By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – Question: The principal of St. Richard School in South Philadelphia is teaching advanced math to 21 fifth-graders and 19 sixth-graders.

However, only 10 are actually St. Richard students.

How can this be?

Answer: Courtesy of a Connelly Foundation initiative, Stephen Hewitt is teaching advanced math to a contingent of St. Richard’s students and, simultaneously via state-of-the-art teleconferencing technology, to students from three other Catholic parish elementary schools in the city: St. Peter the Apostle, St. Helena and Our Lady of Ransom. {{more}}

The goal is for participating students to complete all elementary math lessons at a faster pace and allow them to pursue algebra I while in the eighth grade.

“Math has been my favorite subject ever since I was a kid,” said 11-year-old Angel Velazquez, a sixth-grade advanced math student from St. Peter the Apostle School.

“It’s very challenging. I love it all – addition, subtraction, multiplication, spanision, fractions, integers, problem-solving – I could go on and on and on.”

Taking an advanced math class by teleconference is “very cool, very fun,” he said. “I learn a lot from Mr. Hewitt. He’s a very good teacher.”

Velazquez said he is not distracted by the high-tech videoconference screen. “I pay attention to the teacher at all times. I raise my hand every time he asks, “Do you have any questions? Do you know the answer to the problem?”

Realizing the financial constraints that prevent many schools from providing a higher-level math course, the Connelly Foundation developed the alternative method called “Math Matters.”

The Connelly Foundation collaborated with the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education, seeking the counsel of Immaculate Heart Sister Edward William Quinn, who serves as the director of elementary curriculum and instruction, and Hewitt, who last year instituted an accelerated math program for fifth-graders at St. Richard School.

“For all of us in the city, this allows for an accelerated math experience for kids in places that couldn’t afford to have somebody come in and do it,” Hewitt said.

“When we look at services that we offer – a lot of times, the brightest of our kids don’t get the same amount of service that our weaker students do. “It’s important that we don’t miss those opportunities when they come so that we can reach out and challenge those that can use the challenge.”

According to the Office of Catholic Education, in 2009, 13 of the then-67 parish elementary schools in Philadelphia were able to provide honors math for students who met eligibility requirements.

Founded in 1955, the Connelly Foundation is a philanthropic organization headquartered in Conshohocken. Through its PACT (Proficiency and Access to Computer Technology) program, the foundation has provided technology grants to schools since 1996.

“For many years we have been instructing teachers to integrate technology into the curriculum,” said Josephine Mandeville, the Connelly Foundation president.

“Now we have taken a curriculum – much in demand but whose delivery is cost-prohibitive for many schools – and by integrating it with technology can provide increased access to a growing number of schools at a low cost.”

Velazquez’s parish, St. Peter the Apostle, is the site of the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, Philadelphia’s fourth bishop, first saint and founder of the Catholic school system.

It is Velazquez’s opinion that St. John Neumann would be proud of the Math Matters program.

Velazquez’s aspiration is to be a professional baseball player. “If that doesn’t happen, I would like to be a teacher,” he said.

It should be no surprise what his class of choice would be – math.

For more information about Math Matters contact Sister Edward William Quinn, I.H.M., of the Office of Catholic Education at 215-587-3744.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or