ENGLEWOOD - For Iswari Natarajan, she spends every day in school challenging her students in Advanced Placement calculus at St. Mary's Academy. Last spring, 25 of them from the all-girl school in Englewood surprised her by all scoring 5s on their AP exams.
"I took a few double takes because when I saw it, I saw that all students get 5s. I didn't know if I was reading it right," Natarajan said.
She taught all 25 students in AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC during the previous school year. Advanced Placement exams allow students to earn college credit if they score well on a five point scale.
Credit is given to students who score a 3,4,or 5 on the test. A score of 5 is the highest possible score.
"I was very happy for my students, very proud," Natarajan said.
Darryl Filmore remembers feeling jittery heading into the test.
"There were a lot of nerves and I wouldn't say I was particularly confident," Filmore, St. Mary's Academy senior, said. "I was kind of the class pessimist."
When Filmore and her classmate Madeline Moore found out that everyone had received a 5, they felt accomplished.
"To hear that our whole entire class had gotten a five, I mean, it's amazing," Moore said. "I was really happy, but I wasn't surprised at all."
Moore and Filmore say Natarajan's passion for math is contagious. And, she is always there to offer support.
"Just her will to help the students and how devoted she is to each of us," Fillmore said.
Natarajan says the reason science and engineering fields are filled predominantly by males is not because of the material itself.
"Somewhere along the line, I often ask what is it about math you don't like?" Natarajan said. "It's about how they felt when they got frustrated and they have help."
So, she tries to make calculus exciting and fun while challenging her students in every class.
"We are a little ready to fail. It's okay to fail a little bit along the way," Natarajan said. "We just persevere through it and I often talk about, you know these girls have a lot of grit."
Grit and pressure. She expects her her new calculus class to repeat the feat.
"Imagine they are filling shoes of students who've got all fives," Natarajan said.
She believes her students can do it. She believes her girls can change the demographics of who is involved in science, technology, engineering, and math.
"Even today if you see in the STEM industry, it's still dominated by men quite a bit and I think the change has to happen here at the high school level," Natarajan said. "To teach higher math, something like calculus to girls is extremely rewarding."
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