SeaTac United offers the SeaTac United Math Academy (SUMA) to elementary school children in the SeaTac area as a way to improve their math abilities while having fun. • Courtesy Photo
SeaTac United offers the SeaTac United Math Academy (SUMA) to elementary school children in the SeaTac area as a way to improve their math abilities while having fun. • Courtesy Photo

What do soccer and math have in common? To the average person, not much. But to Mike Doughty, soccer and math have become inseparable. A pilot for Alaska Airlines, Doughty wanted to create a soccer club that would eventually transition into offering free STEM education for the elementary school students in his community.

Three years later, he is the principal of SeaTac United, and runs the SeaTac United Math Academy (SUMA); a free afterschool program dedicated to teaching math skills to low income and minority children in SeaTac and the surrounding area.

“It’s a drastically different community from when I moved here 20 years ago,” says Doughty. “We have a highly immigrant and underserved population with different needs. The exciting aspect is the tight knit family structures we’ve experienced. They allow us to make a bigger difference because the parents reinforce our efforts at home.”

A culmination of years of effort on the part of Doughty and a team of 50 volunteers, SUMA is part of SeaTac United’s Windmill STEM program. SUMA creates a competitive and fun environment in which elementary school students can improve on their common core math skills. Because it is a volunteer-run organization and is sponsored by Alaska Airline, the program can be offered at no cost to the students.

During the program, SUMA participants are divided into teams of four to five students and compete against each other using Khan Academy, a free online resource that offers educational tutorials.

“It [Khan Academy] is the engine that allows us to turn this into a sporting event. It keeps track of what they have learned and teaches them Common Core, so we’re not fighting the school district or trying to do it better than the school district, were doing the same things they are doing. We just make it awesome fun,” explains Doughty.

By scoring each team’s progress throughout the season, SUMA encourages good-natured competition between the students, all while improving on their math skills. Points are awarded to the students for completing or even simply trying the Khan Academy tutorials. At the end of the season the team with the most points wins the Cup, which is awarded by SeaTac’s Mayor Mia Gregerson. SUMA even encourages students to work on their math at home, offering extra points for Khan Academy tutorials completed during the weekend.

“There is one winner in the end, but it was a party for everybody all the way through, everybody got prizes whether they came in last or first. We did make a big deal out of who won, and the kids loved that,” says Doughty.

SUMA meets at Bow Lake Elementary and at the Matt Griffin YMCA two days a week during their season. Through collaboration with the SeaTac Parks and Recreation, SUMA is able to provide students with transportation to the program as well as a hot meal.

Esperanza, a fourth grade student and member of this season’s winning team, The Cobras, says that she has noticed improvement in her math class at school because of SUMA.

“I really think that the SUMA program is helpful for a lot of people. Being in this program with a lot of leaders that help you is really good,” explains Esperanza.

The leaders of SUMA consist of a group of six to eight high school students who act as coaches to each team, helping their players work through the Khan Academy math problems on their own. Each team and their coaches get to wear uniforms, which Doughty considers an integral part of making SUMA feel like a professional sporting event. Other events such as pre-season, draft day, and play-offs encourage healthy competition between the teams. Perhaps the most exciting event is mock interviews, Doughty says, during which SUMA players are asked about their greatest rivals and goals.

“This is totally fun,” Doughty says. “We’re just trying to create an entertaining environment so they are engaged. The sports theme really seems to strike a chord with our kids and drives them to see math and learning as fun.

As for future seasons, Doughty and other SUMA volunteers are working to create assessments to identify gaps in students’ previous math education. They are also working on creating an online live scoreboard, an element Doughty is especially excited about.

“Anything we add is a bonus,” says Doughty. “They are going to have a great time doing it and they are going to walk into middle school knowing they are good at math and knowing they are good learner.”

Other than SUMA, SeaTac United is working to offer other STEM programs that will benefit our populations. This fall, SeaTac United is partnering with Girls Who Code to offer a computing class to young women in the community. Doughty also dreams of a quad copter building class, but for now he will have to be content with this summer’s Rocketry and Airplane day camp designed for middle school students.

“I’m really impressed with the families,” says Doughty. “We started because we saw a need. We thought we had a novel way to keep kids safe, have fun, and do STEM and love it. The parents have been very responsive and supportive.”

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