A DECADE OF EXCELLENCE: SPA MATH STUDENTS AT TOP OF THEIR GAME
South Pacific Academy has garnered numerous academic awards over the years, but a recent win is a milestone for them, and one for the local record books.
This year the private school in Tafuna won — for the tenth consecutive year — First Place overall in the territory's island wide Math competition, sponsored by the Department of Education's OCIA (Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Accountability) division.
Hearing of this accomplishment, Samoa News visited the campus recently to speak to SPA's principal, Evelyn Lilio Satele, who immediately pointed to the person “most directly responsible” for this achievement — the woman in charge of SPA’s math curriculum, Seong Shim Park.
Mrs. Park is petite and soft-spoken, but according to her students, she is the driving force behind their high math scores. She believes that “everyone can be good at math” but she also said, “it takes a lot of work and a lot of practice.”
With a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and a minor in Education, Park taught high school math in Korea for 15 years before coming to teach at SPA. For the past six years, Park has guided the students of South Pacific Academy through the rigors of every math discipline- from simple arithmetic to calculus and trigonometry.
She has done the near impossible... taken students who admitted they “didn't much like math” to winning top spots in competition.
Perhaps even more importantly, her students have credited her for their perfect math scores on SAT 1 and SAT 2 tests.
Born in Busan, Korea, Park moved to the territory in 2001, and said she is grateful to Principal Evelyn for giving her the opportunity to teach the subject she loves, as she honestly believed that she could make a difference.
And what a difference she has made. Park noted that her first students here had trouble with basic arithmetic. They made simple mistakes, she said, and she wound up drilling them in “the basics”.
She explained that the teaching methodology of Korea is different than in American schools, and when she realized her math students were not at the level they could be, she implemented the teaching methods which she knew best.
“In Korea, we teach the abacus to elementary students, which gives them more ‘right brain’ math work,” she said. She also noted that in the Korean system, children are taught more “mental math” and not allowed to use pencil and paper or calculators.
Even now, Park does not allow the use of calculators with her elementary students, but admits that she does allow them for her high school students, and she herself only uses a calculator for trigonometry. (Her students refer to her as the “walking calculator”)
She also spoke of the importance of practicing math after school. “The secret to math is practice” she said... “like playing the piano. If you practice often, you don’t forget.”
She said that in Korea, students spend two or three hours doing math calculations after school, and she acknowledged that here at SPA, the parents, teaching staff and students “all work together” for these awards.
She added, “it is the teacher who must display confidence, and give children the confidence to do well.”
Speaking of that confidence, Principal Evelyn noted “The whole school is supportive of the math program, as they are of all of our programs. Our goal is to produce well-rounded students who excel in all academic areas, and I’m so pleased with this recent accomplishment, as I am whenever our students excel. I would like to acknowledge the support and hard work of every member of our staff who has made all of these accomplishments possible.”
She also acknowledged the contribution of SPA’s previous math chairman, Sam Lei Sam, who guided the students to their early Math Competition wins from 2003 -2006.
Looking to the future, SPA students will soon be competing at the international level, according to Evelyn. They have already formed a “Math Counts” Club, which will continue to promote and improve their math skills.
“We also have students who are applying to the Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, whose goal is to encourage students to pursue a career in engineering, science, computer science, and other math-based majors, and to prepare them for admission to selective colleges and universities,” said Evelyn.
In the recent island-wide Math Competition, which was held February 15 and 16 this year, eleven students from SPA (8th-12th grade) participated. The winners from SPA included:
8th Grade students: Ambika Murali (1st overall), Alice Park, and Fiasili Aga (3rd overall)
9th Grade: Calvin Wang (2nd place) and Samantha Rubin (3rd place)
10th Grade: Micky Liu and Lance Eustaquio (Tied for 1st place)
11th Grade: John Joo (1st place) and Seong Hoon Park (2nd place)
12th Grade: SeungEun Lee (1st place) and Kagiso Samuel (3rd place)
In addition to placing at their respective grade levels, students are also ranked by total points, where SeungEun Lee placed 1st with total points and Kagiso Samuel placed 3rd in total points.
Additionally, SPA took 1st place overall among all high schools in the territory, giving their math program a true “decade of excellence”.