Baylor’s Math for Early Learners Academy Underway

  • Raven Richard
    Master Teacher Raven Richard, B.S.Ed. '17 and first grade teacher at Robinson Primary School teaches early math skills as part of MELA. (Meg Cullar/School of Education)
  • MELA Brad Livingstone
    Baylor First Gentleman Brad Livingstone visited with students and teachers at the Math for Early Learners Academy held this month in classrooms at the Mayborn Museum on the Baylor campus. (School of Education/Baylor University)
  • Cate Graham
    Baylor School of Education Teaching Assistant and rising Baylor senior Cate Graham interacts with students in the MELA program. (Meg Cullar/Baylor School of Education)
July 17, 2018

Follow-up assessments show early-intervention program improves students’ early math skills

Contact: Meg Cullar, School of Education, 254-710-6435
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WACO, Texas (July 17, 2018) – The Math for Early Learners Academy (MELA), now in its third year sponsored by the Baylor University School of Education, is underway through July 27 at Baylor’s Mayborn Museum, and research is showing that the summer early-intervention program serving early childhood students in Waco ISD is showing positive results.

Baylor faculty and graduate students have conducted follow-up math assessments of the students both of the previous years and found that the program is making a difference.

“After participating in MELA, students who were previously identified as being consistently below their peers in mathematics were found to be indistinguishable from their peers on a test of broad math ability,” said Sandi Cooper, Ph.D., professor of mathematics education in the department of curriculum and instruction and founder and director of MELA. “This suggests that participating in MELA enabled these students to not only make progress in math ability but also to close the gap between them and their peers.”

Students are invited to MELA based on overall performance in mathematics on their home campus in Waco ISD. Based on assessment results, those who participated in MELA demonstrated statistically significant growth in three of the five areas addressed in the program. Specifically, they made gains in comparing numbers, identifying numbers and their overall knowledge of math concepts, Cooper said. After participating in the program, participants were compared to their home campus peers to see if there was still a significant difference between the two groups in math ability.

Number sense, STEM experiences

Starting in 2016 with one class of 17 students who were entering kindergarten when the program launched, MELA is hosting 35 students this summer in four different classrooms — three with rising kindergarteners and one of rising first graders. This year’s students come from four different Waco ISD campuses — Alta Vista, Brook Avenue, Crestview and South Waco Elementary Schools. Alta Vista and Brook Avenue are part of the new Transformation Waco in-district charter system of Waco ISD.

Cooper said that research shows early math skills are a better predictor of academic success than are reading skills, but that many preschools don’t focus enough on math.

“It’s all about gaining number sense, which is composing and decomposing numbers — more than just counting,” she said. “When you think about the number 5, you can see it as a sum of 3 and 2 or of 4 and 1, and there are sets of five and counting by fives. And five can be found in the real world; for example, a nickel represents the number 5. It’s about understanding what numbers mean, not just rote counting.”

This summer, MELA students also will engage in one week of STEM activities. Trying to save Sarah the Turtle from pollution in the Brazos River, they will work as engineers to create an effective water filter. Baylor students from the School of Engineering and Computer Science — led by Anne Spence, Ph.D., clinical associate professor in mechanical engineering at Baylor — will guide students in their development of these water filters.

A STEM Advisory team, led by Cooper and Suzanne Nesmith, Ph.D., associate dean in the School of Education and associate professor specializing in elementary science education, worked to develop the curriculum components of the STEM week that will be included as part of the MELA program.

Pivotal partnerships

Funded by the School of Education, the MELA program works in partnership with Waco ISD and the Mayborn Museum. Waco ISD provides transportation for the students and meals at the school campus before bringing the children to the museum.

“The Mayborn provides appropriate classrooms, but also the students can venture into the wonderful exhibits,” Cooper said. “We go on number walks throughout the museum, and we are able to go into the exhibits to experience mathematical explorations. In the Native American room, for example, the students can use the drums to count out numbers as they beat rhythms, but also create drum patterns.”

Families are invited to a special night at the Mayborn where the children show off their work, families can visit with the teachers, and they receive complimentary admission to the Mayborn Museum.

Cooper said the experience of having class on a college campus also has a positive effect on the students.

“Even though they are 4 or 5 years old, they can say they are coming to a university and will start thinking about becoming a Baylor Bear one day,” she said. “It’s never too early.”


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Founded in 1919, Baylor School of Education ranks among the nation’s top 20 education schools located at private universities. The School’s research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.

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