Calculus for a Cause | A Mathematical Win-Win at SPHS

Students make a donation for a packet of information to prepare for math finals, receive five hours of tutoring and help SkillsUSA, a partnership between young people, teachers and industry, at the same time 

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Organizers of Tuesday’s Calculus for a Cause, Jamilah Hah, left, and Albert Zhou, right, are joined by South Pasadena High Math teacher Ruth Moonesinghe, who started the fundraiser 11 years ago. Twice a year, South Pasadena High School students are given the opportunity recently to receive sample math test questions to prepare for their final exam in exchange for $20 donations that goes to charity

It’s a way of helping themselves and giving back as South Pasadena High students participated in Calculus for a Cause last Tuesday to improve their odds of a good score on second semester math finals while lending financial help to a worthy organization.

It’s the brainchild of SPHS teacher Ruth Moonesinghe, who came up with the win-win scenario 11 years ago to ease anxiety and tension just before the big test and help those in need at the same time.

Dozens took advantage of the most recent opportunity as the school year winds down, lining up behind registration tables set-up in front of the school’s gymnasium to receive a coveted packet of sample math test problems in order to prepare for final exams that began on Friday.

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PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News |
Some of the tutors who helped students at the recent Calculus for a Cause event gathered for a photo in the Tiger Patio on the South Pasadena High School campus

Pressure is always present this time of year with passing grades are on the line, so to make life easier Moonesinghe likes to relieve it by providing a smoother path to success.

She acknowledges those who understand the concepts in the pages of information provided for a $20 donation will likely give students a much higher chance for success. A scholarship program she established makes the packet available to individuals who can’t afford it, making it free to everyone.

Every South Pasadena student can benefit from twice yearly event, held just before the first and second semesters end. “We won’t turn away anyone who wants an exam packet,” stressed Moonesinghe. “No one is ever excluded if they can’t make the donation.”

Yet, most want to take a peek at what’s in store on the final and willingly donate the funds, this time around recognizing that their dollars will come back to the school’s SkillsUSA chapter, a career and technical student organization which provides educational programs, events and competitions supporting career and technical education in the classroom. SkillsUSA serves nearly 400,000 high school, middle school, college students and professional members enrolled in trade, technical and skilled service occupations across America.

In addition to making a donation for the packet of information, students are given an opportunity to receive up to five hours of free tutoring inside the school’s gym.

Inside the packet “basically is a reflection of what’s going to be on the final,” explained Jamilah Hah, a student who organized this semester’s event with fellow junior Albert Zhou. Hah said students work with South Pasadena High math teachers to create the packets.

Zhou, a advanced math student and tutor, said participating in Calculus for a Cause “is a great way for us to give back to our community through helping other students with their math finals, using what we’re good at to help others.”

Calculus for a Cause started in 2008 to raise money for the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Now, like clockwork just in time for finals, the event raises funds for an organization that has faced a hardship, a natural disaster or simply needs a helping hand. Last December money was collected through the effort to support victims of the devastating fires that destroyed the town of Paradise in Northern California.

Moonesinghe, noting that Hah and Zhou took the Calculus for a Cause to a “whole new level” this semester, said nearly $4,000 was raised for the South Pasadena SkillsUSA program.

The SPHS math teacher insists developing student leaders was one of the main focuses behind her initially launching the program. “I love the fact that my older kids, those who tutor, helped the younger kids and really care about them,” she said. “As a teacher, I’ve always felt like there’s more than me standing up in a classroom and teaching math problems. I’m here to plant seeds, to let them know they can do something with their talents. They can honestly make a huge difference. You have to teach them that, encourage them and let them run with it.”