AMSA volunteer activity highlighted in nationally

When the Anoka-Hennepin volunteer service coordinators (VSC) were encouraged to write about programs that had been successful in their schools, Tiina Watts had just the program.

Anoka Middle School for the Arts Volunteer Coordinator Tiina Watts.
Anoka Middle School for the Arts Volunteer Coordinator Tiina Watts.

Watts, the VSC at Anoka Middle School for the Arts (AMSA), wrote about the school’s “One Million MCA Math Minutes.” (MCA is an acronym for Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, a series of statewide tests in math, reading and science.) Watts’ article appeared in a National Partnership of Schools publication produced by Johns Hopkins University.

The idea for One Million MCA Math Minutes came out of a partnership team meeting. Consisting of parents, community members and AMSA staff, the team wanted to bring more attention to math and in the process, increase MCA scores by 5 percent.

The team thought studying was the best way to reach this goal. Students were asked to log the number of minutes they spent doing math homework or practicing for the MCA test online. Students would fill out slips of paper with their minutes, parents and teachers signed the slips and volunteers calculated the minutes. A “thermometer” posted in the schools showed the students’ progress toward reaching one million minutes.

“One Million MCA Math Minutes was an inexpensive, easily replicable activity that encouraged over 1,900 students, 3,500 parents and caregivers and 50 teachers to strive to increase math test scores,” Watts wrote in the article. “The practice turned math homework into a team-building activity, augmenting parental involvement without adding extra work for anyone. The simple record keeping focused students’ attention on the importance of completing homework and studying for the tests. The activity encouraged parents to talk with their children about their math work and time studying.”

Watts said teachers didn’t have time to calculate the slips of paper that came into the school each week from more than 1,000 students, so the volunteers played a key role in the program’s success. Volunteers liked the activity because it was something they could do at home yet it gave them a direct impact on student learning.

“I think the volunteers felt like they were directly involved in helping to improve math scores and improve the students’ math proficiency,” Watts said. “It was an academic-related volunteer activity.”

Watts hopes to do the activity again this spring. According to Watts, the group who volunteered with the activity is the partnership team – a name change that reflects that people without children at AMSA are welcome to volunteer at the school.

“We try to make volunteering fun and hope to make volunteers feel like they are doing something worthwhile to help kids be more successful and confident,” Watts said. “Volunteering is also a good way to get to know people.”

Watts was glad the National Network of Partnership Schools highlighted the AMSA program.

“I’ve gone through the publication and read what other schools have done; it’s fun to see what ideas you can find,” Watts said. “I hope someone will find a good idea in this (the One Million MCA Math Minutes).”

Anyone interested in learning about volunteer opportunities at AMSA can contact Watts at 763-506-5153.