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Math Corps

656 Kirby
Room 1098
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Steve Kahn

By Amanda Lewan
December 16, 2013

On the third floor of Wayne State University’s State Hall hangs a sign for students: "Welcome to Math Corps, please remove your mask."
The sign hangs there every year during Math Corps’ summer camp as a homage to the program’s values. The camp promotes kindness, courage, and a sense of community, while teaching math skills along the way.
A day at the summer camp begins with an assembly that shares stories of inspiration for the local Detroit students.  It sets a tone and helps build a sense of community.
"We teach them greatness. We tell them stories about greatness," says Steve Kahn, Founder of Math Corps. Kahn believes that every kid can pass math and use it as tool to succeed, but first they must believe in themselves. The core of the program is that every child has greatness in them.
"What I’m going to ask the children for is not respect. We ask them to genuinely care and support one another," says Kahn. The love and support cultivated helps turn the program into a second family to most, and even a first family to some of the kids who enter Math Corps.
The summer math camp lasts six weeks and is held daily Mondays through Thursdays. Detroit students who enter this program will pass a basic math test with a 25-30% accuracy. They leave the program with an average post test score of about 90%. Kahn says that the average ACT for students who attend for three summers is over 20, compared to the typical Detroit Public Schools' average student score of around 16.
Steve Kahn says that the program has never been about math; it has always been about helping kids in Detroit. Kahn moved to the city in the 1980s after earning a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Maryland. He accepted a job as a professor teaching a full range of math classes and graduate courses at WSU. He began volunteering at the High School Development Center, a place for boys who were getting kicked out of their high schools.
"I went and volunteered. I ended up teaching there for five years on a voluntary basis," says Kahn. "What I saw there were a bunch of good kids. They were good kids who had done bad things. Unfortunately, trying to change their lives in the middle of high school was way too difficult of a task."
Kahn wanted to make an impact that went further than developing a relationship for a year or two. He wanted to help turn students into mentors and teachers, which is how Math Corps first formed.
Kahn says the first law of the Math Corps is that once you are in the Math Corps, you are in for life. This seems to be true to all of those dedicated to the program. Since its beginnings in 1992, graduates of the program have grown up and successfully completed college. Some have joined Wayne State’s own educational staff.
Math Corps has been hosted at Wayne State for over twenty years, growing to a camp that teaches 400 kids every summer. Graduates of the program return to serve as mentors, teachers, and tutors. Saturday Math Corps classes are held all year.
One day Kahn hopes to establish the program to becoming its own school in Detroit.
"We know there are around 100,000 kids in the city. We want to get Math Corps to all of them," says Kahn.

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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