ST. PETERSBURG — In fourth grade, Ryley Schlecht would break down and have anxiety attacks while doing math.
Now an eighth-grader at Tyrone Middle School, Ryley aced an intense summer algebra I class and is taking an honors geometry class.
"I used to freak out and treat it as being really hard," she said. "It got easier in middle school. "
Ryley is one of the thousands of Pinellas County middle school students encouraged to take high school math in seventh and eighth grades.
About 75 percent of the district's middle school students are taking high school math courses this school year, said Rose Mack, Pinellas schools' supervisor of high school math and science.
Proponents often cite research that links students' success in college to their math ability in high school.
"The highest level of math completed in high school is the strongest predictor of their success in graduating college," said associate superintendent Bill Lawrence.
Tyrone Middle even introduced a high school geometry course to eighth-graders such as Ryley this year. To take it, they had to pass a six-week intensive algebra I course last summer.
It's been a challenge for the students and the teachers. Debbie Georgia and another teacher have been offering free tutoring before school every morning to help students.
"They scream and holler and whine and yell. When it comes down to it, they want that high school credit," she said.