Zsofia Vo knows the secret to the Math Circles program at Saint Leo University. "They trick you into learning math," said Zsofia, 8, a student at Academy at the Lakes in Land O'Lakes. "They make it fun."
That's the objective of the Saint Leo outreach education program.
"We have outreach programs that bring school children to campus, and we have outreach where professors and students go to schools," said Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager at Saint Leo. "There's lots of interaction ... these events also plant in the minds of little ones the possibility of college when such an aspiration might not have even occurred before."
Recently, 20 elementary and middle school students gathered to count jelly beans for a weekly program called Math Circles, which takes place at 5:30 p.m. each Thursday at the college's Lewis Hall.
"There is no homework here," said Monika Kiss, associate professor of mathematics and administrator of the Math Circles program. "This is not like school."
Some activities include building and flying tetrahedron kites, playing the board game Sequence or making a molecular model. During the jelly bean activity, they measured a jar filled with the candy and made an educated guess, then saw how accurate that guess was after counting — and then eating — the jelly beans.
"They're teaching us to love math here," said Esmeralda Perez-Arita, 12, who attends with her brother, Marcos Perez-Arita, 9.
Mom Karla Arita says Math Circles invites students to "eat, visualize, taste and experience."
"As a parent I love this kind of program for young children," she said. "It creates a fun learning environment for them."
The university also hosts mathematics competitions and regular visits from youngsters from Woodland Elementary and Lacoochee Boys and Girls Club. In April, the school will present a Careers in Writing and Journalism program to Cox Elementary students at the campus. The school also collaborates with the Rotary Club of San Antonio to host back-to-school events for children from Farmworkers Self-Help.
University instructors and students also work with students on a biology unit to repair damaged coral reefs with students at James Irvin Education Center in Dade City. Another outreach program concentrates on health and wellness.
Saint Leo freshman health and wellness students meet weekly with students in Dr. Jose H. Olmo's leadership class at Irvin, covering topics like nutrition, exercise, stress, drugs and self-esteem.
"We're getting these students back to the basics and we're building relationships," Olmo said.
And Saint Leo students are learning about public speaking and student interaction.
"We have to find a way to get these kids engaged to show how these health and wellness issues pertain to their lives," said Ryan Delieto, 19, a sophomore.
"Our students enjoy sharing their knowledge," said Veronika Ospina-Kammerer, associate professor and director of BSW field education at Saint Leo. "And the students from James Irvin ask every time, 'Are you coming back again?' "