Create a free Diverse: Issues In Higher Education account to continue reading

Pepperdine University Professor Seeks to Give High School Students a Head Start

A Pepperdine University professor has been working on a pilot instructional program to give high school students a head start when it comes to understanding math. Now, approaching its second year, the program has gained momentum. Dr. Kendrick RobersonDr. Kendrick Roberson

Black and brown students have historically been on the lower end of educational attainment, said program creator Dr. Kendrick Roberson, an assistant professor of political science at Pepperdine.

This prevailing issue served as the impetus for Roberson and his team’s “vivid vision,” a collective goal to make it so that, in the next 20 years, minoritized students graduate from high schools, colleges, and trade schools at the same rates as others. 

“We want those folks to be right there at the top,” he told Diverse in an interview.

This work has spurred the founding of Roberson’s first initiative towards that goal, Ahead of the Game. Working together with a few undergraduate students, Roberson devised this pilot program, which aims to give additional math instruction to students before they encounter the subject in their own high schools. The program is meant for students who are enrolled in any level of high school. 

The free program provides students the opportunity to develop their skills in geometry and algebra for a couple hours a day for four weeks in the summer. In its first year, 2023, the program – with funding assistance from Pepperdine – taught 10 students who struggled in math at the Faith Inspirational Missionary Baptist Church in Compton, California.

“A lot of times, when students are going into mathematics, they are seeing the material for the first time and then tested on that material,” Roberson said. “If you're going to go take geometry in the fall, we'll go ahead and teach you geometry in the summer, so that when you get to the fall course, this is not your first time seeing the material. In fact, you are in the mastery phase."

Roberson, who teaches statistics in Pepperdine’s political science program, served as one of the initiative’s teachers, instructing students on algebra. Additionally, a local middle school math teacher was hired to teach geometry, and the church provided one of its tutors to assist.

Almost all of the parents of the high schoolers later reported that their children earned A’s in their fall semester math course.

Ahead of the Game is increasing its momentum as it gears up to begin its second year, with additional funding from Pepperdine and a grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation.

With these added funds, the program is expanding to a second location, Stevenson Park in the neighboring city of Carson, California. Both cities hold significance for Roberson. He grew up in Carson and his home church resides in Compton.

“One of the primary things about this program is that I didn't want to just bring money into different areas. I wanted to make sure that there was community investment,” Roberson said, adding that he anticipates that overall enrollment in both locations will increase.

The initiative will also seek to grow its roster of teachers and tutors. As the program develops, Roberson plans for it to grow both in terms of who it teaches and what it teaches, he said. For its third year, he wants the program to also teach students writing along with math. And he wants to bring in students from earlier grade levels.

“[Using a compound interest analogy,] if you can shore up the foundations earlier on, then they're going to be able to build larger and larger houses of education as they progress,” he said. 

Dr. Daniel Eadens, an associate professor of educational leadership and higher education at the University of Central Florida, praised Roberson’s efforts as “heroic.”

“The U.S. honestly can't afford to leave anyone behind in schools,” Eadens said. “In fact, the return on investment of those that drop out of school is staggering. A whole society pays for this serious issue over a lifetime as dropouts are more likely to be incarcerated and non-productive members of society and greatly negatively impacts the economics.”

He also stressed that the U.S. needs newer school funding models in order to remove disparities between school districts.

Berea College education studies chair Dr. Nicholas Hartlep agrees.  He likened Roberson's efforts to the late Bob Moses, who was a member in the 1960s of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the founder of the math literacy non-profit, The Algebra Project.

“[The] Algebra Project website states the following: ‘At the Algebra Project, we believe that in the 21st century every child has a civil right to secure math literacy – the ability to read, write and reason with the symbol systems of mathematics,’” said Hartlep, a former elementary school teacher who holds a middle school mathematics teaching license. “I think Dr. Roberson’s Ahead of the Game exemplifies the idea that every child has a civil right to gain math literacy.”



The trusted source for all job seekers
We have an extensive variety of listings for both academic and non-academic positions at postsecondary institutions.
Read More
The trusted source for all job seekers