St. Joseph claims state Math Championship

Friday, Jun. 06, 2014
By Special to the Intermountain Catholic
OGDEN — On a wing and a prayer, the Math Team at Saint Joseph Catholic High School competed in the Utah State Math Contest at Utah State University and ended up taking the title – perhaps not surprising for a bunch of scholars who are determined to excel.  
“My math students are very well prepared by the time they take the AP exam – we have high expectations,” said Dr. Monika Serbinowska (known as Dr. Serb), who teaches AP calculus as well as AP statistics, college algebra and trigonometry. Her students made a 2013 AP Calculus Exam average score of 4.9 (out of 5).
As they prepared for the state championship, the Math Team competed as individuals and teams in Logan in the spring. The 10th-grade team made up of Steven Li, Magdalene Brueggemeyer and Sean Letendre placed first in the 1A Division.   
“The Math Team is a group of students who choose to socialize and work math problems at the same time,” Serbinowska said. “On the Math Team, students are challenged with problems they originally do not know how to solve. They need critical thinking, creativity, grit, and strenuous mental gymnastics to succeed. This type of ‘thinking outside of the box’ is the best preparation for college and the most challenging careers.” 
Aside from being outstanding scholars, the Math Team competitors are high achievers across the board.  Brueggemeyer competed in the state Solo & Ensemble music competition, while both Letendre and Li are powerful athletes. Letendre went to state in track & field, and Li went to state in boys tennis.  
“Our math program is comprehensive from the elementary school through the high school,” said Patrick Lambert, SJCHS principal, adding that he and Nancy Essary, principal of St. Joseph Elementary School, “work together to vertically integrate our math program. We take well-prepared students from the middle school and hone their skills even further in small, somewhat collegiate-like classes here at the high school.”  
Derek Tate, who teaches 8th-grade honors math, agrees, pointing out that 25 percent of students entering the high school from the elementary school test at the pre-calculus level or above. 
Along with Serbinowska, Tate teaches in uncustomary ways, often taking the students out of the classroom. For instance, the math students did their yearly mountain orienteering lesson – taking their math skills up into the mountains to way-find by triangulating, Tate said. In another lesson, he coached the students through designing, building and launching their own rockets using mathematics and physics principles.
“Giving our students the personal attention they need helps them achieve at any level,” said Essary, who also teaches middle school math. 
Serbinowska agrees, adding that small classes, individual differentiated instruction and ensuring that each student is engaged in every math class are the keys to the department’s success for students at all levels. 
“Nationally, students are ill-prepared for college level courses after high school,” Serbinowska said. “My goal is that our students are college-ready. For instance, coming out of my college algebra class, every student who chose to take the CLEP exam passed, earning college credit. Knowing that our students are going to be successful out in the world is very gratifying.”

Courtesy of Saint Joseph Schools

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