Wasilla Students Tackle Real-World Problems with Algebra

We do many things differently in the Great Land. Alaskans are accustomed to a unique climate and environment. Alaskans, or at least those outside the Anchorage Bowl, are tough-minded and practical people. We couldn’t live in Alaska if we weren’t.

This difference also affects our schools. Wasilla, a Mat-Su town best known for its former vice-presidential contender, has found a new way to teach math by having students run a business.

Students are taking part in Wasilla’s AMPED On Algebra program, which was rolled out in the Matanuska Susitna Borough Schools District this year. Since mid-August, 20 students have sold 632 custom sweatshirts and shirts worth $13,000 to local businesses and school groups.

Students will use math and business concepts they have just learned to calculate the amount of supplies needed, cash flow, overhead, and income. Students will earn algebra and career technical education credits while developing business plans and running the apparel shop outside of the classroom.

Leslie Varys is one of the two teachers in charge of the class. They get something tangible because we have not only done the math but also talked about ‘Oh we’re losing money on this’ or ‘What is the cost if we make a mistake?’ Does it directly affect the numbers?

Here’s how you should do it. This isn’t a simple math lesson for these Alaskan youths. These Alaskan youths are learning about small businesses — how to maintain inventory, fulfill orders, deal with rush jobs and special jobs, respond to customers, and, most importantly, make a profit. This is a great lesson for the Mat-Su where small businesses are king. There are many family-owned companies. One woman owns and operates our local takeout pizza place. She has no employees, and she must know exactly where all her revenue goes and whether or not she’s making a profit. She has been doing it for many years so she must have the skills.

The small town high school where I attended as a child in northeast Iowa was very focused on vocational training. The school was equipped with a full auto shop and students could become certified mechanics. The industrial arts program taught carpentry and pipe-fitting as well as welding.

The schools cannot just teach theory. As I always say, the purpose of education is to create young adults who have marketable skills. These industrial arts programs achieved that. This Wasilla High School Program does the same.

It’s encouraging to see that parents are becoming more involved in the schooling of their children. This is a very good thing and doesn’t only apply to the curriculum.

Wasilla’s kids are not only learning math but a lot more. It’s a lesson educators and parents alike should embrace.