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Providing Graphing Calculators for Low Income STEM Students

Greg Rose
October 31, 2018

Milwaukie high school has 1100 students.  65% if MHS students are on free and reduced lunch.  MHS student body is made up of 44% minority population and many students who are in foster care, are at-risk and who suffer from anxiety, depression, and PTSD.  Many MHS high school students are child-care providers and provide income for their families.  They are fierce and independent and amazing students who utilize the resources provided to them and appreciate any support they receive on their journey to adulthood. We provide on-site health care and dental care and counseling and was a 2013 recipient of the ACSB Whole Child Award http://www.ascd.org/programs/The-Whole-Child/Past-Vision-in-Action-Recipients.aspx.   

Our staff encourages these at-risk students to get the education needed to move themselves into STEM fields. We have convinced many to take upper level math classes and they need graphing calculators to succeed in these courses as well as in placement tests.  

Current textbooks assume that students have access to these calculators and today’s coursework is designed with that in mind.   Our students are able to share calculators during a test but this means they do not practice with a personal calculator ahead of time.   This negatively impacts their understanding of many complex topics and their ability to practice problems along with the teacher.   Ultimately this means lower test success for students who would do much better with the correct tool in hand.  

The calculator is also a designated tool for all placement tests, including PSAT and SATs.  Better scores on these placement tests qualify students for scholarships and other forms of student aid, as well as helping them get noticed by colleges and receiving attention from better schools.   Simply handing a student a calculator for the PSAT (or SAT) is not helpful for them.   They need practice using the features and cannot utilize it as a proper tool.  There is no way that they can demonstrate their abilities without having a calculator in hand that they are familiar with over a long period of time.

Most of our students are already are working to support themselves and their families and these calculators are too expensive for them.  Over the last 3 years,  MHS has been working to provide graphing calculators to students for check out from the school library (similar to textbooks).  Teachers  have visited Goodwill to purchase graphing calculators at our school library but building a stock of calculators has been slow going.   There are not nearly enough calculators to meet the demand.  We were unable to provide calculators for all students on the PSAT day and phones and computers are not allowed.  MHS is trying to fully stock our library so every child who needs a graphing calculator can get one for the entire school year.  At the end of each school year, students return their calculators to the library and the calculator becomes available to students again the following year.

What we need:  Any of the following, used or new:   TI-83, TI-83 plus, TI-84, or TI-84-plus calculator.   The TI-84 plus is the most up-to-date calculator and is used in Calculus but any of the other calculators provide 99% of features needed.  

As soon as we get calculators, the back is spray painted for identification, they are bar-coded, and in a student’s hand within 24 hours.   We have a list of students who are still waiting for a graphing calculator and we are so grateful for any assistance you can provide.

Where to send: 

Melissa Murshall, Librarian

Milwaukie High School

2301 SE Willard Street

Milwaukie, OR 97222