Math excellence at Mt. Slesse middle

Mt. Slesse has once again topped the University of Waterloo's Pascal Math Contest, this year placing first in the Fraser Valley zone.

Mt. Slesse middle school’s math department took a risk 15 years ago when it revamped its curriculum to a more advanced course load.

That risk is now paying off in dividends.

Mt. Slesse placed first in the 2012 Pascal Math Contest in the Fraser Valley zone, beating out other schools in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission and Hope.

The Pascal is not your typical math test. Forget straight addition, subtraction, multiplication, even algebra. The questions on this test are more like if a bag contains five red, six green, seven yellow, and eight blue jelly beans, and one jelly bean is selected at random, what is the probability of it being blue?

The contest is designed by the University of Waterloo and is open to any student 14 years or younger. The top three scores from each school are added together and the school with the highest points wins.

At Mt. Slesse, 29 math students in the honours program wrote the Pascal; seven were placed on the Pascal honour roll, and one – Russell Chaisson – who scored 144 out of 150 topped the list.

“I think his score will be number one in the province,” said math teacher Jim Gillingham. “Russell is super amazing at math – he’s a once in a 10-year student.”

This is Mt. Slesse’s second first-place finish with the Pascal in four years. The two years previously, it placed second, and in the last 10, has regularly scored in the top three.

Gillingham credits the high expectations of the math department, which starts at the Grade 7 level.

“We changed our programs around and started putting more enriched stuff in,” said Gillingham. “We really tried to put more of a focus on increasing expectations.”

Gillingham admits the change has lowered grades.

“But the thing is, you’re getting a better quality of math student leaving Mt. Slesse,” he said.

Several Mt. Slesse students have left the school and gone into honours programs at the secondary level, and those who stay in regular math, are rising up and becoming A students in the senior programs.

“Nothing really seems to go wrong when you raise the bar,” said Gillingham.

Vedder Middle ranked second on the Pascal, and Highroad Academy third.