COLUMBUS, Miss. -- A W project that has served more than 400 fifth through eighth grade math teachers in 17 high-risk school districts is earning distinction from the U.S. Department of Education.

CHAMPSResponding to federal initiatives to increase proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), The W’s Center for Creative Learning established Creating High Achievement in Mathematics and Problem Solving (CHAMPS) in 2004.  Since then, the program has received more than $4 million in continued funding.

In its most recent evaluation of three years of data from more than 590 funded programs nationwide, the federal education department recognized CHAMPS as one of only 16 meeting all of its evaluation criteria. An additional 65 programs were recognized for meeting at least one of the criteria.

“This evaluation is an affirmation of our efforts to help create confident, effective teachers and provide strategies that correlate with rigorous common core standards,” said Melinda Lowe, project coordinator.

Among the first mathematics and science partnership grants in Mississippi, CHAMPS is one of only five projects funded in the current grant cycle.  It provides an intensive two-week seminar for teachers and a host of related activities.

In addition to on-campus instruction, teachers follow up with four Super Saturday mini-conferences that provide a variety of professional development activities. There’s also an online professional learning community to assist with common core implementation, data coaching, an interactive project website and a mathematics resource center for participants.

Teachers report that CHAMPS has given them a stronger foundation in their approach to teaching by demonstrating ways to get their students more involved through games and manipulatives, using different methods of teaching the same problem and using real-world problems to get students to think.

“It is always enlightening to remember what it's like to be in the student role, rather than just the teacher's,” said one teacher. “I can relate to my student's struggles more. I find myself allowing them more wait time, encouraging them to help each other and providing opportunities that are more engaging than before.”

Content for the sessions is provided by master teachers in mathematics, Lowe said, and a feature of CHAMPS was pairing participating teachers with a W professor who served as a mentor. In the evaluation period, approximately 25 teachers were mentored, with a comparable control group not mentored, she explained.

“The students whose teachers were mentored showed significantly higher scores on standardized tests compared to students whose teachers were in the control group,” Lowe explained.  The success of that trial has led to expansion of a mentoring component with all CHAMPS participants.

“As we continue to evaluate and improve CHAMPS, we are gratified to know that our efforts are making a difference in helping Mississippi schools improve student achievement in mathematics,” Lowe said.