Erin Kominsky knew she needed some magic to keep her school open.
In 1996, Jack L. Weaver Elementary in Los Alamitos, Calif., was the only school in the award-winning, high-performing district that allowed non-residents to enroll. But that opportunity wasn’t enough to fill the classrooms. With only 112 students at the time, Kominsky—principal then and now—looked for a new selling point.
Enter the MIND Research Institute.
The non-profit organization develops and deploys math instructional software and systems, plus conducts basic neuroscientific, mathematics, and education research to improve math education and advance scientific understanding. At the same time Kominsky was trying to make her school stand out, MIND was piloting a new math program that combined music instruction with computerized math games. The principal, knowing about studies proving a link between music and mathematical skills, was intrigued.
“It not only made math interesting,” she said of the MIND program, “but it offered the music component.”
The school opened a keyboard lab with 35 electronic keyboards. There, second grade students learned to read music and play Mozart sonatas. Following the music segment of the program, the children would report to a computer lab. There, they would learn math by following ST Math’s JiJi, an animated penguin, as JiJi hopped across a screen. When the children solved problems correctly—indicated by JiJi crossing a bridge—their enthusiasm grew. Soon, the school’s reputation grew, too.
“Math scores started to go up and so did enrollment,” Kominsky said. “It instantly changed who we were.
“We started out looking at it as a marketing tool, but it changed the way we teach math to children.”
The Weaver students were earning higher scores on standardized tests than students in the district’s other schools. Families and educators in the area began to notice. Enrollment in the K-5 school increased by 100 students each year. The student body is now capped at 660.
“Now people are lining up around the block to enroll in our school,” Kominsky said, despite the fact that all Los Alamitos schools currently offer ST Math.
It’s no wonder. With 98 percent of the Weaver students scoring “proficient” on the California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program, “we are the highest performing school in Orange County,” Kominsky said.
Weaver is also in the top 2 percent of schools in the entire state, according to the test results.
All Weaver Elementary students now spend one period a week in the keyboard lab and two periods a week in the computer lab with JiJi. They also spend 10 minutes a day using MIND Research Institute’s ST Math: Fluency practice program, either at home or in school.
“It’s a beautiful marriage between math and music,” she said of the entire program.
Aware that ST Math is available without the piano component, Kominsky wonders why “every school in the country” isn’t using the system. She does her best to share her passion with other school systems, hosting hundreds of visitors every year as an ST Math demonstration school. She hopes that they, too, will see the wisdom of taking a risk on a new way of reaching kids.
“We started out looking at it as a marketing tool, but it changed the way we teach math to children,” Kominsky said.