New Algebra Skills class bridges gap to Algebra 2


Noor Khan

This year, LAHS created a class to help students succeed in Algebra 2.

Every morning, 22 students arrive at school by 8 a.m. to polish up on their math skills. These students forgo sleeping in to attend the new Algebra Skills class, preparing them to retake Algebra 2.

At the end of the first quarter, the administration team noticed a disproportionately high number of Ds and Fs in Algebra 2. Assistant Principal Kristin Castillo, who teaches Algebra Skills, said that distance learning created a gap in students’ math skills, leading to the rise in failing grades. 

“We reached out to the Algebra 2 teachers and asked for the students that were failing but still coming to school and really trying,” Castillo said. “None of this is anyone’s fault, it’s just reality and we need to try to fix it.”

An Algebra Skills student (who chose to remain anonymous) concurred that taking Algebra 1 online hindered their performance in Algebra 2. 

“I wasn’t doing too well in Algebra 2 because I had taken Algebra 1 over Zoom and I didn’t retain much information,” they said. “This was an opportunity to improve instead of colleges seeing an F on my transcript.”

Algebra Skills is graded on participation and counts as an elective credit towards graduation, not a math credit. After the Algebra 2 students were informed the class was an option, those who opted to take Algebra Skills were withdrawn from their current Algebra 2 class and began attending at the start of the spring semester.

The administration team and the Math Department decided that forming the class could help students graduate and access future opportunities. 

Castillo elaborated that the Algebra 2 performance could be linked to equity  — most students in Algebra Skills are students of color. 

“Because of systemic racism, students of color are often at a socioeconomic disadvantage and may not have received the resources that are needed to be successful,” Castillo said. “I’m very passionate about helping students excel in math regardless of their circumstances. The goal is to support kids so that they have access to a four-year college.”

Castillo, who taught math for 10 years at Santa Clara High, was eager to return to teaching. She does not get paid to teach Algebra Skills.

“When you’re an administrator, you start to miss the classroom because it’s a different sort of connection with kids,” Castillo said. “So I was like, ‘I would like to do this!’ because it’s good for my soul to have that connection with kids.”

And students have benefitted from her teaching — especially the individualized attention and support they didn’t have in the regular Algebra 2 class.

“Castillo helps us one on one if we have any questions, which is helpful because after she teaches the whole class she really takes the time to explain it to you,” a student said.

The students’ resilience inspires Castillo. Many students in the class are motivated to apply themselves, even if there’s a delayed payoff.

“A highlight would be seeing them becoming more confident and more interactive with each other and myself,” Castillo said. “I’m keeping them with me in Algebra 2 next year as a unit because we’ve already built the rapport in that room.”