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"Halp!" Mammoth schools in math, science crisis

August 3, 2012

The news is dismal.

American kids are terrible at science and math—17th and 25th respectively—out of 65 countries tested in 2011.

And while Mammoth students fare better overall, it is not always by much. That fact has prompted John Stavlo, a retired engineer and a school board member, to do something.

He was sparked by a community forum in late May that identified accelerating Mammoth Unified student performance in math and science as one of the district’s highest priorities over the next five years. At that time, Stavlo and a few fellow scientists and retired scientists from some of the country’s most prestigious companies sprang into action.

For the past few months, they have quietly been getting together to talk about how to change the trend.

“The only way to compete in a technologically complex global economy is to bring more students into math and science competence,” he said. “In second grade, 50 percent of the students are proficient. By fifth grade, that number dropped to 30 percent. We are losing students during these years and once that happens, it gets harder to catch up. It’s imperative we change this if we want to compete in a global economy.”

How does one help competent and good math and science teachers who have been outflanked by bigger classes and fewer staff after several years of budget cuts?

How does one identify who needs help and why he or she needs help?

How does one challenge the students who are already proficient and still help students who are struggling?

Most of all, how does one do all this and not spend any money, since none is available?

The answer: tap into available community resources.

John Stavlo retired from an aerospace engineering career. He has lived in Mammoth long enough to know there are a lot of people like him—highly proficient in the sciences and math—with the time and energy to help others.

Those same people are working with the school’s principals and teachers and taking their expertise directly to the students in the form of volunteer classroom help, tutoring, and conducting seminars.

“We would like to really put this into gear this fall,” Stavlo said. “But we are still looking for more volunteers. Local residents such as Roger Smith, a former NASA test pilot, Hank Garrison, an aerospace engineer who was instrumental in creating the stealth bomber technology, and Don Zelany, a former farmer who found science and became a physicist working on missile technology, are already on board.”

But more help is needed.

“We are hoping the scientific community will contact us and get involved,” he said.

And you don’t have to hold a Ph.D to help. Elementary students may only need someone who is competent in basic math. Someone who took college-level science classes may tutor middle school students. There is enough variety in student needs to match almost every level of science or math expertise, Stavlo said.

“We are looking for anyone who has a background in any of these areas and who feels that with some outside review on their part, they would be able to help students with science projects, field trips, tutoring, after hours enrichment programs, math drills, and helping to bridge the gap created during the summer when students can forget as much as five weeks to several months of skills they learned last year.”

“How do we do more with less? That is always the question now,” said MUSD superintendent Rich Boccia.

“John is tapping into what we already have,” Boccia said. “People like Dr. Mike Karch and Dr. Mary Bassler have already signed on to give talks to the students, to show them how and inspire them to become doctors or medical technicians. Others are signing on to work in the classroom, others to do after school tutoring and teaching.

“Mammoth is rich in scientific expertise. I think when people know we need help, they will be willing and happy to get involved.”

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