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Volunteer spotlight: Our math coaches

Tutors come to Cluster with varying degrees of knowledge about different school subjects. But some — especially those who have been away from a classroom for many years — find helping their students with math homework frustrating.

That’s why we’re so lucky to have three talented volunteer math coaches. Whether your student is having difficulty learning times tables, understanding how to divide fractions, or figuring out questions in statistics, Cluster’s three math coaches are ready, willing, and able to help.

On Tuesdays, Sydni Adams is available to help students of all ages. Sydni is a sophomore college student waiting to see which four-year college she will attend next fall to study engineering.

“Math is my favorite subject,” said Sydni, a 2015 graduate of Oak Park River Forest High School. “I discovered that after taking some other subjects I didn’t enjoy as well.” She is hoping to attend a historically black college in the fall, preferably Howard University.

Sydni spent a year at the University of Missouri majoring in animal studies in a course of study to become a veterinarian, but she decided to switch majors. So during an in-between year, she’s taking general education requirement classes at Triton Community College as well as a calculus course. She balances tutoring and her Triton classes with two part-time jobs, and she also volunteers at the Animal Care League as a dog handler.

Sydni will work with any student who needs help, grades K-12. Her favorites courses in math were algebra and trigonometry. It’s a subject that comes easy to her; she admitted that she sometimes does math “almost without thinking.”

This isn’t Sydni’s first participation in tutoring. In high school, she was a member of Tau Gamma, a student volunteer organization, and she tutored students at Longfellow School in Oak Park. “I specifically remember struggling with one student on mixed numbers,” she said. “That showed me that I have to be prepared for whatever a student brings me.

“I’m not just here for math,” Sydni said. “I’m here for mentoring.”

Thursdays has two volunteer math tutors to spread the load.

This is the second year of being a math coach for Rohit Naringrekar. He’s a computer engineer at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he writes computer programs and software.

“I love teaching math,” Rohit said. He came to be a volunteer math coach because, as he puts it, “I like to help people.” He tends to work with older students, although he’ll assist all comers. He’s helped students as young as 4th grade.

Older students and their tutors have come to him for help with high school math. He’s worked with them on science courses, too, as well as on trig and statistics.

“Statistics is not something I need very often,” Rohit said. “A student came with a statistics problem we both had trouble with. But I kept mulling it over. Fifteen minutes later, I worked out the answer on how to solve it. I went back to the student, and he was able to do it.”

Rohit says he’s interested in learning and teaching how to solve a problem. “It’s rewarding to see a student get some sense of comprehension.”

Math is Rohit’s passion. While many of us might not understand the workings of higher math, his favorite is topical number theory. “I love to find properties of numbers. It’s totally my pleasure,” he said.

The math coach who concentrates on younger students on Thursdays is Chip Peeraphatdit, who is also in her second year as a math coach. She’s a chemist at Particle Technology Labs.

“I’ve always liked teaching,” said Chip, who has both undergraduate and master’s degrees in chemistry. “I was looking around for opportunities to volunteer.” Chip fell into Cluster Tutoring when she and her husband attended the Day in Our Village event held in Oak Park each June. Originally, they hoped to tutor as a tag team, splitting the responsibility when the other couldn’t make it.

“He’s a right-brain actor, while I’m a left-brain chemist,” she said. “We thought between the two of us, we could have everything covered.” But since many of his rehearsals are at night, Chip switched to a different approach, using her math and science expertise alone as a coach.

Chip mostly concentrates on elementary and middle-grade students, although she has helped high schoolers with chemistry homework. Most weeks she has students looking for help.

She’s grateful for the many math resources Cluster has to offer, including the flash cards and the math games. “If they need more help, they need to use those resources,” Chip said. “Practice makes perfect.”

Working as a math coach has been very rewarding for Chip, especially when a student finally breaks through and understands the process. “I live to see the light bulb moment,” she said.


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