Nine Years Later – Why I Built a “Math Park”

(Article Written by Jesus Caraballo)

It may not look like much at first glance: Three picnic tables, some etchings and a box of math-centric games and activities. To the young students at Hunters Creek Elementary though, my hope is that my Eagle Scout Service Project is a building block to finding the fun and beauty in a subject that gets a bad rap.

The “Math Park” I completed this month is, in some ways, an idea nine years in the making. Sure, the actual hammers, nails and paint did not come out until a few weeks ago. However, the “why” behind the project began in 2015, the year my family and I moved to Central Florida from Venezuela.

I was the kid who took Pre-Calculus as a summer class after 9th grade to get ahead, so mathematics figure prominently in my future. But as a fourth grader starting at Hunter’s Creek Elementary in 2015 who did not speak English and had to adjust to a whole new culture, math was a bridge. There were plenty of days early on I would come home from school and cry from the frustration. I will never forget a moment when I turned in a sheet about “what I want to be when I grew up,” and not understanding English well, I wrote I “wanted to be a dinosaur.”

It was my first teacher in the U.S., Ms. DePriest, who helped me apply the more universal concepts and “language” of math to bridge my understanding of English. By the end of my fourth-grade year, I was conversing in English naturally. And a love for math was born.

I have heard other classmates and students over the years say things like, “When am I ever going to use this?”

My response is, “when are you not going to use it?”

Math often gets unfairly shrugged off for being too hard or unimportant. The truth is it is all about how you use it. A mathematics camp I attended last summer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology crystalized for me the ways math is not just everywhere – but that it can be engaging and fun.

My passion for numbers and my desire to give back found common ground through my work with the Boy Scouts. I joined the Scouts and Troop 996 in fifth grade, and for my journey to Eagle Scout I needed to complete a service project to help my community. I decided to take the lessons from that MIT math camp and pay it forward at the school where my U.S. education began by creating a “Math Park.”

The space I dreamed up consists of custom picnic tables that will now live in the school’s courtyard, complete with a collection of math-based games and activities. With a crucial financial donation from Addition Financial Credit Union, where I interned in the IT department, and the help of friends and family, the math park is now open for students to use every day. Coming full circle, among those on hand when we built and painted the park tables was Ms. DePriest, my first teacher at Hunter’s Creek who is now an assistant principal there and still one of my most important mentors.

If I accomplish one thing from this project, I hope that more young students give math a chance. Math and sciences could lose a lot of extraordinary talent if people do not explore their potential. My next step is a big one: I will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Fall.

What I find beautiful about math is that is more than just equations and numbers. It promotes connections. It starts with simple ideas and builds from there; perhaps as simple as three picnic tables, some etchings, and a box of games.

Jesus Caraballo is a senior at Freedom High School, and a Scout through the Boy Scouts of America.

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