Thanks to the Joyce Broady Clark Outreach Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, a scholarship to benefit young women and other underrepresented students in mathematics, Michelle Homp’s work to bring the Primarily Math program to mathematics teachers in Africa has been expanding.
After Homp’s trip to Senegal, Africa, in 2018, she met with fund founder Gwinneth Berexa, the great-granddaughter of Broady Clark, a 1907 College of Arts and Sciences alumna, to thank Berexa for her support. They were joined via Zoom from Africa by Masake (Kane) Ly, the founder of Afrimath, an initiative to strengthen mathematics education for K–12 students and teachers in Senegal and across Africa.
They discussed the positive impact of Primarily Math on the Afrimath initiative at the Senegalese-American Bilingual School (SABS)—and the dozens of thank you notes that the teacher participants had written to Berexa, a successful business woman in the financial industry.
“She was delighted to know that her great-grandmother’s fund was used to support Afrimath,” Homp said. “It was a perfect partnership. Not only did Gwinne have a heart for supporting outreach in STEM, but she was fluent in French, the official national language of Senegal, and had actually spent some time living in Africa.” Berexa fully supported Homp’s goal of returning to Africa to reach teachers outside of the SABS.
In July of 2019, Homp again visited Dakar, where she and Ly were joined by Moussa Faye and Denis Ndour, teacher participants from 2018, to lead a new group of 12 teachers. The teachers were selected by administrators from three elementary schools in Dakar. They were selected for their leadership potential, but this time, being able to speak English was not a requirement.
Non-French speaker Homp found that Faye was an exceptionally patient interpreter. “We asked Moussa to assist with the instruction because of his solid understanding of the mathematics. What we didn’t expect was how deftly he would slip into this role,” Homp said. “Moussa did an amazing job of communicating abstract ideas to his fellow elementary teachers and exhibited a remarkable level of confidence and patience in teaching his peers.”
The 2019 group of teachers were highly dedicated as well, Homp added. When one teacher’s car broke down on the way to the school, he left it where it was and took a cab the rest of the way so that he wouldn’t miss class.
More than 450 teachers in Nebraska have dedicated their time to Primarily Math. This graduate certificate program is a renowned and highly effective set of six courses for elementary teachers (largely of primary grades) who wish to strengthen their mathematical content and pedagogical knowledge while earning UNL’s designation as a K-3 Mathematics Specialist. Primarily Math started with the $9.3 million NebraskaMATH grant, funded by the National Science Foundation until 2015. A new cohort of Primarily Math is starting in the summer of 2020 for Omaha, Nebraska, area teachers, with some funding from school districts.
Homp’s adventure with Afrimath started when she met Ly through the Department of Mathematics’ online Master of Arts for Teachers (MAT) degree program. Ly began the program in 2014, and Homp was the instructor for two of her online courses. Homp has been helping the department grow the online program since the fall of 2013. Currently, 44 students are pursuing the MAT, with 12 of those from outside the state of Nebraska, including one in Canada.
In the summer of 2016, Ly traveled from Senegal to Hastings, Nebraska, to take one of the MAT courses in person to speed up her time to graduation. In-person summer courses are offered in one- or two-week sessions through the Nebraska Math and Science Summer Institutes, a program that provides a 20% tuition discount to current Nebraska teachers thanks to the support of the UNL Office of the Chancellor. Often, courses first offered in the summer are developed into online courses for the MAT.
After meeting in Hastings, Homp became Ly’s academic advisor. Ly completed her MAT degree in 2017, and, as a result of her passion for mathematics education, launched Afrimath. Ly and Homp continued to correspond and, eventually, this partnership led to an invitation for Homp to join Ly in Senegal to help lead programs for Afrimath.
When Homp first traveled to the SABS in 2018, the seven teacher participants all were fluent in both English and French. The plan was to train these teachers for two consecutive summers, so that they could serve as leaders for future efforts to expand the program. However, the plan soon changed.
After the elementary teachers from SABS shared about the success of the Afrimath/Primarily Math program at the Dakar Forum on Mathematics Education in 2018 (an annual conference organized by Ly and attended by university faculty, teacher leaders, and other stakeholders in mathematics education), the French-speaking teachers in attendance expressed a strong desire to share in this learning experience. But, they did not want to wait two years, hence the call for continued support from the Broady-Clark funds to expand the program to more teachers in 2019.
Homp is confident that she also will be able to call on Faye to lead more teachers through the Primarily Math curriculum in Afrimath in the future. Both Homp and Ly hope the partnership between UNL and SABS continues. In particular, they hope to find the resources needed to translate a well-known assessment to be able to understand teacher growth and study the impact of the program.
“The most exciting parts about returning to Dakar this past summer were observing more teachers strengthen their knowledge of mathematics, seeing them become more passionate about teaching, and recognizing tremendous leadership potential among some of the participants,” Homp said. “This means Afrimath’s stated goal of strengthening mathematics education across Dakar, across Senegal, and the rest of Africa, is a giant leap closer to becoming a reality.”
Assistant Professor of Practice Michelle Homp also would like to thank Joye Fehringer of the University of Nebraska Foundation. To learn more about Berexa, the Clark family, and the Joyce Broady Clark Women Blazing Trails Mathematics Outreach Fund, visit https://cas.unl.edu/gwinneth-berexa.