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Community math class is back in session at Literacy Rochester

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A community math class is back in session this week at Literacy Rochester on South Avenue, giving an opportunity for adults to advance their math skills, improving their quality of life and job prospects.

For volunteer math teacher David Ayres, a self-professed math nerd with an engineering background, his work is about sharing his passion with others and giving back to the community.

He loves his students, who often go on to vocational programs at the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center or take high school equivalency exams.

“These are people on the cusp of doing something which to me directly improves society," Ayres said. “Whether you're going to be an NP (nurse practitioner), or you're going to be a barber, or you're going to be a call center technician.”

Volunteer math teacher David Ayres received Literacy Rochester’s Judy S. Dauphinee Volunteer of the Year Award
Literacy Rochester
Volunteer math teacher David Ayres received Literacy Rochester’s Judy S. Dauphinee Volunteer of the Year Award

Literacy Rochester works with adults from 18-years-old to 80-years-old on English, reading, math and digital literacy skills. An annual report published by Literacy Rochester shows that most students are between 50 to 80 years old, while about 10% are in their teens and 20s.

Since no one’s required to attend class for a credit or show up with prerequisites under their belt, Ayres said he meets students wherever they are at.

“There's no reason that I wouldn't go back to preschool math if I have to,” he said. “If someone comes in that does not know: when you have a bill and you pay money, ‘should I add or subtract that from what I owe?’ If they don't know that ... I'll show them that.”

According to the Institute of Educational Sciences, about 30% of people in the United States have low numeracy skills in English. That means they struggle with skills like calculating numbers and percentages or interpreting statistics when those problems are explained in the English language.

A 2020 survey published in the National Library of Medicine examining adult numeracy education concluded that adult math proficiency is a dynamic field that policymakers and educators need to monitor. They outlined five key areas of math skills: financial, health, digital, workplace, and civic.

Literacy Rochester program director Jennifer Eaton helped start its math program in 2008. At the time she was seeing more math tests included in some job applications.

“I worked for a cell phone company and their retail department actually gave basic math tests at that time in the early 2000s,” Eaton said. “People were being asked to do that basic math, not necessarily the math you need for high school equivalency, but can you add, subtract, multiply and divide without a calculator.”

So, offering math classes and tutoring sessions was a way to fill a need. Some people sign up to refresh their math skills ahead of a career change.

“I can have someone go through a math program, sometimes in two months, and get their scores way up, depending on if they had those skills before and they just forgot them,” Eaton said.

Whether the program is successful comes down to individuals, she said.

“I consider success is if the student is reaching and succeeding in their goals and meeting their goals,” Eaton said. “If someone comes to me and says, I'm trying to get into this program, and for this program, I need this math score. And we help them get that it's a success.”

Literacy Rochester is based on South Avenue, but it holds tutoring sessions in libraries around Monroe County — including on weekends and evenings.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.