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Mathnasium A WORKOUT FOR THE MIND

Hoping to build on what Newtown schools already do well, said Vivek Subramanian and Geetha Rajgopalan, they are pleased to present the Mathnasium concept of learning and enrichment to Newtown and area students.

The Mathnasium franchise, owned by the husband and wife team from Southbury, opened in Plaza South on Route 25, the first week of March. Inside the narrow storefront, a bright and open area is filled with tables, games, and a lively color scheme of red, white, and black. Oversized math “scribbles” decorate the walls, providing a fun atmosphere for some serious learning.

The Newtown Mathnasium is one of only five such franchises in Connecticut, said Dr Subramanian.

“Newtown is wonderfully located, with good access from neighboring towns at this plaza,” he said. It was obvious to the couple when they first saw the plaza, with its highly family-oriented array of stores, that it was the ideal place to open up their business.

Newtown has the demographics that support a learning enrichment center, he said, and he and his wife saw as need for the Mathnasium services in the area.

“As a parent, we may believe our kids are doing okay,” he said, but when you peel back the layers of a child’s math skills, it may reveal areas in which help is needed.

“There is a need nationwide [for math enrichment],” Dr Subramanian said. “Math skills are going down. The US has a low ranking in the math and science areas [compared to other countries],” he said.

Both are natives of India, where they received their undergraduate degrees in engineering. Dr Subramanian received his PhD from Virginia Tech in material science. He is currently in research and development at Unilever in Trumbull. Ms Rajgopalan received her master’s degree in software engineering from Fairfield University. She works as a software engineer for Priceline in Norwalk.

Their love of math and desire to make math understandable to others struggling with it have led them to add the second full-time job to their primary full-time positions.

“Our goal is to eliminate the confusion and intimidation that often accompanies the subject of math and replace it with understanding and passion,” Dr Subramanian said.

Dr Subramanian and Ms Rajgopalan’s decision to open Mathnasium grew out of frustration in finding a program to supplement learning for their own two daughters. They were not satisfied with what they found in the area.

“We had the means and the time to do something better for our kids and realized we could do something for a lot of kids,” Dr Subramanian said.

Research led them to the Mathnasium concept and they were very impressed, Ms Rajgopalan said. Mathnasium is meant to identify and help students fill in the mathematics learning gaps they may have, addressing those issues early on in order to accommodate future higher level math.

According to Mathnasium literature, “A gymnasium develops the body — Mathnasium develops the mind.” Concepts and skills are provided to students in a way that makes sense to them.

“Math is nothing but an extension of language,” Dr Subramanian explained, giving as an example the word “percent.”

“Percent is per-cent, part of 100. It’s a simple as that. Math is about understanding the words. As adults,” he said, “we get these concepts too late in life. We are trying to reveal it to kids upfront.”

Once students understand concepts, he said, they can understand and remember the rules that make math accessible.

The couple believes that Newtown and area schools provide the best possible education, to a lot of children at once, in a classroom. But teachers often lack the time necessary to give personal attention to children lagging in any particular area. At Mathnasium, Dr Subramanian said, the ratio of students to certified teachers is 3:1. The ratio is 2:1 for students receiving assistance in algebra or higher level maths.

“It allows us to give a good quality service at a good price, much less than a parent would pay for individual tutoring,” said Ms Rajgopalan.

With a curriculum at Mathnasium aligned to the common core curriculum, their goal is to help children excel in school. The greatest challenge is in making the after school program fun for students.

“We make sure that they understand that this is not school,” she said.

In the positive environment, the twice weekly, hourlong sessions recommended are periods that allow for homework assistance, math-based games, and targeted lessons to fill gaps identified through an initial assessment.

“Mathnasium boosts confidence in the kids,” Ms Rajgopalan said. “They know now that they understand a concept, and have confidence to solve new challenges,” she said. With continual reinforcement of these skills, math becomes a subject no longer feared.

Visual learning is emphasized at Mathnasium.

“[Math] comes alive with things like visual fractions. Here, it is always a pizza pie,” Dr Subramanian said, as an example. Or, he said, consider if you added one banana and one banana. You have two bananas. One apple and one apple is two apples. “But one banana and one apple is what?” he asked.

It is two pieces of fruit. That is the commonality a banana and apple share.

“We teach kids to look for that commonality. It is a ‘Law of Sameness,’” said Dr Subramanian, an underlying principle that students learn to apply to new problems.

All new students at Mathnasium are given a standard assessment, based on the child’s grade level, to determine gaps in mathematics. Each child receives a customized plan for resolving those issues.

Ms Rajgopalan emphasized that Mathnasium is not just for remedial learning.

“Some students come for continued enrichment. There are inquisitive minds always wanting to learn more,” she said. Mathnasium also offers ACT and SAT prep classes.

“This is an opportunity to enhance math further. It would be a lot more of a challenge in a school district that is not performing well. Newtown is a community that is really involved in kids,” said Dr Subramanian. “Other subjects you can catch up on later in life. Math is hard to catch up on, and so important in this day and age. We want to work with the schools. We want to take a good school district like Newtown and turn it into one of the top in the nation in math,” he said.

“The schools are doing a good job,” added Ms Rajgopalan. “We’re just here to help.”

Mathnasium, located within Plaza South at 266 South Main Street, is open Mondays through Thursdays, from 4 to 8 pm; and Saturdays, from 10 am to 2 pm. The program is geared for students in grades 1–12. Free assessment and a free first session is offered to all students. Summer program and general information can be found at www.mathnasium.com, by calling 203-491-2110, or e-mailing newtown@mathnasium.com.

The public is invited to find out more about Mathnasium at an open house scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, May 4–5, from 10 am to 5 pm. Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra will officially open the center on Saturday, May 4, at 3 pm, at a special ribbon cutting ceremony. The open house provides an opportunity to meet the owners and tutors, learn about the Mathnasium Method, take part in fun and math games, and participate in a raffle each day.

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