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Calculus camp at LACES drawing in more LAUSD students

Yana Gracile | June 24, 2014

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Robert Vriesman Calculus camp

Robert Vriesman

The popularity of calculus classes at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) has skyrocketed, thanks in large part to a unique calculus camp that combines learning with outdoor fun and adventure.

Every year, seniors and juniors at LACES, a high-performing school that serves grades 6-12 and has an API of 897, attend the camp, but this isn’t your typical camp. It’s a four-day intensive calculus review session each Spring that prepares students for their Advanced Placement calculus exams, which take place shortly after camp.

Calculus camp began in 2001 when math teacher Robert Vriesman thought it would be a fun way to help students improve on their AP calculus exams and boost interest in the subject. And the idea has paid off.

Prior to the first calculus camp in 2001, LACES had only around 20 students taking AP Calculus and the pass rate was only about 20 percent.

Thirteen years later, 200 students enrolled this year in AP Calculus. The pass rate for one college-level version of calculus has been as high as 64 percent while the pass rate for another has been more than 90 percent.

“The camp has been a drawing card for students to take the highest level of mathematics that is available in high school,” Vriesman told LA School Report. “We grew every year from that first year … 1,000 percent growth.”

Camp meets every April at its usual location at the Lion’s Club Camp at Teresita Pines in the San Gabriel Mountains, about 90 miles from Los Angeles.

“This kind of relaxed atmosphere just motivates them to continue to spend these four days studying really hard,” said LACES Principal Harold Boger.

Students work together in groups, reviewing calculus problems from a test preparation guide. The adults who accompany the students — LACES teachers, volunteer mentors and instructors from other educational institutions — help guide the lessons.

“It is an extremely powerful experience that has had much more impact on students than I ever thought it would when I first began the camp,” Vriesman said.

Since calculus camp was begun, LACES has had a dramatic increase in the number of students going to college to major in math, engineering and actuarial science.

“I know this because they email me and ask if they can return to calculus camp to help out other students in the way that calculus camp helped them,” Vriesman said. “They are graduates of schools like UC Berkeley, MIT, Harvard and Cal Tech.”

Boger said that calculus camp has generated a new level of appreciation for the subject.

“What calculus camp does is bring in that average student who probably would not have taken calculus or spent a lot of time studying for the AP exam,” he said. “It encourages those kids to stay in the class, to work hard and to give it their best shot.”

The school has engaged in fundraising efforts to help pay for the camp and relies on donations from private organizations and other groups to keep the program alive.


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