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A Model for Urban Student Engagement and Achievement

Student Testimonies

We Rose from
Failure to Success

He put it into words we could understand. The full terminology gets us confused. But with the terms he used we understood it better. When he would tell us to switch a certain number with the letter (variable) next to it and if we had to put it to the other side and we had to change the sign, he would say, “It has to cross the bridge, change hoods and change the sign, from a positive to a negative or negative to positive."

Success in math makes me feel real good because when I say that I failed algebra I felt stupid and stuff. Now look at me I got an A+ in here.

Alex V. 2007, student from F to an A

Before he gives any work he makes us answer these questions like where we’re from, how many brothers and sisters we had, why we failed in our last class, what kinds of things can he do to make us be more successful in his class and finds ways that we like to be taught and stuff like that. You should try and find out about your students because if you know more about your students you will know which ways they will react to certain things. If you better know your students, you can figure out what’s best for them and what will work best.

He makes it interesting. He uses, like, exponents are babies and like terms are cousins and so it is easier to understand it.

He never sits down. Most teachers they’ll sit down and tell you to do your work or something but he never sits down. He is always walking around the classroom asking children if they need help and he – even if we’re asleep - he doesn’t let us go to sleep. He’ll wake us up and make us do a problem.

... Talking to the parents does a lot too because he would call our parents and tell them what grades we’re getting and tell the parents if we’re doing good. I think if teachers did that more, it would be better communication and teachers and parents can find out what better works for the students and the student could be more successful in the class. Not that many teachers just call home.

I failed algebra the whole year of regular school. I have been taking algebra for 8th grade, 9th grade, 10th grade... for 3 years and failed it.

Nisa H. 2007, student from F to an A

The only reason I had an F was because I never paid attention in class. I wasn’t understanding the teacher and he didn’t really care if I understood the math as long as I did the work.  I would always do my work but get the wrong answer and always come out with a F.

Avia K. 2010, student from F to an A

He understands us. He uses language that we do. Like for all the football players, he uses names of football players and this helps them understand the problem. And for me, I like to take care of kids.  For exponents, he calls them babies and that’s how I know what are exponents. They are babies.

He motivates me to do my work and the best I can. Just knowing that a teacher cares about my education motivates me. I am not the only one suffering by teachers who don’t take there job seriously. There are more Victoria’s out there in the world how need help and the bad teachers need to leave because they are not doing there job right if we are suffering. We need teachers who motivate us to do our work.

My grade in math now is an A+. I felt that when I was not passing math I was a failure a nobody, but now that I in algebra  2  as a freshman I fell that I can succeed in anything else in life and that I am not a failure but a student who has accomplished something in life. And passing math helps me remember that I can do anything in life if I just put my mind to it. Now my GPA is a 4.0.

Victoria R. 2010, student from F to an A

The main point is probably how you relate to the students and learn the way that we are trying to learn, not the way you want to teach. But you should try to learn and try to get to know the students and get to know their personality because it will fit with their knowledge and the way they are able to learn.

Marianne G., 2007, student from F to an A.

I thought I could hide away. But no.  When you don’t learn something, he’ll run after you until you get it.  He just makes you want to learn.  I failed in middle school, repeatedly, mostly in math. I had a 1.2 G.P.A.  I never could get math in my head.  But Mr. Raja, he helped a lot in math. I finally got an A in math. I think he helped because he will fight you until you learn the material.  Kids always have a tendency to say if they can’t learn it they just say, “No, I don’t want to learn it. This is too hard and quit.” But Mr. Raja, he gets you out of thinking that. He just makes you think like you are going to learn this no matter what. He makes you feel like he is going to make you learn it and you are going to be a professional at this. And then I finally started learning it. It all came easy to me. After that my grades came up in all of my classes. I finally had a 3.8 GPA . That just made me feel tremendously happy because my parents they were happy too. 

Oscar F. 2010, student from F to an A

I like how he talks to the students because he gets to know you at the same time as he teaches you the math. So, it’s like you have a better relationship with the student and you can learn more and you want to learn more. Like the language he uses, like he may use language from a football play, like when we do a slope, he will say, “This is the route Randy Moss runs.”  He will explain so you could relate and catch your attention more.

It boosts my confidence a lot. I feel good. I am ready to go to math next year.  Before I used to get frustrated and just go to sleep. It’s just clearer now.  It makes me want to do it more and learn more, yeah.

Muhammad A. 2007, student from F to an A

We need teachers that actually care. Some don’t care. They just give out work and don’t care if we show up to class or whatever. But Mr. Raja tries to explain in ways we understand. He uses words that we use.

Well when everyone is failing and so am I, I really don’t care. I give up anyways. What’s the point of trying if everyone is failing?  But if everyone’s succeeding, whatever, I guess you try harder to do better.

Marianne B., 2008, student from F to an A

He actually teaches and doesn’t just throw the work all over and just make us work.  He actually teaches and works with us step-by-step till we get it and make sure we all know it.  He tells us step-by-step and make sure we understand it before he goes on to the other stuff and he also gives us a quiz (exit price) daily to make sure we get it.

I feel proud because I actually got an A and I had actually never did before. And becoming a senior usually people go to Pre-Calculus but for me I feel like I am low but now I kind of feel glad and proud that I am getting A.

Chai V., student, 2007, from F to an A

He showed us that he cared. He wants us to good. He tells the ones that fall behind and don’t get it to come after school and have one-on-one time which is awesome. That made me so much better.  For example, if I failed a test he would tell me that I had to come after school and work with him. And since he said that, I knew he already cared, I already knew.

