Algebra Tutoring Adds to the Fun for Campers at Kids’ University

  • UT Dallas student Gloria Villarruel, a child learning and development senior, used connecting cubes to explain algebra concepts to campers at Kids' University, which serves homeless children.

At Kids’ University, students take time out from robotics, science and arts activities to work with tutors on a subject you don’t see on the schedule at many summer camps: algebra.

Algebra tutoring is a critical part of the equation at the camp, which serves children ages 4 to 14 living in area homeless shelters and is hosted by UT Dallas and the Dallas nonprofit Rainbow Days. Homeless children often fall at least one grade level behind due to frequent moves and school transfers, said Dr. George Fair, vice president for diversity and community engagement and dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies.

“When you transfer to several schools throughout the school year, you lose something,” Fair said. “You lose friends and you miss the continuity of being in one school for a full year. The idea is to give them educational activities that will be helpful to them as they go forward.”

Dr. George Fair, vice president for diversity and community engagement, describes how Kids' University is helping homeless children. If you don't see the video, watch it on Vimeo.

Math may not sound like as big of a draw as activities like educational computer games, karaoke and therapy dog activities offered at the camp. However, the one-on-one sessions are a hit, said Kelly Wierzbinski, director of Family Connection at Rainbow Days.

“A lot of the children we work with don’t think they are smart enough to go into fields that require knowledge of math,” Wierzbinski said. “It is so great for the kids to go back to their shelters and tell their moms that they did algebra today. It shows the children that they are smart and can do math.”

Kids’ University also features other STEM and arts activities taught by volunteers from organizations including the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Cranium Kids and Home Depot. UT Dallas dance instructor Melissa Johnson, who teaches in the School of Arts and Humanities, taught a class in a studio on campus where students practiced new moves to popular songs.

“A lot of them came in and sat and didn’t want to dance,” Johnson said. “But by the end, everyone was dancing. It was a blast.”

At the tutoring sessions, participants met individually with UT Dallas students who use puzzles and blocks that make the work fun. On one afternoon, Gloria Villarruel, a child learning and development senior in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, guided 10-year-old camper Kaliece Lockett through a problem using colorful interlocking plastic blocks to understand the properties of cubes.

“I love working with kids,” Villarruel said.

While her students learned math concepts, the sessions gave Villarruel valuable teaching experience. She is working on earning her certification through the University's Teacher Development Center.

“This was just perfect for me,” Villarruel said. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to work with Kids’ University.”

Watching as Kaliece formed a group of blocks into a cube, Villarruel asked her to determine the perimeter. Kaliece smiled as her tutor entered her answers into the computer. As much as she enjoyed all the other activities at Kids’ University, Kaliece did not hesitate when asked which one she liked best, “This — it’s my favorite part.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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