Middle Schoolers Learn Science and Math at Contra Costa College

Jose Cortes (right) helps Leadership High School student Jennifer Martinez with her geometry homework.
Jose Cortes (right) helps Leadership High School student Jennifer Martinez with her geometry homework.

During the summertime at Contra Costa College, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., classrooms are filled with teenagers solving equations, developing career goals, and free lunch provided by the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) program.In the Physical Sciences building tutor Jorge Cortes sits down with a small group of students and helps go over their geometry homework. The students have a test coming up, and he wants to make sure they are all prepared.The STEM program at Contra Costa College supports Middle College High School in San Pablo, which allows the students to take both high school and college level classes on campus including chemistry, physics and calculus.To be eligible, students must be considering a major in math, technology or science fields and plan to earn associate degree or transfer.The students also receive a $500 semester stipend, academic counseling, mentoring opportunities, and personal development workshops. Graduates of the STEM program often assist with outreach to local middle/high school students.
Cortes recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and helps tutor students with math four times a week.
“When I was in the program, they gave us a sense of community and played a pivotal role in helping us get scholarships and into colleges,” said Cortes. “Now, I feel like I have enough academic experience to make it easier for other students in the program, so I came back.”
Many school districts in California have begun to see the benefit of STEM programs and have increased assistance to low-income minority students from pre-kindergarten through high school and offer tutoring sessions, free lunch, and classes on academic readiness.
“Overall, around 66 percent of students pass science and math courses during the school year, and in the summertime, that number rises to more than 80 percent,” said Dr. Mayra Padilla, director of the STEM program at CCC.
“With the STEM program, we create a pipeline from kids in our METAS program all the way up to the college students to offer resources and support so that the students will be successful as they pursue careers,” said Padilla.
METAS (meaning ‘goals’ in Spanish) is a program in the West Contra Costa County School District that helps Latino and other minority children achieve their academic goals.
Padilla herself was a student in METAS and a graduate from the STEM program and said the teachers in the program helped her pursue college and later earn a doctorate in psychology and behavioral neuroscience from UC Berkeley.
“The STEM program really helps us close the achievement gap and to give a more personal touch to the community,” said Terence Elliott, Dean of Contra Costa College.
During the daily two-hour tutoring sessions, students rotate between studying and career building activities. Steve Hoffman, a social sciences teacher at Middle College High School, says one of the biggest challenges is helping students who don’t have good study habits and showing them ways to improve those study skills through note taking, keeping homework organized, and dealing with stress and anxiety for test taking.
“In the summertime, we have three students per tutor which puts responsibility on the students to complete their work,” said Hoffman. “We want to make sure none of the 150 students fall through the cracks.”