To Jennifer Rosario-Perez, “mathletes” and athletes have a lot in common. Just like training for success on the football field or the soccer pitch, it can be hard work to learn the moves of algebra and geometry and perform them under pressure.
But in the end, that effort produces the satisfaction of breaking through barriers and moving toward mastery. “Students tell me, ‘Miss, I finally get it!’ ”
“Miss” is shorthand for Rosario-Perez, the math coach at Acceleration Academies of Ector County in Odessa, Texas. Whether working with GCs on campus or over Zoom, Rosario-Perez brings a blend of practical smarts and expansive heart to helping young people master what for many is their most challenging subject.
“Watching Jennifer work with GCs is pure joy,” says Diana Good Solis, Executive Director of Model Fidelity for Acceleration Academies. “She embodies the ‘warm demander’ approach, blending love and high expectations into every interaction.”
“She stretches her GCs beyond what they believe they can accomplish, and she manages to do this with warmth, humor and without ever letting them give up on themselves,” she continues. “Sometimes, you come across an individual, and you think, ‘That person was absolutely made to teach.’ That’s Jennifer — she’s made for this work.”
Rosario-Perez grew up in Puerto Rico and went to university there before moving to Texas and earning her teacher certification. “Here we have the support to be a good teacher. There, you’re on your own.”
The mother of three boys, she brings an academic sharpness and motherly warmth to the work. Sometimes that means providing gentle encouragement to a young learner who doubts their ability to pierce the mysteries of algebra. Sometimes, it means exhorting them to break a sweat to reach their goals.
Loving support and high expectations are all of a piece, she says. “I’m a mama.”
Some GCs arrive at school lacking a familiarity with mathematical concepts and terms — from cosign to coefficient, decimal to diagonal, vertical axis to algebraic variable. “You have to make sense of what that vocabulary means.”
Whenever possible, she draws on knowledge they already have to ground mathematical abstractions in their everyday lives. Think about an animal pen with equal sides, she’ll tell them — that’s a square.
While the students won’t use every item they learn as they move through high school and into life beyond, they will use some of it in pursuing higher education, managing their finances and becoming responsible consumers. Just as important, they will have built a set of mental muscles.
“One of the ways we can exercise our brain muscles is through math,” she says.
Having taught in traditional classroom settings, Rosario-Perez says she values the unique features of Acceleration Academies: Flexible scheduling that allows GCs to balance other life responsibilities, a comfortable and studious learning environment and the opportunity for young people to get as much personalized support as they need.
“Since I was a little girl, this was my big goal: to be a teacher,” she says. “You can make a difference in kids’ lives … I feel that I can be part of their journey and be a positive voice through it.”