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Kids Crunch Numbers, Build Confidence at 'Mathnasium' on UWS

By Emily Frost | August 9, 2013 9:32am
 The program focuses on lifelong understanding of math concepts. 
Kids Crunch Numbers, Build Confidence at 'Mathnasium' on UWS
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UPPER WEST SIDE — For local mom Amy Seibert, it seemed all the other parents at her 10-year-old twins' private schools were adding tutoring and extra learning sessions to their kids' days — a trend she confesses she reluctantly bought in to.

The family initially enrolled for after-school sessions with a national tutoring company that has offices in the city, but Seibert said her kids "were bored out of their minds." 

The sessions were a disaster that lasted only about a month, until she found Mathnasium, a franchise whose Upper West Side office is growing rapidly. 

Positive slogans and cloud bubbles filled with math equations dot the exposed brick walls of the storefront on Amsterdam Avenue between West 84th and 85th streets, and smooth jazz plays quietly in the background as children pore over work sheets and pause to talk with an instructor. 

At Mathnasium, math isn't a matter of memorization and drills, but is viewed in terms of mastering concepts that can then be built upon, explained Marc Goldberg, who co-owns the location with his wife, Tammy. 

Students are taught in small or private hour-long sessions by instructors who are typically grad students or teachers who love math. The kids are encouraged to view the program as learning time — not as homework help or test prep. 

Goldberg, who has always loved math, said the transformation many kids experience there astonishes parents. Kids who were dragged to Mathnasium often have changed their entire outlook on the subject within the first couple of meetings, he said. 

"Most kids are with us for six to 12 months," said Goldberg, who is interested in "teaching math in a way that makes sense to kids" so that they learn concepts not just for now but forever.

"Our commitment is to their long-term mathematical growth," he said. 

Students, a mix of private and public school kids, are pretty evenly split between boys and girls, he said. 

But the center does see a rush of public school parents in the spring anxious about the looming fourth-grade state tests that help determine where their child will go to middle school, Goldberg explained. 

While he acknowledged that the test has a big impact on their lives, he said the effects of having success in math go beyond that. 

"For many kids, how good they are at math is a litmus test for their feelings about their own intelligence," he said. 

Word-of-mouth about Mathnasium is traveling fast, Goldberg noted. Of the 375 other centers nationwide, the Upper West Side location placed fourth in terms of growth. 

Unlike many of the students who find their way to Mathnasium, Seibert's daughter Lola didn't hate math and had always been very good at it when she started there two years ago. 

But she soon became a math superstar. 

"What happened was at some point she was at least a year ahead [in math]," said Seibert," to the point where her [UES private school] is too easy."

For Seibert's son Aaron, 10, the results have been equally astounding, she said.

Long considered a natural reader and writer rather than a math aficionado, Aaron started to become "a math person," Seibert said. The program "enabled him to be at the top of the class [in math] with no effort," she noted.

Now, Seibert is considering school changes for both kids after deeming their math curriculum too easy, she explained.

"I assumed you were either good at math or not good at math," the mother said. "Much of it has to do with confidence and how you teach it."

The confidence developed from her son's two-hour sessions will have long-term effects, she added.

"I think he'll be better at life because he's better at math," Seibert said.

The program is open year-round, and memberships for small groups run $395 a month (about $50 per hour) for 12 months, $445 a month for six months, and $495 for month-to-month memberships. 

Private tutoring at the center costs $125 an hour, with at-home instruction running $135 an hour with the purchase of a 10-hour package.