Op-Ed | Bronx Lacrosse Algebra-Readiness Tutoring: Getting Results for Bronx Students

Bronx Lacrosse 8th grade student Rabill during Algebra Readiness Tutoring.
Bronx Lacrosse 8th grade student Rabill during Algebra Readiness Tutoring.
Photo Matt Zuckerman

As a 2015 Teach for America corps member, I stepped into my seventh grade classroom at the Highbridge Green Middle School in the South Bronx eager to support students struggling in math. I quickly realized the broad scope of challenges my students were facing, which led me to launch Bronx Lacrosse and, now, our Algebra-Readiness Tutoring Program.

While teaching, I formed an after-school lacrosse team to share my passion for the sport with my students. With lacrosse as a motivating hook — participants in the program received equipment, personalized training and were part of a supportive team culture — my students drastically improved their attendance, behavior, and grades in school.

Then, in 2018, I founded Bronx Lacrosse to bring these same academic, athletic and social-emotional opportunities to more students. Now, the program serves more than 240 middle and high school students hailing from 15 schools. Our mission is to improve academic outcomes and life opportunities for underserved student-athletes in the Bronx.

Because students love playing lacrosse and being part of a team, Bronx Lacrosse participants show tremendous engagement in our off-field academic programming. In our early years, we conducted study halls to support our students in completing classwork or homework and addressed other classroom challenges as they arose. The pandemic,  however, made it clear that an ad hoc approach to academic support was not enough.

The pandemic disproportionately impacted the students Bronx Lacrosse serves and made our focus on academics more important than ever. As a recent New York Times article notes, “racial and economic gaps in math achievement are wide in the United States, and grew wider during the pandemic.” In fact, national data indicates that higher performing students will need approximately nine weeks of instruction to make up for lost learning, while the students who were already struggling will need 36 weeks to begin to close the gap.

Bronx Lacrosse 6th grade Leslhy student during Algebra Readiness Tutoring.Photo Nate Galper

Algebra has become a particularly contentious topic nationwide. While all students take algebra by ninth grade, some students, largely those in affluent communities, are offered the course in eighth grade. Early success in algebra enables students to avoid being tracked into remedial classes in high school and pursue more advanced courses like calculus, giving them an edge in the college application process. Unsurprisingly, students of color and those living in poverty are most likely to not have access to algebra in eighth grade.

In 2021, Bronx Lacrosse decided to focus its academic efforts on helping middle school students improve their understanding of the most important middle school math topics. With the generous support of the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we launched our Algebra-Readiness Tutoring Program. Like other high-impact tutoring programs, we have prioritized ensuring sufficient frequency, small group sizes, high-quality curriculum, and well-trained tutors with strong relationships with students. Research shows that tutoring programs with these qualities can accelerate a student’s learning by three to 15 months.

Every September, our middle school players take a diagnostic assessment that helps us create personalized learning plans. Students meet with a Bronx Lacrosse tutor twice a week to work individually or in small groups on the topics outlined in their plan. This includes key concepts like operations with integers, basic ratios, and exponents and square roots. Tutoring materials are clear, student-friendly, and — most importantly — allow us to meet each student where they are and guide them from their starting point towards success on the Algebra Regents.

The results of this program are encouraging. In Community School District 9 where we work, only 46% of students passed the Algebra Regents in 2023. That same year, 86% of Bronx Lacrosse students enrolled in tutoring for at least one year passed the test. That success is paying off as our students apply to competitive high schools. In our community, less than 70% of adults have graduated from high school. Bronx Lacrosse students are on track to change that; in 2023, 100% of our graduating eighth graders were admitted to high schools with graduation rates of 85% or higher.

Success on the Algebra Regents and middle school math is pivotal for our students and shows them what is possible for their academic futures. Kids hold their heads higher in all they do. Eighth grade participant Rabill says of Bronx Lacrosse, “The tutoring program has helped boost my confidence. I used to struggle in math, but Bronx Lacrosse’s support gave me additional practice outside of school and helped me improve. I feel extremely ready for high school and the Algebra Regents next year.”

Like many of his teammates, Rabill is now thriving in middle school and has been admitted to a competitive high school with a 100% graduation rate, where he is confident he will pass the Algebra Regents next year. His early success — on the field and in the classroom — has set him on a course to pursue a life filled with opportunity. In 2024, Bronx Lacrosse will bring our impactful academic, athletic, and social-emotional programming to more than 300 student-athletes in the Bronx.

Dan Leventhal is the founder and executive director of Bronx Lacrosse.