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M-Cubed academy helps build local Black boys' math skills, confidence

For Miles White, a rising ninth-grader at Albemarle High School, participating in the M-Cubed Summer Math Academy over the years has built up his confidence and helped him to speak up.

“In class sometimes, most kids don’t raise their hand, but I feel confident enough to raise my hand even if I get the question wrong,” White said Friday, the last day of the 13th annual academy.

He returned to the academy this summer as a teaching assistant along with Isaiah Venable and Akinwunmi Akanmu, all of whom are part of M-Cubed’s student council. All three boys said they feel more prepared to tackle high school in the fall thanks to the academy.

After switching to an all-virtual program last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the M-Cubed Summer Math Academy returned this week to the Community Lab School, the recently renamed Albemarle County charter school campus, albeit in a shortened and hybrid format.

Students attended in-person on Monday and Friday and participated in virtual activities in the intervening days. The free camp is open to Black boys entering fifth through eighth grade who attend Charlottesville or Albemarle County public schools.

“One of the best things specifically about this year is we get to have guest speakers come in and they’ll introduce themselves and what they do, and I really like learning about it because normally I wouldn’t hear these things anywhere else,” Akanmu said.

On Friday, Jose Gomez, with the University of Virginia’s engineering school, talked with the boys about structural engineering.

Held by 100 Black Men of Central Virginia, M-Cubed helps students to improve their algebra skills so they can take Algebra I by eighth grade, which allows the students to access more advanced math classes in high school.

Venable and White took geometry last school year while Akanmu completed Algebra 1. They’ll all attend Albemarle High School in the fall.

“I can say that M-Cubed has definitely helped me a lot, especially when it came to ratios in seventh grade,” Akanmu said. “When we got to ratios, I was the only one on top of everything, and then it got to this point where my math teacher stopped calling on me.”

All three like math, which they credit to the academy’s hands-on activities such as 3-D modeling and coding a robot.

Typically, M-Cubed runs all day for two weeks and includes lessons about table manners, tying a tie and career choices, among other things. This year’s five-day program was more focused on math enrichment. Sessions were led by local teachers.

Donations and grants from organizations such as Bama Works help to make the program possible. On Friday, the Revella Group presented a $5,000 check to the 100 Black Men chapter. The Leesburg construction consulting firm has been a regular supporter of M-Cubed.

“We wanted to encourage them and to keep the program going especially in Central Virginia because, in my company, we need structural engineers, we need the cost estimators, we need mathematicians,” said Revella Warega, the company’s president. “We have to have the foundation for them to start now considering those careers.”

Daniel Fairley, president of 100 Black Men of Central Virginia, said they settled on the weeklong hybrid option after surveying families. All students were required to wear masks, and the adults have been fully vaccinated, he said.

About 40 students participated this year. In another change from previous years, Fairley said they brought in a counselor to help students throughout the week as needed.

Fairley said the group thought it was important to get students back in person this summer to help them to form friendships, among other benefits.

“If we establish them as brothers here, they’re gonna be brothers when they go back to their own individual schools,” he said.

Fairley added that those connections are important when the young men return to a school where they might be the only Black student in the building or in an advanced class.

“Being able to say, ‘OK, you know what, I know there are other smart Black kids. I know that there are other kids that care about school, and that love this, and so I’m going to be connected with them to keep pushing myself,’” he said.

Last year, with the school year up in the air, Fairley said they asked students what they needed.

“We heard from a lot of them [that], ‘we don’t know if we’re going to go back to school, and if we do, we don’t know what it’s going to look like and I’m going to need some help,’” he said.

To provide that help, 100 Black Men of Central Virginia offered Monday mentoring sessions and virtual tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“From last year’s M-Cubed until now, we were — multiple times a week — checking in with the kids, working with them, making sure they’re doing everything that they possibly can to feel like they’re a part of some type of community,” Fairley said.

Venable said the tutoring was helpful this past school year as he tackled geometry. Not having the in-person learning experience was hard for him.

“There were some things where I wasn’t understanding, and their programming helped me to learn how to do things and do things in a different way that my teacher wasn’t explaining it in and explained it in a different way that helped me learn,” he said.

For White, the tutoring was a safety net.

“Even though I didn’t go to most of those Zooms, it was just good knowing that if I didn’t understand things, I could just go to a Zoom and they could help me out,” he said.

Akanmu said the Zoom meetings helped him a lot.

“Mainly because I didn’t go to places anymore,” he said. “Talking to my family’s nice but I need other people to talk to.”

On Mondays, the boys led the virtual mentoring meetings and learned about investing in the stock market. The 100 Black Men chapter gave the M-Cubed student council $500 and the students opted to put $100 into stocks.

They learned a lot and had fun watching their money grow by $54 in the last year, the boys said. Overall, it was a great experience, even if they aren’t quite billionaires yet.

“But that’s the plan,” Venable said.


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