Students and parents gathered during Lehighton Area School District's first "Family Math Night," a Title I program meant to get families interested in math and provide them with hands-on projects to take home.

The program is led by math consultant Louis Gardner, who strives to provide students with fun, hands-on explanations for math concepts.

"It lets them internalize math and understand it. This is an exploration in math, from geometry to math reasoning," said Gardner. She taught math for more than 36 years before moving to Northeastern Pennsylvania, and now holds "Family Math Nights" regularly in the area.

The main problem with school math classes today is testing requirements, she explained. Teachers are pressured to teach math concepts in a short period of time, and most students simply memorize and recite math concepts without really understanding them. Her program aims to get these concepts out of the textbook and into students' hands - where they have a better chance of understanding them. Many districts have been using programs such as this to supplement traditional classroom lessons.

For Lehighton School District, the program has been nearly a year in the making. Members of the Title I staff heard about Gardner last year and thought she might offer a fun parents' night program. The staff was looking for a program that could lead to at-home learning, and this fit their hopes perfectly.

Seated at each table in Shull-David were Title I instructors, ready to demonstrate and assist at different math stations. Some teachers taught shapes, graphs, or geometry. Others led young students and parents through a game about rounding and probability, using cereal pieces as prizes and letting the students create necklaces to take home.

"It's important that they have a good foundation first, before they can move onto harder concepts," said Candace Gandy, a Title I math instructor and coordinator for the program. These programs bring abstract concepts to life and out of the text book, allowing students to better understand concepts such as 2- and 3-dimensional geography.

"Some of the kids have trouble visualizing these things," she added, noting that hands-on learning is best for these students. It's important for them to grasp these concepts now, before they are asked to tackle harder math problems in middle school and beyond.

While the main purpose of the program was to promote family interaction and offer fun activities to bring home, the program was also a chance for parents to meet Title I staff members - and for students to realize that math can be fun.

"Math is fun, and it should be a lot of fun for the kids," said Gandy.

Lehighton is one of the only school districts in the area to offer both Title I math and reading programs, which benefit all of the district's elementary students and SS Peter and Paul School. Students will also be invited to summer camp this year for reading and math.

The district's Title I math and reading instructors include Andrea Boyer, Susanne Cordes, Patricia Ebbert, Candace Gandy, Susanne Howland, Marsha Long, Elyse Roman, Angela Swanson, and Amber Williams. Also helping with the night's program were elementary school principals Gretchen Laviolette and Aaron Sebelin.

As Gardner walked among the tables of families and teachers, she noted that math is so important for today's young students.

"Math is the answer to everything in their future - higher paying jobs, and even problems in everyday life," she said.

Even a simple dinner party can lead to several math problems, she added. Once you know how many guests to expect, you must decide how much food to prepare and how to set the table - both of which require math reasoning and a strong grasp of spacial and quantity concepts. Even paying the bills and writing checks requires good math skills.

"People use math every day to make choices and decisions," she added.