Mark, student, 2007, from F to an A

He puts it like using stuff that I know, like he used examples with football and money, and just made me understand in any type of aspect I could - for anybody. For me, I play football, he used football.  For anybody else, he used whatever else they knew to break it down to them.

Marquis M., student, 2006 from F to an A

We get prizes like Caprisuns and ice creams and all that. It makes us want to go the board even more because we want to get something and win something. It makes us want to learn what he is going to question you about so you can get those prizes.

Boris, student 2007, from F to an A

The games are fun. I don’t even like math but with him it’s fun. It’s the way he teaches. It’s different but I can still learn a lot more than with anybody else though, I can tell you that.

I feel better. I actually feel smart. You know, in my other class, everyone was always being bad but in this class I can actually do something and actually got some knowledge. So yeah, it feels cool.

Devon A. student 2007, from F to an A

I really didn't get math before.  My teachers really didn't explain it.  Now (I have) straight A's and B's in every class and I got an A+ in Algebra II.

Edgar C. student 2010, from F to an A


Testimonials from Other Educators
What people are saying about CREATE Success!

“At a time when policymakers place so much emphasis on assessment, we finally have a book that addresses the two most critical issues affecting student achievement: effective teaching and student motivation. Several studies have pointed out that algebra is the gateway to college. Kadhir Rajagopal’s important new book is an excellent guide that will show educators how to make algebra accessible and engaging to the students who most often experience failure in the subject and are prevented from entering higher level math and science courses. For those who realize that the pursuit of equity in education starts with providing effective teaching to all students, this book will be an invaluable resource.”

- Dr. Pedro Noguera; executive director and professor, Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, New York University

“This book beautifully illustrates how passionate and adaptive teaching, combined with discipline knowledge, can lead to success with even the most resistant students.”

- Dr. Herbert Kohl; writer, teacher, and current Guggenheim Foundation Fellow

“Clearly the issue for reforming schools today is to create learning environments in which students demonstrate high levels of engagement, exhibit successful academic performance, and, of greatest need, are embraced with an authentic respect for their own individuality. Dr. Rajagopal’s CREATE model is a compelling example of how all these attributes for reforming schools can truly be realized.”

- Dr. Phil Hunsberger; Senior Partner, Educational Equity Consultants

“At this time in our institutional history, when the question continues to be asked as to whether we can truly educate all students, in preparation for college or career, it is refreshing to have educators like Raja saying, “Yes We Can.” Dr. Rajagopal’s enthusiasm for his students and his faith in teachers and administrators is contagious. The CREATE model makes our task doable. We can ensure that all students pass algebra if we provide support structures so that all educators can CREATE and all students thrive in settings where there is 100 percent student engagement 100 percent of the time. CREATE classrooms are places where all students, especially struggling students, have the support and encouragement they need to learn at high levels. A standing ovation for Dr. Rajagopal!”

- Dr. Ramona E. Robinson-Bishop; Superintendent, Vallejo Unified School District

“If you want to be a better teacher, open this book to any page. If you want to be a truly effective educator who transforms the lives of at-risk students—read this book from cover to cover!”

- Alex Kajitani; 2009 California Teacher of the Year

“At the heart of every successful urban school are teachers such as Dr. Rajagopal, whose motivating, effective teaching strategies, combined with high levels of mutual accountability and respect by and for all students, leads to success every day”

- Frank S. Porter; Superintendent, Twin Rivers Unified School District

“Combining strong research with practical classroom experience, Dr. Rajagopal outlines a proven approach for reaching the students our school system most often fails. He understands the social and structural issues that serve as barriers to high academic achievement for students of color, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and English Language Learners. He also provides teachers with concrete tools and knowledge they need to help students overcome these barriers. CREATE is an empowering model for teachers who too often feel powerless to reach the students who need them the most.”

- Jarrod Schwartz; Executive Director, Just Communities /Co-Founder, The Institute for Equity in Education

“CREATE Success! Unlocking the Potential of Urban Students should be required reading for teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, politicians, professors, and others who are concerned about the academic and social achievement for all students—especially Black and Brown children.”

- Tony Lamair Burks II, Ed.D.; Area Superintendent, San Diego Unified School District

Dr. Rajagogal’s book is one of inestimable value for any educator who wants to change the academic landscape for struggling math students. Veteran teachers, as well as teachers new to the field, will benefit from this critical resource, which brilliantly lays out strategies to reach and successfully engage those students who are often marginalized and have 'given up.' ”

- Dr. Billie Mayo; Senior Partner, Educational Equity Consultants

Math Ballers

Math Ballers: Association of Students Helping Other Educators To Close the Gap

The “Math Ballers” are students who succeeded in my math class after years of failing math.  They travel with me to educational conferences and share their stories of failure to success with educators throughout the state who are looking for solutions to the achievement gap.  Also, the “Math Ballers” events are life changing for many of my students since many of them have never been outside of Del Paso Heights. My students recently stayed at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco for the 2010 California Teachers’ Association (C.T.A.)  conference and spoke to hundreds of educators.  These were students who had to deal with challenges like having incarcerated parents and a history of academic failure. Many students have told me they never felt so important in their lives. Some of them still proudly wear their conference “presenter” badges. Sometimes, after the conferences, I take them to museums or other places to help expand their horizons beyond their neighborhood.  

Engaging Students
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