Nearly 30 teenagers are now getting out of bed even earlier than normal twice a week to go to Riverside-Brookfield High School at 7 a.m. just so that they can work on difficult math problems. Other students are staying after school one day a week to make art.
That’s because both the math club and art club at high school are back after parents raised enough money to fund them. The clubs were among many cuts this year to save money after the defeat of an April 2011 referendum.
Thirteen parents contributed the $4,000 necessary to fund the math club and one parent, whom school officials have so far declined to identify, contributed $1,813 to fund the art club.
Math club students, who form the team that competes with other schools in competitions, are now frantically trying to get ready for their first competition on Saturday. Normally they would have at least one competition under their belt by now.
But after nearly giving up hope that there would be a math team this year, the students are relieved that they will have an opportunity to compete after all.
“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” said senior Emily Andrulis, who has been on the math team four years. “I feel like at least we have an opportunity to compete even if we only have a limited time.”
The art club has been meeting for nearly two months after the money was raised to pay a new advisor, substitute teacher Heather Young, and buy some supplies. Young is being paid the contracted art club stipend amount of $1,463. Art teacher Suzanne Zimmerman decided not to sponsor the art club this year.
“I think it is great they took the time to get it together and stuff,” said SarahJane Gembara, a senior. “A lot of people are coming. There’s a really big turnout.”
Olga Andrulis, Emily’s mom, led the effort to restore the math club. After she asked the District 208 school board if parents could raise the money to fund the club, the board established a policy allowing parents or others to do so and pay club sponsors the contracted stipend amount.
Andrulis delivered a $4,000 check to school administrators on Nov. 11. She thought her work was done. But finding teachers to sponsor the math club was not easy. The two math teachers who had sponsored the club and coached the team last year both declined.
“I chose not to be the math team sponsor this year, because I felt as though I did not have the time available to me to do the job well,” said RB math teacher Melissa Gordon in an email. “I have a new prep this year that is taking up a lot of my time, and my family responsibilities are growing as my oldest is now in school.”
Last year’s other math club sponsor also decided not to advise the math club this year.
“I decided not to apply to coach the team this year after the money was raised because I did not feel I would have been able to fully commit myself to the team,” wrote RB teacher Lindsay Mynaugh in an email.
No other math teachers stepped up to sponsor the math club. The parents who raised the money to restore the club became frustrated.
“From what we were told the teachers had gone ahead and made other plans, either taking continuing education classes or getting involved with other things and they didn’t have the time,” Andrulis said. “That’s what we were told.”
Some parents believe that the teachers union, the Riverside Brookfield Education Association, has urged teachers not to sponsor clubs that are restored with outside money so that the community will feel the effects of the defeat of the referendum last April.
Dave Monti, a science teacher who is the RBEA president, denied that the organization is stopping teachers from sponsoring clubs that are restored with outside money.
“No one to my knowledge has said anything to anyone prohibiting them from sponsoring an activity,” Monti said in an email.
Monti said that outside funding of clubs can create an a la carte system of haves and have nots among clubs at the school.
“Every club that was cut was important to members of that club,” Monti said. “But if some students’ parents have the financial resources, they can pay for the club to be brought back. But if another club’s parents don’t have the financial means, they don’t get a chance to be brought back.”
Around Thanksgiving, RBHS’ personnel administrative assistant, Rosanne Marshall, contacted Riverside resident Holly Machina to see if she would be interested in sponsoring the math team.
Machina has worked as a substitute teacher at RBHS over the past 12 years and had taught math full time at an Islamic school in Villa Park some years ago. She has a master’s degree in the science of teaching math.
She jumped at the opportunity to coach the RB math team.
“This is like a dream job for me,” Machina said. “Doing math with kids who want to do math.”
But a second sponsor was needed to adequately supervise kids at competitions. Finding that second sponsor was not easy, and Andrulis and other parents began to lose hope.
“We had pretty much decided that if we didn’t find somebody before the end of Christmas break it would be too late,” Andrulis said.
But after a Dec. 21 Chicago Tribune story about the situation, John Henle, a retired Wells High School math teacher who lives in Oak Park, completed the application process. Henle was hired in January.
“These are really good kids,” Machina said. “If they love math, they should have an outlet. Now I can’t imagine that they won’t have it next year. That’s just the kind of feeling that I get from the administrators that I’ve been working with.”
RBHS Principal Pamela Bylsma said she was glad that the art club and math club were restored.
“I am pleased that students, once more, have access to these extracurricular opportunities that they highly value,” Bylsma said. “The students and administration appreciate the parents whose determination and generosity made the reinstatement of these two groups possible.”