Jefferson Award Winner Helps Students Master MathBy Allen Martin

SAN MATEO (KPIX 5) When it comes to variables, coefficients, and irrational numbers, Reverend Marlyn Bussey can relate to the kids she’s helping.

“I was dreadful in math!” she remembered. “I was an A student in every other subject except math. When I was able to get a C or a B in math, my parents had a party!”

After 25 years working as a school counselor, Bussey became the pastor of St. James A.M.E. Zion Church in San Mateo. She quickly saw a need.

“What was happening is kids were being put in classes to repeat a class in 9th grade when they had already gotten an A or a B in 8th grade,” she explained. “I just didn’t understand why that was happening.”

She says it’s called “misplacement.” In particular, she saw it happening to black and hispanic children.

“It’s a dream killer when you tell a child, and especially a child of color who may or may not be from socio-economically disadvantaged background, ‘You’re good in school, but you’re not good enough. You need to prove it to me one more time that you’re that good and then I’ll let you through the door.’ I mean come on! Do they not have enough barriers in the way?” Bussey said.

Not only were some students being “misplaced,” many others were falling behind and struggling. Both groups needed help. So two years ago, she created the St. James Community Foundation. Three afternoons a week, about 50 middle school students fill the church community hall for a hot meal, and math.

Camilo Tupac is a 7th grader who struggled.

“I was really bad with my grades,” he said. “(Math is) really tough for me.”

Now his grades are up, along with his confidence.

Adriana Chairez was one of the first students in the program. Now a high school junior, she’s back to tutor other kids.

“Before I wouldn’t really understand it, and then when I started coming here, I was excelling more than my other classmates because of this,” Chavez said. “So like every single test I really didn’t have to study. I get A’s only!”

So for giving children in San Mateo a boost in math and for their futures, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Reverend Marlyn Bussey.