Introduction by Dr. Gramma Karen: In this column I take a break from addressing intergenerational issues. Rather, this column is meant to be a reminder that many of our children and grandchildren are actively doing whatever they can to promote the future they envision. I think you will agree with me that Tessa Wayne is representative of a young and successful change agent.
I was introduced to Tessa by my grandson nine years ago when they were in fourth grade. Now a senior in high school, one of Tessa’s many achievements includes starting GLAM (Girls Learning Advanced Math) at the end of her sophomore year in 2018. GLAM was the result of Tessa finding herself one of very few, or the only girl, at math contests and in her math classes: she wanted to find a way to share her passion for math with young girls.
Karen: What was going on in your life that prompted you to start thinking about starting something with girls and math?
Tessa: Since I was little, I have always loved math. I have been fortunate to have been able to take so many fun, challenging math electives at school. As I got older, however, it became very apparent that the more challenging math classes I took had fewer and fewer girls.
It was disappointing to see that girls were not as interested in taking advanced math classes, so I decided to do some research. I learned that girls start to lose interest in math as young as middle school. Despite the fact that girls are just as capable as boys (if not more!) in math, they start to lose confidence in their math abilities. This takes place especially in under-represented schools [high schools with fewer numbers of students pursing higher education]. This discrepancy and my absolute love for math is what led me to wanting to work with girls and math.
Karen: Who are the people who have helped you move your idea from concept to action?
Tessa: My parents are the people who instilled in me my love for math. They and some of my teachers have been very supportive in helping me turn GLAM into a reality. My parents constantly let me bounce ideas off of them, so by talking with them about what I envisioned, the material I wanted to teach and to whom, the idea for GLAM was born. They are also helping me with the tedious task of getting GLAM 401(c)(3) status [an IRS classification of self-employed individuals and owner-employee].
A couple of teachers at school helped guide me in finding schools in the area that could benefit from the program, as well as helping me tailor some of my teaching material.
Karen: What do you feel you did right in developing and implementing GLAM?
Tessa: Having GLAM be taught only by teenage females (who love math) rather than “math teachers” was pivotal. My instructors act as role models, and not only do they teach the younger girls math, but they can also mentor them and offer them advice about high school and being a girl interested in STEM [a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics]. Had GLAM been taught by teachers it would have been a much different culture.
Another aspect that was important in developing GLAM was sticking to my mission and values. For example, one school would accept GLAM only if they could charge the girls a fee, and also have one of their teachers there in the room with us. I declined because I wanted GLAM to stick to my mission and have teenage girls as the instructors/role models. And while I do some fundraising, I did not want there to be a fee for the girls interested in GLAM.
Karen: What were some of the challenges or obstacles you ran into in getting GLAM off the ground?
Tessa: When trying to get GLAM off the ground, the biggest challenge I faced was not hearing back from the various schools and organizations I reached out to. I called and emailed tons of schools and community centers to try and find places to host GLAM. I received a lot of initial interest but after I responded, there was very little response in return. This was frustrating but finally, one school responded and asked for a meeting and that is what it took to get GLAM started.
And since our initial pilot program, GLAM has really been successful. I am grateful to the administration of PS 84 [Public school, New York City] for allowing me to come in with GLAM, and also to the parents and girls who were so enthusiastic about the program.
Now I have several schools, and I have to ensure I have enough instructors (who are all in high school and have busy schedules themselves) to volunteer and maintain their commitments. My instructors are amazing!
Karen: I agree. I am so impressed with your GLAM instructors! As you look back, what would you do differently in developing and implementing GLAM?
Tessa: When implementing GLAM, I would make sure that the girls have an initial interest in math. The schools in which the girls were selected by the teachers because they love math are the groups that are always the most engaged. I have some groups that were signed up by their parents and don’t love math as much, so they are less engaged with the material. I began to realize that GLAM at those schools where the parents sign up their daughters serves a different purpose: to help girls develop an interest in math and just feel more confident.
At the schools where teachers help select the girls based on skill, and some take tests, GLAM provides a place that girls who already love math can continue to pursue their love for it. I would also continue to keep the ages separate. The schools where the grade levels are kept separate have an easier time focusing than the GLAM groups that have multiple grades together.
Karen: What have you learned about yourself and about others in this process?
Tessa: I have learned how challenging it is to start an organization from the ground up, and how fulfilling it is to see it grow and come to life and how you can make an impact on young girls’ lives.
I’ve learned how rewarding it is to be able to share my love for math with young girls who look up to me and the other instructors. Watching a GLAM group’s growth from the first day to the last day is such an inspiring feeling. The emails I have received from parents thanking me for bringing exciting math into their daughters’ lives and hearing the stories they tell me about how their daughters come home and talk about the new math they learned brightens my day.
Karen: So, as you head off to college next year, what happens to GLAM?
Tessa: First, all of my current instructors are younger than I (high school sophomores and juniors), and that was strategic so that they can continue in the years ahead here in New York City. Regarding my going to college next year, I have already been in touch with The Haas Center at Stanford (which is their service organization) about bringing GLAM with me there [Santa Clara County, CA] and to surrounding areas.
I plan to recruit/train new instructors in the spring/summer so there will be the current 7 I have now and the new ones too. I have also been in touch with a girl from Boston who seems interested in having GLAM in her area, so this is something I will be pursuing. So, these are my short-term plans, but the long-term plan is to grow GLAM even more.
Karen: What else do you want people to know about GLAM?
Tessa: I want people to know that a major goal is for GLAM to be available in as many schools as possible. I invite anyone interested in GLAM to please check out our site for more information and/or to contact us.
Karen: I know my readers join me wishing you continued success with GLAM and all your future endeavors. You are an inspiration in so many ways! Thank you.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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