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For Louise Fisher, ‘Do the Math’ Is a Rallying Cry as Well as a Starting Point for Girls

Partners in Education volunteer and retired educator doesn't stop teaching, especially for young women

[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series on Santa Barbara Partners in Education volunteers. This article is sponsored by D.D. Ford Construction, a Partners in Education President’s Council member.]

As far as Louise Fisher is concerned, a perfect world is one in which equal access to quality education for each and every child would be an integral part of life.

      |  Partners in Education President’s Council Series |  Complete Series Index  |

Having begun her career as an elementary school teacher in 1971, Fisher — also a wife and mother — is now officially retired. In an unofficial capacity, however, she is still as committed as ever to educating young people, specifically young women.

In December 2012, Fisher began volunteering each week with Santa Barbara Partners in Education, helping young girls improve their math skills through a program at Girls Incorporated of Carpinteria.

Louise Fisher
Louise Fisher, a volunteer with Santa Barbara Partners in Education, believes that understanding math is at the root of education, especially for young girls. “It’s so heartwarming to watch a child who is struggling with math concepts experience success and, as a result, begin to see herself as a successful math student,” she says. (Santa Barbara Partners in Education photo)

Partners in Education, a nonprofit organization administered by the Santa Barbara County Education Office, is most well-known for the support its Volunteer Program provides to public schools countywide. People might be surprised to hear that the organization, in addition to schools, has positioned itself to serve local nonprofit groups as well.

“In the South County alone, we currently have arrangements with 20 nonprofits, allowing us to support students’ educational needs throughout their entire day, beginning at school and following them into their after-school programs, enrichments activities or homeless shelters,” said Michelle Magnusson, executive director of Partners in Education.

“Learning opportunities are not constrained to a classroom and so we feel it’s very important to support the youth-serving programs of other nonprofits through our volunteer services,” she continued. “In addition, working with other nonprofits allows community volunteers to serve at both schools and nonprofits — without the hassle of going through multiple coordination and screening processes. It makes for a seamless volunteer experience and allows us to maximize our impact in the community.”

Fisher’s deep interest in empowering young girls through math stems from her experiences in the classroom.

“As a teacher,” she explained, “you might have 30 kids to a classroom, and maybe only 10 need ‘intervention.’ How do you separate 10 kids and make sure they get the attention they need?”

After retirement, Fisher started working part-time as a math consultant for Math Solutions, teaching a program called Do the Math, a nationally recognized curriculum designed to help students catch up and keep up.

“Having experienced the Do the Math program and its benefits, I wanted to provide this learning opportunity to the students in my own town,” Fisher said.

She believed in the program so much that she took it with her into her volunteer experience at Girls Inc.

“The program uses interactive games to make math fun and relevant, helping the students increase problem-solving abilities,” said Jessica Wetzel, academic coordinator at Girls Inc. who has worked closely with Fisher in the past year.

“Louise spent 12 weeks with us, facilitating classes twice a week,” she said. “She worked with first- and second-grade girls who were not performing at grade level in math, or were at risk of falling behind before their third-grade year.

“Louise is an inspiring teacher, with the patience and perseverance to reach even the most challenging students. As a result of the fun learning atmosphere she created, our girls made significant gains in number sense and basic operations through her Do the Math class.”

She isn’t kidding about the significant gains made.

According to Wetzel, 80 percent of the girls increased their foundational math skills, including basic number sense, and 96 increased their level of confidence in performing basic math operations. As a result of the success of the class Fisher taught, Girls Inc. is integrating Do the Math into its regular school-year programming.

It’s clear Fisher is proud of the progress her group of students has made.

“It’s so heartwarming to watch a child who is struggling with math concepts experience success and, as a result, begin to see herself as a successful math student,” she said. “Then to see that confidence extend to other areas of her life is very exciting.

“I have had girls not want to go home because they want to continue doing math, doing something they feel they are now good at.”

Fisher admits she didn’t emerge each day victorious and that it can sometimes be challenging to make a concept connect with a child.

Her advice for other volunteers?

“Know and understand that kids are going to have good days and bad days,” she said. “Just reflect, what can you do better next time? But don’t give up. The next day could be that light bulb.”

Fisher remembers one story in particular.

“One girl was really frustrated at first,” she recalled, “but the next time she came, she got it, and couldn’t wait to show her mom what she could do.

“I left thinking that day, ‘OK, this is why I’m here.’”

                                                                  •        •        •

Santa Barbara Partners in Education is a nonprofit 501(c)3 administered by the Santa Barbara County Education Office. The Partners in Education President’s Council consists of 30 businesses that all act as an advocate for Partners in Education programs and a liaison between public schools and the business community. Each President’s Council member contributes $2,500 annually.

Partners programs include a Volunteer Recruitment program serving K-12 public schools and nonprofit organizations; a Paid Job Readiness Training & Internship program for deserving high school students; and Computers for Families, a program working to close the digital divide.

» Click here to volunteer with Partners in Education, or call 805.964.4710 x4401.

» Connect with Partners in Education on Facebook. Follow Partners in Education on Twitter: @sbpartnersined.

» For other inquiries, contact internship program and communications coordinator Chelsea Duffy at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

      |  Partners in Education President’s Council Series |  Complete Series Index  |

— Chelsea Duffy is a program coordinator for Santa Barbara Partners in Education.

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