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How does a parent sell engineering as a career after skydivers jump for kids?
By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007
[Ken Helle | Times]
TAMPA - Betty Boudreaux admits she panicked a little when she saw the military paratroopers in the main office. She thought the Great American Teach-In was a day to "come in and talk about what you love."
Then she learned how three members of the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team showed what they do for a living. They jumped from a plane 13,000 feet above Lowry Elementary School on a cloudless, crisp Wednesday morning.
Boudreaux arrived at her daughter's second-grade classroom shortly after the crimson smoke that trailed from the paratroopers' feet had cleared. She was carrying a Target shopping bag.
"Who loves math?" she asked with an oversized smile.
Most students raised their hands. Her daughter, Molly, was beaming.
So far, so good. Not every speaker can elicit shrieks from 900 students, like the paratroopers did as they landed on the school playing field.
Such is the peculiarity of the annual career showcase called the Great American Teach-In.
Math of Rice Krispies
A bank branch manager can do her best to drum up interest in balancing a checkbook, but the students still clamor for the autograph of the public works employee operating the Gradall 4100, a monster of a machine used to clean stormwater ditches.
Boudreaux is an industrial safety engineer. Math was her favorite subject.
The 37-year-old mother of two tells the students she uses it every day in her career, dropping in that she wears a hard hat and gets to open up fire hydrants.
"Math can be fun," she said. "You can sneak it into every day."
From her bag, she pulls out a box of Rice Krispies cereal and reads a recipe on the back: Three tablespoons of butter. Ten ounces or 40 marshmallows. Six cups of cereal.
"How do you make two batches of treats?" Boudreaux asks.
Boudreaux calls this sneaky math. She's been doing it for years, starting with asking her daughter to figure out how many diapers were left in the package for her baby brother.
"How many years of school and college are left before I can start my professional career as a superhero," she asks the class. "Because you can be a superhero after college, right?"
At her prompting, the second-graders figure out that most will start driving in 2016, and they have an hour and 17 minutes until lunch.
Before anyone can lose interest, Boudreaux reaches for her bag and announces a problem.
"I've got some treats, but I'm not sure how I can divide them up," she says.
Hands fly into the air. One child pants like a dog as Boudreaux counts out seven yellow packages of Play-Doh minicups.
"Oh no," she exclaims. "Maybe I can't give everybody one."
A bag of treats
Justin Palumbo, one of the students who says he doesn't like math, points out that each package contains three Play-Doh minicups.
"I'm so glad we got to skip a school lesson today to do this," says Boudreaux, with a knowing smile for the teacher. She asks the class to multiply seven times three.
"Mom, we don't know how to do times yet," Molly cries.
Boudreaux helps the students figure it out. They also manage to divide by two, so everyone gets a pack of cards from the wrapped sets of Crazy Eights and Go Fish games that fly out the bag.
The Rice Krispies treats? Not forgotten.
Boudreaux pulls out a box with 16 individually wrapped treats. There are 17 kids in the class today. She hardly has to ask for a count of how many more are needed.
"Will this do it?" she asks, pulling out eight more treats.
She leaves the goodies on the table, along with a pack of white office paper - a treat for the teacher, who announces that Boudreaux is welcome to come back any time.
Outside, Molly rates her mother's performance.
She gets an A-plus.
The paratroopers? A-plus, too.
"Actually, Mom was A-plus-plus-plus-plus," Molly says.
Boudreaux glows. "She knows I have marshmallows left."
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.
[Last modified November 14, 2007, 23:59:52]