Keys to unlock mind-boggling mathematical mysteries can be found down the hall and around a corner in Room 269 at South Carroll High School.
Mondays through Fridays, from 2:45 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., puzzling problems in algebra, geometry and calculus are solved by the students who visit the school's math lab. Master mathematician and teacher Jim Torretti runs the lab. He provides the expertise that turns students' questions and extra effort into scholarly success.
Mr. Torretti credits Principal David Booz with implementing the math lab program at South Carroll, which began in 1992-1993. The program provides after-school help to any math student.
Attendance varies, but averages five or six people each day.
"Most are regulars but new ones come in," he said. "For a student who genuinely needs help, he or she will benefit the most from coming in on a regular basis."
Mr. Torretti said students who had been getting D's and F's in the first quarter raised their grades to B's and C's in the second quarter, after they started coming to the lab to do their homework.
"Long-term, regular help can make a difference," he said.
Students fill out yellow questionnaires that Mr. Torretti uses to record visits and notify other teachers. "I want the classroom teachers to know which students are putting in extra effort," he said.
The program offers personalized instruction at the best possible price -- it's free. This could save parents who are considering private tutoring, which can cost up to $20 an hour, a lot of money.
Notices in the school's newsletter and classroom posters advertise the math lab, and faculty and staff members endorse the program.
"Coaches, in particular, have been supportive and [have] agreed to let students come late to practice with a pass from me," said Mr. Torretti.
Tuesday afternoon, nine students attended the program for homework help and to do make-up work. Armed with calculators and thick textbooks, they worked quietly and diligently, occasionally raising their hands to request Mr. Torretti's individual instruction. Phrases such as "I'm stuck on two problems" or "I don't understand No. 35" were heard from the group.
Becky Gorski, a South Carroll senior and calculus student, said she uses the lab once or twice a month. She said the individual attention is one of its best features.
"It's something you can depend on. If your grade is falling, you can come here," she said. "I know a lot of people in my class use it because it [calculus] is hard."
Tuesday was the first time junior Carli Benham, an "Intro to Analysis" student, had used the lab. "I was absent a couple of days; I felt like I was really behind," she said. "It's helping me catch up."
Mr. Torretti's willingness to explain math concepts in different ways is one of the things that senior Andrew McWilliams likes best about the program.
"He is patient and he takes time to explain it," said Mr. McWilliams, who also is studying calculus. "The different teaching style really helps things click."
Requests for math assistance sometimes come from people who don't attend South Carroll High. Parents, as well as former students enrolled in college-level math courses, have come in for help.
During his 20 years at South Carroll High, Mr. Torretti has taught everything from geometry to calculus. This year, in addition to his math lab duties, he is teaching five classes, including all sections of calculus. His work day begins earlier and ends later than it did before the math lab's creation.
"I'm almost always here until 3:45 or 4 p.m.," he said.
Mr. Torretti said he is pleased with the program, but regrets that more students do not use the math lab -- even though a larger attend ance might compromise the individual attention he is able to offer.
"I know there should be more students coming here for help," said Mr. Torretti. "Most of the other teachers do offer their own time to assist students. The advantage here is that I'm here every single day."
"I enjoy doing the math lab," he said. "It keeps me in touch with what's going on in other math classes [and] helps me stay fresh. I like meeting the students that I don't teach in class."