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GATO365 Learning Center gives kids a path to math


Math didn't come easyily to Immanuel Williams, who now teaches math boot camps and a computer science academy for students through his company, the GATO365 Learning Center.

MATH CLASS Immanuel Williams goes over math worksheets with kids attending a Boys & Girls Club after school program before the COVID-19 pandemic started. - PHOTO COURTESY OF IMMANUEL WILLIAMS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Immanuel Williams
  • MATH CLASS Immanuel Williams goes over math worksheets with kids attending a Boys & Girls Club after school program before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

The Cal Poly statistics lecturer's story begins with him "not being particularly good at mathematics" in elementary school, he said.

Williams received poor marks in math, and his teachers didn't see a lot of potential in him, he said, but his father believed that if Williams just kept practicing, he would get it eventually. His father, an immigrant from Sierra Leone raising three children on his own because his wife had passed away, created math worksheets for his son.

"I just kept practicing, practicing, practicing, even though I wasn't good at it," he said.

He took math classes during the summer so that he could stay on grade level, and eventually he was able to take calculus in high school—which he said he failed his senior year. Graduating without honors, he said he looked at his friends adorned in regalia, went out and bought three calculus books, and decided he wasn't going to fail the subject again.

As a college freshman, he received an A in calculus, moved on to calculus 2, and eventually he became a statistics major at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Williams continued his education and earned a master's degree in psychometrics—a field that studies assessment and measurement tools such as the GRE and SAT—and a Ph.D. in education measurement and statistics from Rutgers University.

"I sincerely love what you can do with statistics," he said, adding that he eventually started working for a company that focused on assessment tests, which he didn't do well on in high school. "So these exact tests that were telling me I couldn't do it, I was working for the companies that created them, eventually."

Then, he and his wife wrote a children's book about math—The Adventure of Jamear: Shapes All Around—and he decided to do some readings to get the word out about it. During that process, he did a math workshop at a Boys & Girls Club.

"Me going to the Boys & Girls Club changed my direction 100 percent," Williams said.

Taking a page out of his father's book, Williams created math worksheets and started teaching math boot camps at Boys & Girls Clubs. He felt that students who might not have access to child care facilities where they are focused on math, science, and English after school programs should also get the chance to spend a little more time with math. Williams' goal is to encourage students who have been told they can't, who might not have the confidence to pursue something like math. He wants them to know that they can, just like him.

"I'm trying to build that spark that I built, eventually," Williams said.

So in addition to lecturing at Cal Poly, Williams started GATO365 (Going Above The Odds) a couple of years ago. He teaches a data science academy for junior high and high school students, which is being offered starting in October 2021, and a math boot camp for elementary school students. The three-month-long data science academy—which focuses on the basics of data, statistics, machine learning (how to make predictions), and data analysis—helps fund GATO365's four-week math boot camps at Boys & Girls Clubs.

"What I'm trying to do is bring [math], make it more accessible to these kids," Williams said. "I'm going to get these kids educated or die trying."

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