2011 AWM Essay Contest: High School Level Honorable Mention
By: Shaina Wan, Ruth Asawa School of the Art, San Francisco, CA
After thirteen years of teaching unwilling and unmotivated middle school children algebra, Mrs. Jhina Alvarado-Morse (pronounced HEE-NA) had heard all the excuses in the book. “I forgot my math book at home” or—the favorite— “I left my homework at home” does not even incite a blink. She simply tells them to redo it tomorrow paired with a sharp look which quickly erases the feigned distressed look and sends the abashed student scurrying back to his or her seat. She then looks to the next student who timidly asks her for help on a problem. Her face softens as she glances at the problem before explaining the concept fully to the student her dark eyes intense as if willing understanding and knowledge into the child’s soul. The student’s confused scowl slowly relaxes into a shy smile of understanding, his eyes lighting up with enlightenment. He thanks her and returns to his seat with an extra skip, eager to explore other math problems. Mrs. Alvarado-Morse smiles and returns to grading her papers, happy. But Mrs. Alvarado-Morse was not always a skilled mathematician herself. Once, she was one of the uninspired.
Born in 1972, Jhina Alvarado-Morse was born to Mexican and Korean parents who emphasized education and learning. She was always a good student, bringing home A’s and paying diligent attention in class, the devoted scholar. She excelled in many subjects, especially art, gifted with a natural eye for beauty and aesthetics resulting with the many compliments addressed towards her ideas and drawings. But the subject that troubled her the most was math. The numbers and formulas that her math book and teacher would spew out simply danced and strutted in her head through one ear before quickly leaving out of the other with an infuriating swagger. In fact, she hated her math class, dreaded it, wishing that she could, rather, draw and paint. Unlike art which celebrated mobility and creativity, she felt that math was too rigid and uncompromising. There was often only one right answer to a problem and, many times, one right way to do it. Added to the fact that she had a string of uninspiring and unenthusiastic teachers, Mrs. Alvarado-Morse completely detested math class. She felt that she never understood the concepts of subject, often trying to avoid it, leaving her math homework last in her daily routine.
High school came and went. Mrs. Alvarado-Morse marched through her high school math classes monotonously. Although she was one of the two girls in her high school who were in the advanced statics class, she never truly connected with math. She graduated with high marks in her class.
Then college came. Mrs. Alvarado-Morse expected her post-high school years to be a continuation of her high school math experiences. She was wrong. Richard Curci, a bright-eyed college math teacher, brought energy and life into the subject Mrs. Alvarado-Morse previously found dull and tedious. He instilled upon her a love for math with his enthusiasm and patience and established a connection between her and math with his dedication and perseverance. He applied math concepts to everyday life and often devoted much of his personal time to assisting his students. With his aid and guidance, Mrs. Alvarado-Morse discovered enlightenment and a sense of excitement for math.
In the middle of her college years, Mrs. Alvarado-Morse was faced with a crisis—the decision to determine her major. She quickly hopped into Liberal Studies much to the disapproval of her parents who urged her to study a more “practical” subject. In order to placate her parents, she reluctantly decided to study math, specializing in math education.
Slowly, her unwillingness morphed into excitement and enthusiasm. She remembered the confusion she once battled and defeated, triumphing with the white flag of understanding and wanted to share this understanding with everyone else. She, who had once been besieged with the pangs of dissatisfaction and frustration, understood what it was like to be muddled and disoriented with the numbers and formulas of math. She wanted to aid people in that same position and also show them the path to understanding and success. Jhina Alvarado-Morse graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a master’s degree in math education.
Now Mrs. Alvarado-Morse is the Advanced Algebra and Pre-Calculus teacher at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. She still continues her art despite much protest from her parents who wish she would simply devote all her energy towards teaching and other more practical careers. But Mrs. Morse says that the looks of understanding that flash on the students’ faces keep her going because she “sees herself in each and every one of her students.” She understands and celebrates in our personal enlightenment.
About the student:
I am a student who was once one of the dead-eyed fish who inhabited the cold halls of my middle school. But when I was accepted into the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts I began to live again through my art and creativity. With the introduction of Mrs. Alvarado-Morse and the other wonderful staff of SOTA, I found a supportive and wonderful community of people, all urging me to chase my dreams. I am currently a junior and have participated in the PG&E Three Brick Bridge Project which inspired me to consider engineering as a possible career. I have grown to love math and is especially fond of trigonometry and algebraic equations. Also, I am an artist at East Art Studio, SOTA Junior Statesmen of America, president of the Environmental Exploration Club, member of the California Scholarship Federation, and Public Relations officer of the Red Cross Forgotten Soldiers Aid.