college and beyond.

After ranking second in the district mid-term assessments, UPA students were excited, but hesitant about their ultimate success. They didn’t want to settle for second, but were scared of what it would take to be first. When asked what sort of incentive would push them to achieve, there were mixed responses. Several students preferred a vindictive approach: “I want to see that other school’s principal cry when he sees we’re #1.” Others favored a more relaxed approach: “Could we have a day off?” or “How about a trip to Mexico?”

Students finally settled on a two-part encouragement plan — chocolate and glory. If they succeeded in rising to first, they would get two chocolate treats and as much fame as their teacher could dredge up.

The game was on. The students made up a battle cry, “Montera is Going Down… Hill!” referring to the fact that so-called hill schools, such as Montera, have a reputation for being better. Students discussed their favorite baked goods. Then the whole class got down to business.

In our neighborhood being called a nerd is a horrible insult. Street cred will get your farther than honor roll in our neck of the woods. Though their peers may laugh at them, UPA’s middle school geometry students are between one and two years ahead in math. They are incredibly motivated, extremely engaged and very energetic. These are the kids who are ready to beat the odds. They want to understand everything right away, they are impatient and they devour information.

So congratulations to all the students in the UPA Geometry Class: Luis Alba, Kim Alvarez, Vanessa Berrios, Jose Cabrera, Tram Hyunh, Martin Rios, Kathy Robles, Selina Sanchez, Alex Tang, Stan Tran, Vy Truong, and Gonzalo Villalobos. May this moment of success be one of many in your lives.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Former Oakland Teacher

    Congratulations! UPA is a fabulous school with wonderful staff!

  • Lisa Hiltbrand

    Congratulations to the UPA geometry class! They should be incredibly proud of their achievements. They really are a remarkable, brilliant, motivated group, as Ms. Paske said. But what she didn’t say, because she is as modest as she is brilliant, is that they have had the benefit of a remarkable, brilliant, motivated teacher, who doesn’t accept anything less than their best, and makes learning engaging, real, and fun. Teachers like Ms. Paske deserve front page headlines and…. I can’t think of a reward big enough. And yes, I’m biased. I’m a teacher at UPA, and I get to watch her work her magic on a daily basis. Count me as her number one fan.

  • Geometry Teacher

    This is a really great group of kids. Goofy, yeah, but hecka dedicated!

  • Sandra Tang

    Congratulations to the 8th grade geometry class. No words can describe how incredible and brilliant all these kids are. These kids couldn’t have made it this far without a dedication and brilliant teacher. Ms. Pake truly believed in every single one of her students and never gave up on eny single one of them. The Geomertry class rocks!!!!

  • Silver Cruz

    Buen trabajo muchachos, sigan asi y la vida les dara mas que chocolate!
    Gracias UPA, Gracis Abby…

  • Bayardo

    You can call them nerds…or you can call them heros!!
    Thank you to Abby Paske and her amazing class!
    Being smart never looked so cool.

  • Leon Mozell

    Congratulations to all of the stdudents and the school. Your achievement is worth noting and celebrating. Job well done!!!!

  • aly

    this is such an incredible achievement, especially given the struggle so many students are facing just to get through algebra I in eighth grade. thank you, ms. paske, for proving that high expectations and good teaching can equal success, and an enormous amount of respect to all students who participated in this effort. continue to push like you did for this in all that you do; nothing worth having is ever easy, but it makes victory that much more satisfying.

    as far as nerdy vs. cool, check out where the cool kids are 5-10 years out of high school. they tend to be struggling whereas the nerds are going strong. viva los nerds!

  • Nextset

    Where are the black students? Those neighborhoods were once black neighborhoods. Are there no whites in the school either?

  • Linda Mozell

    Congratulations! What an impresive job. I applaud the teacher and the students. Be proud of your sucess, your teacher and your school!

  • Katy Murphy

    About 81 percent of UPA’s 287 students are Latino, according to 2008-09 enrollment stats from the state department of education. About 8 percent are African-American, 6 percent are Asian, 2.4 percent are white and 2 percent are Filipino.

  • cranky teacher

    11 kids. This looks like anecdotal evidence for small class size…

  • abby paske

    Vy Truong’s name got left off the list! ACK! How could anyone NOT remember Vy?! She is super duper too!

  • Katy Murphy

    No problem! I just added Vy’s name to the list.

  • Geometry Teacher

    Thanks. I’ll tell Vy. If you knew her you’d think it was funny too! She’s Very um… Effervescent!

  • Geometry Teacher

    One of the things I am proudest about in this class is that it’s an equal number of girls and boys at this top level. Whoo hoo!

  • Rose

    Great job!
    I am curious about the math classes at this school. How do the students get into this advanced class? I assume they took algebra in 7th grade. What do they take in 6th?

  • Geometry Teacher

    In this group, when they were 6th graders a bunch of them were very advanced after a year of 6th grade math. We pushed them into algebra in 7th grade and then in 8th grade gave them geometry.

    Next year however, geometry will be an elective that 8th graders can take concurrently with algebra. There are about 23 rising 8th graders who are interested in the challenge. It’s great to see!

  • Rose

    So starting next year there will be no opportunity for acceleration or in-depth learning in math for the high performing kids in our middle schools (this is an across the board change in OUSD middle schools) until they get to 8th grade, at which point they can take geometry as an elective. To do this they will have to give give up the chance to take another elective such as music.

    We had the same accelerated math program at my son’s middle school. The reason/”evidence” given for the change was that our geometry students didn’t test as well as those from a different school that uses the geometry elective. Now I find out that Urban Promise with accelerated math scored even higher, demonstrating the complete disingenuousness of the NEXO.

    This is why good students leave OUSD.

  • Kim

    ha ha ha, so many comments, and im SO late. ha ha
    i love the picture

    WE ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!