I visited Bryant Elementary School last week to check out a success story. The school has an extracurricular program called Bryant Math...

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I visited Bryant Elementary School last week to check out a success story.

The school has an extracurricular program called Bryant Math Champions.

I was told it’s one of the few in which kids in regular classes compete successfully with students from “highly capable” programs.

Of course, Bryant isn’t exactly a slacker school.

It’s in the Ravenna-Bryant neighborhood just north of the University of Washington and has the kind of demographics that scream success.

But I thought maybe there was a lesson in what works there that could help less blessed schools.

About 23 Bryant kids were sharpening their skills in a competition against 11 students from The Evergreen School in Shoreline.

Evergreen is a private school for highly capable students.

The kids were having fun tackling tests alone and in four-person teams.

It was a warm-up for the state competition held in Blaine on Saturday.

Gil Flanagan, the coordinator of Bryant Math Champions, said the kids do well against the 100 or more teams they face at the state competition.

Many of the opponents are from private schools or accelerated programs in public schools.

Flanagan said higher-level math is part of the regular class work at those schools.

Volunteers teach higher-level math to the Bryant kids.

Flanagan first volunteered when his son was a fifth-grader in 1992-93, and he stayed on coaching and coordinating.

Each team takes time out of class twice a week to meet with its volunteer coach.

Principal Linda Robinson said she and teachers are willing to free kids from class because they benefit so much.

The students have to keep up with the work in the math classes they are missing, but most of them would be bored without the extra challenge.

That kind of administrative flexibility is a big plus.

Flanagan, a former high-school math teacher, pointed out some of the parent-volunteers who were sitting around a table in tiny chairs grading papers between rounds.

That guy is a UW math professor. The woman over there is an associate dean and a professor of electrical engineering.

Parents like that help Bryant hang with those other programs.

But what does that mean for schools that lack those advantages?

Sometimes the compensation has to come from teachers.

The approach the math coaches take doesn’t have to be extracurricular.

Flanagan’s counterpart at Evergreen, Sue Stillman, recently retired after 35 years of teaching.

She said she was a low performer in math until about the fifth grade. A teacher helped make the concepts concrete and shaped her way of teaching.

It’s like solving puzzles. When a student runs into a wall, she supplies the tool to solve that particular problem.

Because the students work in groups, they learn not only math, but social skills.

They learn not to give up. Each problem has a solution. You just have to find the right tool. That’s a good lesson.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.