Counting talent adds $1,000 to her pocket

May 01, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

She worked faster than a Vegas card-counter, ignoring the hot lights and cameras to calculate sums in her head without breaking a sweat.

Nakhia Hopkins, 13-year-old champion number-cruncher, walked away with a $1,000 savings bond yesterday, courtesy of First National Bank of Maryland.

The arena: a posh room on the 22nd floor of a downtown office tower, where 14 of Baltimore's sharpest young minds vied in the bank's "24 Challenge" math contest.

Every few seconds of the final round, a scorekeeper flipped a colorful card on the polished table, each card bearing a different numeral on its corner.

In a flash, Nakhia mentally juggled those figures, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing to produce a sum of "24."

And when the pack of cards was "run," 12 minutes and 50 seconds later, the Francis Scott Key Elementary-Middle School student was the winner.

was always good in math," said Nakhia, who already is studying algebra and hopes to be an accountant. She said that the math game sponsored by First National "enriches you, it's challenging, and fun. It helps in algebra, too."

The tournament, the centerpiece of First National's school activities this year, was the culminating event in a week-long, citywide celebration of school partnerships with businesses, civic organizations and other institutions.

The more than 300 partnerships include everything from direct cash contributions to tutoring programs, said Judy Wereley, partnership coordinator for the city schools.

This week, business executives filled in as principals at some city schools, while students and principals "shadowed" executives in the workplace, she noted.

First National's "24 Challenge" partnership came about after school officials approached the bank with a game they said would improve math and thinking skills.

Bank officials saw the game as a shrewd investment as well as a philanthropic contribution.

-! "Clearly, the students in our

country need to improve their math skills, compared to students in a number of other countries," said Charles W. Cole Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore-based bank. "There's no better way to do it than a program that

is fun for students."

First National bought the flashcards and other material necessary to make the math game available this year to the 43,000 students in grades four through eight.

The "24" game is more than just an entertaining gimmick, said Steven Alpern, curriculum specialist for the city schools.

In addition to honing arithmetic skills, "you have to come up with problem-solving strategies," he said. "It's a backhanded way to get kids to work on thinking skills."

Although the school system has no data on whether the game improved math scores, some teachers say it helped their students.

"Their basic math skills, I can't say enough about," said &r Claudette Davis, a sixth-grade teacher at Greenspring Middle School. "At the beginning of the year, I had a lot of problems with them multiplying and dividing. This forces them to do it, and do it correctly."

Kathy Shell, a teacher at John Ruhrah Elementary, said the game is a good confidence-builder for the many students at that school who have limited English language proficiency.

In addition to winner Nakhia Davis, runners-up were: Leon Harris, a seventh-grader from Garrison Middle School; Christopher Henson, an eighth-grader from Benjamin Franklin Middle School; and Sherene Weekes, of Winston Middle School.

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