When Maria Christina Buckowski took over as principal at St. Anthony School in San Gabriel, elevating the math program was high on her to-do list. “I wanted a program that would help our students’ critical thinking skills but also move forward as students gain new skills,” she says.To that end, Buckowski adopted a relatively new extracurricular endeavor, the First in Math Online Program, which aims to get students into “a math way of mind” through games and healthy competition.The results were more than expected. At the end of this recently-concluded school year, St. Anthony students earned an impressive slot nationally, having excelled in the online program competition — where children received online stickers for tasks accomplished — that involved more than 4,500 schools in the country.In recognition of St. Anthony’s success, Jill Henderson, a representative from Suntex International, the makers of the game, recently visited the school and awarded the students and faculty for consistently holding first or second place in the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the state of California.St. Anthony’s school current First in Math rankings are number one in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, number two in the state of California and 15th in the nation.“Our tiny school — with an enrollment of nearly 150 students — really worked together and this honor really is the result of their dedication and commitment,” says Buckowski. “I’m quite shocked and pleased that we did so well.Throughout the school year at Friday assemblies, top players in each grade and top team in the school were recognized which, as Buckowski explains, “fostered a friendly and healthy competition. The kids love looking at the ‘rankings’ to see how they compare to each other and other schools.”Two of the most enthusiastic players were sixth grader Sidney Flores and eighth grader Marcus Monserrat who were often in a neck-and-neck race for top dog.“Math is one of my favorite subjects and I got more into the concepts with the game,” says Flores who played the game at both computer lab and at home. His biggest cheerleaders? “That would be my parents,” he says.Consequently, Monserrat, also a math-lover, enjoyed playing the game which, as he says, “really gave me the opportunity to improve my math thinking. I wish we had this program when I was [in the younger grades]. I’m kinda bummed I won’t get to play it anymore at this school.”“Girls were just as interested in the game as the boys,” adds sixth grade teacher Efren Salgado who describes a “great energy” about the program that spilled out throughout the campus. “The kids were always ready to go to computer lab,” he says.St. Anthony’s sixth grade class collectively placed first in the archdiocese, fifth in California among all grades and third in the state among all sixth graders. The eighth grade class topped the archdiocese and the state among its peers.While it’s too early to say if these extracurricular games translate into actual higher test scores in math, Salgado says he’s pretty confident that the concepts the kids have been exposed to this year will reflect higher test scores in the fall.“It’s got to have an impact,” Salgado said. “These games kept their minds challenged, and they were so proud of their awards and trophies. They can’t wait until next year. They’ll be ready for anything and everything math.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0624/sgmath/{/gallery}