IDAHO FALLS — Brenda and Jeff Barnard know firsthand what it’s like to struggle with math, and so do their kids.
In fact, their daughter Leisha failed Algebra 1 in high school.
“She happened to fail Algebra 1 the first semester … We were a little blown away by that.” Jeff Barnard says. “As I talked to the teacher and I looked around I could see— this really isn’t the environment for her to be successful in.”
Leisha lost her confidence in the subject and it made her feel incapable of doing well. The Barnards didn’t want any other child to feel what their daughter felt at the time and that inspired them to open the first-ever Mathnasium in eastern Idaho.
“This is exactly what we need. I could have benefitted and had value from this as a youth. I could have used it with our own kids,” Brenda says.
“What happens is kids either miss a concept or don’t understand a concept, they get frustrated and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Jeff says.
A similar situation happened with Nathan Hawkes’ 14-year-old daughter Madison. When she transitioned from elementary school to junior high school, some math concepts got lost in the mix for this now 4.0 student.
“Spent lots of late nights as parents trying to do homework with my daughter,” Hawkes says.
Hawkes says his daughter’s 6th-grade experience was less than ideal and her teacher at the time didn’t “teach as much as tell,” Hawkes recounts. When Madison began learning at Mathnasium, Hawkes could see the changes in his daughters understanding. On drives with his daughter he’ll sometimes give her math quizzes.
“She understood and got the answer. I didn’t have to go through this math lesson with her. She could answer the question,” Hawkes says.
Brenda and Jeff say they don’t want children to be intimidated by math, or for high school graduates to be dissuaded from pursuing a degree because of the math element.
“If we could keep just one student in this valley from feeling like ‘Oh I don’t want to go to college.. or I don’t want to take this or this in college … because of the math,’” Brenda says. “Then we’ve been successful.”
When kids first step into the Mathnasium they are given an assessment. The assessment isn’t a formal test but a way for instructors to gauge student’s math ability and skill level. They identify where their strengths and weaknesses are and then build a customized learning plan from there. Students can get homework help on current assignments as well.
“The way the Mathnasium program is set up is it starts as a building block,” Brenda says. “Consider comparing a Jenga game where your base is only as big as the top. You can go fairly high, but you’re going to have holes and you’re susceptible to falling because the base isn’t broad.”
The tutors work with the children, but do so in a manner that fosters independent learning. Brenda says tutors working with the children are also background-checked for students safety.
“Our tutors engage and then disengage and help that child come to the ‘aha’ experience on their own, so they feel like they did it. As (students) gain that confidence, it just gets better and better for them,” Jeff says.
Brenda says tutoring programs are catered around the student and family’s needs.
“We have programs where they can come in two times a week or programs where they can come in unlimited for the month,” Brenda says.
The Mathnasium is a franchise growing throughout the United States. They serve students from Kindergarten through high school.
“We’re here not to replace the parent and not to replace the school teachers … but we’re here to supplement and help … help the children build a broader base in this wonderful thing called mathematics,” Jeff says.