CJ Santiago of Accelerated Achievement Academy and William Hanson of Rancho San Justo Middle School listen to an instructor during the Bruce W. Woolpert Algebra Academy on Aug. 1. Photo: Todd Guild

Michael Rozen said Aug. 1 he would rather be playing sports with his friends than attending the weeklong Bruce W. Woolpert Algebra Academy offered by Graniterock. 

While Michael stopped short of admitting an affinity for math, the 13-year-old admits the experience will prepare him for the higher-level classes he’ll experience in eighth grade.

While such a lukewarm disposition might be expected of a young person spending part of their summer solving complex formulae, that is bound to change as he and his 75 peers gain confidence and get used to the early-morning classes, says Christie Sessions, who runs the nonprofit Algebra Academy.

“But by the end of the week, they are like a completely different group of kids,” she says. “They’re ready to go.”

Rebecca Villaron, a math teacher with Rancho San Justo Middle School, agrees. Now in her fifth year with the program, she brought one-third of the students she’ll have in the upcoming year.

Any hesitancy, she says, typically melts away as they absorb the material.

“I get to see these kids make the connections during the summer that they didn’t understand,” she says. “After yesterday afternoon, I am starting to see these little lightbulbs, and they are eager to do the math.”

CJ Santiago, 13, who attends Accelerated Achievement Academy in Hollister, was enthusiastic about the program during the mid-morning break.

“I like it,” he says. “It’s challenging to the point where there are some things I understand, there are some things I don’t, but I pick up on it. It’s definitely preparing me for eighth grade.”

Former Graniterock CEO Bruce Woolpert created the program in 2010 after seeing numerous high school graduates enrolled in remedial math classes in college. Woolpert was killed in 2012 in a boating accident.

The program shifted to an online model during the Covid pandemic, and moved to a smaller model last year. This year marks the first full return of the program, which evenly distributed its 150 students between Graniterock’s headquarters in Watsonville and Driscoll’s berry company’s Cassin Ranch facility.

The classes are taught by professors from Cal State University Monterey Bay and UC Santa Cruz. 

CSU Monterey Bay Professor Hongde Hu, whose partnership with Woolpert was instrumental in the Academy’s creation, returned to the summer program along with his colleague Noah Doss and UC Santa Cruz math professor Justin Lake.

Ten Academy alums, now seniors in high school, were serving as teaching assistants during the week.

In addition to the sessions, Graniterock employees will talk to the kids about their jobs, and how math is essential for them.

“We are thrilled to bring back the Bruce W. Woolpert Algebra Academy in its in-person format after four years,” said Rose Ann Woolpert, Graniterock family owner and Academy board member. “The academy has always been committed to equipping our students with a strong foundation in algebra and fostering a love for math.”

The program is free to students. For information, visit bwwaa.org.

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