Despite the perfect summer weather, more than 50 middle and high school students gathered inside the walls of F.W. Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida for their fourth consecutive week of competitive math practice. Yes, you read that correctly – competitive math.
When ExcelinEd visited the school last July, students were hard at work practicing for the upcoming Mu Alpha Theta National Championship later that month. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Buchholz was not only the returning national champion, they had won the last ten consecutive competitions. During the last decade, this Alachua County magnet program has defeated hundreds of private and public schools in what is the largest math honors society in the U.S. with nearly 100,000 members.
Today, the school’s name is synonymous with high standards and academic success. But, the math program’s road to victory hit a rough patch early on.
“There was a flyer in my box about a math competition,” recounted math program director and Buchholz High School educator Will Frazer. “I was teaching Algebra II Honors at the time and I asked some of my kids if they wanted to go to a math competition.”
There were seven teams at the event that day. Buchholz High School placed seventh.
“On the way home, the kids asked if they could practice and do it again,” said Frazer. Buchholz students practiced for the next month and at their second competition in the spring of 1999 they placed fifth out of seven teams. That small improvement encouraged the students to continue improving.
On the way home from that second event, Frazer began to envision the program he would need to create to serve the highest performing students so they could compete with their state and national peers.
“I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to retrain,” said Frazer. “As a teacher you train for the classroom and what you have to present. The curriculum and the competition were well above the honors level that I was teaching.”
The results have been nothing short of remarkable.
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