New York coordinator uses Math-A-Thon as character-building tool

The money raised by Math-A-Thons helps kids with cancer and other catastrophic diseases at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital find hope and healing. But equally important, the lessons learned through these events help healthy children find a spirit of giving and service.

According to coordinator Eric Freidman, that’s the beauty of the Math-A-Thon program.

“When the program is done right, we can really involve our kids in something meaningful,” he says. “And, in turn, they can develop a distinct sense of pride and accomplishment in the good work that they are doing.”

Freidman, principal of Babylon Memorial Grade School in Babylon, N.Y., has been coordinating Math-A-Thons for 13 years. He says Math-A-Thon has become an important part of his school’s overall character education program, which stresses four components:

“We want to create a culture at our school where we continually connect our kids with opportunities to serve,” says Freidman. “The St. Jude Math-A-Thon program has become a natural fit for us because it reinforces both the responsibility and the empathy components of the program.”

In preparing the kids for Math-A-Thon, Freidman and his staff gather the student body to watch the Math-A-Thon video and talk together about what heroes are and who can be a hero. To get the children involved prior to the event, he also has his student council create posters to promote the event, and he solicits poems from the student body about St. Jude and the Math-A-Thon program. Last year more than 300 poems were written, including these poems from a second- and a fifth-grade student:

Second-grade student
Roses are red but I am blue,
Because there are children that need St. Jude.

I hope we can help them get better real soon.

I really like math,
It’s more fun than a bath.

Fifth-grade student
Help raise money for the kids that need,
Trust me now, it will be a good deed.

This is a chance to be someone’s hero,
Don’t give it up and be a zero.

To help others will make you feel good,
You really can do it… You know that you should.

Just get some sponsors and do the math,
The Math-A-Thon will lead you down the right path.

Get your friends to join in and not to hide,
For in helping others you get the best feeling inside.

“The prizes are a big part of the excitement, but the overall enthusiasm for the program is generated by the environment we create in the two weeks the program is ongoing,” Freidman says. “It’s a two-week full court press that involves everyone taking part in making it a success.”

Freidman’s advice to other schools in building a successful Math-A-Thon program is to “find a unique structure that works well for your school.” However, he says there are three vital things that must be accomplished: 

“It may seem like a lot of work and planning,” says Freidman. “But when you build an environment where everyone is on board, it doesn’t take much time, especially given the returns that are possible.”


January 2004