Meet the Volunteers Who Keep Westwood's Math Meet Alive; Individual & Grade Level Winners Announced


Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. A member of the winning fifth grade math team from Pine Hill School considers the oral math problem given by a parent volunteer in the speed round of the 2024 Math Meet.

Around 280 elementary school students from Westwood Public Schools participated in the sixteenth annual district-wide 2024 Math Meet at Westwood's Thurston Middle School on Wednesday, April 10th,  thanks not only to the enthusiastic participation of student competitors, but also to the dedication of the adults who volunteered to make it happen.

Wednesday’s competition approached pre-Covid participation numbers, according to David Durant, who has volunteered for Math Meet for the past 15 years.

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Fourth graders sit in the Thurston Middle School cafeteria in school teams to compete in the "whiteboard" round of the 2024 Math Meet.

“There were a lot of kids here. It was a very good turnout,” says Mr. Durant. “Definitely was bigger than last year. I’d say it’s close to being back what I would call normal," he said, referring to the relatively smaller turnout of the 2023 Math Meet, the first in-person meet after a Covid hiatus.

Mr. Durant’s own children have long since left their elementary school days behind. They are currently ages 20 and 22. Luckily for the current school children of WPS, however, Mr. Durant has continued to volunteer. For the past decade, he has composed questions for the speed round. He undertakes the competition scoring and announces the results. He’s even recruited more family into the effort. His oldest child helped this year’s Math Meet by grading competition papers.

“I really just like seeing the kids and the good time that they’re having. I enjoy math - been a math nerd my entire life,” says Mr. Durant. He is an actuary with a master’s degree in mathematics.

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Math Meet veteran organizer David Durant prepares to announce the individual and school winners of the 2024 Math Meet.

Ishani Tewari, an economics professor, is another volunteer whose efforts have helped the Math Meet to endure, through and beyond the Covid crisis. For the past few years, even without a child of the age to compete, Dr. Tewari has served as one of the main organizers of the competition. She says her participation was motivated by fear that Math Meet would fall to the wayside without some effort to bring it back after the pandemic.

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Among the event organizers for the 2024 Math Meet are (left to right) Christina Gelsomini, Regis Bauwens, David Durant, Galina Yatsenko, and Ishani Tewari.

In 2018, Dr. Tewari had a daughter in third grade who participated in Math Meet. Then in 2020, the pandemic shut down all the district’s schools. While Dr. Tewari herself wouldn’t have a child in elementary school old enough to compete again until 2024, she continued to be involved. Deerfield School continued the effort virtually, and “pulled in Sheehan [School]” for a virtual competition, she remembers.

“Finally in 2023, we brought back the in-person meet, and that involved just really pulling, finding a lot of that institutional memory that had been lost, and parents who remembered. That was a big lift. We have really committed parents who found the records and gathered volunteers,” says Dr. Tewari.

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. A member of the winning fifth grade Pine Hill School team works out a math problem on his next piece of scratch paper.

One such parent was Juliana Belding. During the pandemic, Dr. Belding, a math professor, was instrumental in keeping Math League alive at the Sheehan School where her children were enrolled. In January 2021, when students were learning online at home, Dr. Belding had organized a small, virtual math club for just a few families who had indicated a personal interest in having their children meet to do math together. By the end of that year, Dr. Belding was jumpstarting a school-wide effort with Math League at Sheehan. Since then, she has coordinated the Sheehan School’s participation with parent coaches, along with coordinating Sheehan’s participation in interschool competition. Like Mr. Durant, she has also made Math Meet a family affair, calling on her eldest child to help as a volunteer.

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. (L to R) Galina Yatsenko and Juliana Belding observe the speed round of Math Meet, held in Thurston Middle School's gymnasium.

Parents who coached the grade level teams each week have also been essential to the competition’s longevity. They lead students in weekly group practice sessions, in advance of the competition.

