Dr. Arlie Petters' Walking The Walk at Muslim School

Next Monday standard six students will sit the math and Social Studies Section of the Primary School Examination. Math is considered one of the more difficult papers with only 45% of applicants actually passing. And while there are no quick fixes, earlier this year acclaimed physicist and Duke University Math Professor Dr. Arlie Petters launched a guide to the math section of the PSE. It was written by Petters for students and it is being piloted in two schools in the Belize District. Keith Swift visited one of those schools with Dr. Petters this morning.

Keith Swift Reporting,
Today we met standard six students at the Muslim Community Primary School in final preparations for the math section of the PSE which they'll sit next Monday. The students are working with this guide to math which was written specifically for the PSE by celebrated mathematician and quantum physicist Dr. Arlie Petters. Class teacher Loretta Jeffords, who has been teaching for the better part of 30 years, says the book works. She knows this because she's been using it.

Loretta Jeffords, Teacher
"From the time it came out and we got it at our school, I decided to start using it."

Keith Swift,
You think its been helping your students?

Loretta Jeffords,
"Very very much."

Keith Swift,
How so?

Loretta Jeffords,
"Because we use it everyday, whatever topic I find and I could find it in that book, I use it. I use it everyday."

Keith Swift,
Do you see any improvement in your students because of the book?

Loretta Jeffords,
"A lot, I see a lot of improvement because they are using it."

Dr. Petters sat in on math class this morning to observe his book at work.

Dr. Arlie Petters, Duke University Math Professor
"Its an honor for me and I am humbled by that experience and I believe that the kids that we have here are our future and I was like them once and to be able to come back home and give in a modest way a piece of ones intellectual training, I think it is something that is a precious and deeply valued experience for me."

The Muslim School has become a pet project of sorts for the Doctor through his Institute of Math, Science, and Language. Dr. Petters says there is a reason why he wants the students at the Muslim Community School to succeed.

Dr. Arlie Petters,
"The Muslim School to me is symbolic of efforts in the southside of Belize City. A lot of kids from that area are here and this school works very hard with our neediest students. The first time I visited the Muslim School was about six months ago and I was completely impressed by the efforts of the administration, the leadership in the community, as well as by the teachers in the day to day trenches. They are completely dedicated to our neediest children and I thought this would be an ideal starting point to work with kids on the southside."

Dr. Petters says the book is making a difference in classrooms because it mixes math's theories, principles, and formulas with common sense.

Dr. Arlie Petters,
"The book is first of all completely consistent with the national curriculum and its something that has what I would say a lot of pedagogical tools for learning techniques in math that are pretty hard to understand and so we went to great efforts to make it as clear as possible. At the same time there are a lot of problems to give the students a tremendous amount of practice."

Dr. Petters says his commitment to the Muslim Community School and education on a whole is long term. He says that it's unrealistic to expect a dramatic improvement in test scores when the PSE results are released in June. For this world class mathematician, the key is to make incremental gains.

Dr. Arlie Petters,
"We have to have managed expectations and everyone knows, including all the teachers, that we are looking for gains. We are not looking for absolutes so compared to how things were a year ago, we should be seeing some improvement. But like with anything, if the improvement isn't as big as one may want, we should not give up because you go in small steps and eventually one will be able to move much more quickly. I believe that by next year we should begin to see greater gains and we will stick this out with the schools here in the southside, the Muslim School being the first place that we are beginning and then we will incorporate other institutions."

The other school in the pilot project is a primary school in San Pedro.
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