The coach of the winning third grade team from Downey, Hyunjae Lee, commented, “They [the students] made a lot of progress, remarkable progress, for a season. I could really see the work that they have put in, and I was not expecting that in the beginning. So, it’s really rewarding to see them achieving that much.” Mr. Lee also acknowledged the support of parents, noting that some may have encouraged the students to do extra work at home.

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Math Meet fifth grade competitors line up by school to participate in a relay of answering math problems orally in the speed challenge of Math Meet.

Heidi Sullivan, the head coach of the winning fourth grade Downey team, says of her team’s win, “I’m ecstatic. I’m so thrilled. I love math. I love that the kids love math. And it’s so rewarding to see them having fun and succeeding with math.”

Ms. Sullivan says she focused on getting the students to work together, be supportive, and work as a team. “I just switched up the teams every week to see who worked well together. And then, I put a lot of thought into who I put into the final teams, and think it worked out really well,” she says.

Sangha Mitra, coach of the fourth grade Downey team, added the importance of having fun, practicing, and practicing with what the competition would look like. “I’m very proud of the kids,” she said.

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Heidi Sullivan (left), head coach of the first place Downey fourth grade team, says she focused on getting students to work as a team and be supportive. Downey coach Sangha Mitra (right) reminded kids to have fun and practice.

The Math Meet competition winners are as follows:

Competition Overall

1st place – Pine Hill

2nd place – Downey

3rd place – Martha Jones

4th place – Sheehan

Fifth Grade Top Ten Individual Competition Winners

1st place – Lucas Yamaguchi (Pine Hill)

2nd place – Lucian Alvarez (Pine Hill)

3rd place – Patrick Szigety (Martha Jones)

4th place – Zachary Cancell (Sheehan)

5th place (tie) – Julian Fung (Downey), Jason Xiong (Pine Hill)

7th place - Jane Lu (Downey)

8th place (3-way tie) – Evan Hwang (Pine Hill), Bosie Horn (Downey), William Zhang (Sheehan)

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Fifth graders had the option of competing individually in a written competition.

Fifth Grade

1st place – Pine Hill

2nd place – Downey

3rd place – Martha Jones

4th place – Sheehan

Photo by Kerry Capodilupo. Members and coaches of the first place Pine Hill School fifth grade team celebrates their win in their school's first appearance in a Math Meet competition.

Fourth Grade

1st place – Downey

2nd place – Pine Hill

3rd place – Martha Jones

4th place – Sheehan

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Fourth graders from Downey School jubilantly hold their first place ribbons high.

Third Grade

1st place – Downey

2nd place – Sheehan

3rd place – Martha Jones

4th place – Pine Hill

Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Members of Downey School's winning third grade math team proudly show their first place ribbons.

At this year’s Math Meet, second graders were invited to participate for the first time.

“That involved creating problems just because we’ve never done it with those younger kids. But we’ll do it again. It was successful,” says Dr. Tewari.

Second Grade (only 2 schools competed)

1st place – Martha Jones

2nd place – Pine Hill

While the meet has its competition winners, each student who participated had an opportunity to gain additional exposure to and comfort with mathematics, with the support and help of their friends.

Students from Deerfield and Hanlon schools were coached separately until they were united after February break on the campus of Pine Hill, their new, consolidated school.

“[T]hat felt a little bit like starting the season again because kids had not met each other,” says Dr. Tewari. “The coaches had not met each other. It was a new space. It was a different space. It was a good way to jumpstart people getting to know each other, so everyone quickly became friends, and I think this actually really helped push forward those friendships,” she says.

Thanks to Galina Yatsenko, Juliana Belding, Ishani Tewari and Kerry Capodilupo for their assistance and/or contributions, and all those who shared their thoughts and experiences with Westwood Minute for this article.

You may also enjoy:

Downey and Pine Hill Schools Prevail at District Elementary Schools Math Meet

Photos: Community Leaders Celebrate Opening of Westwood's New Elementary School with Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Opening Day at Pine Hill Elementary: Hanlon & Deerfield Students, Staff Come Together

Passion for Poetry at First Westwood Children's Poetry Festival

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified