As theme music rises and a camera zooms in on television host Michael Cushine, the second-floor studio at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office could easily be mistaken for the set of an evening news program.
There’s an anchor desk, and co-hosts trade banter between segments.
But it isn’t news stories Cushine is sharing with his viewers. It’s math problems called in by Kern County students.
Cushine, a teacher at Stockdale Elementary School’s Gifted and Talented Education program, is in his 11th year hosting
“Do the Math,” a call-in show where homework problems are solved live on the air.
The show gets, on average, about 60 calls a day, and there are four people available to answer them at a telethon-style bank of phones off-camera, including a video phone for the hearing-impaired.
All callers get help, but only a few are selected to go on the air, and the ones who are picked are entered into drawings for prizes. Giveaways include tickets to the California Living Museum and Condors games, and meals from McDonald’s and Johnny Rockets.
Cushine tries to keep the tone of the show light and fun because he’s on a mission to make math less intimidating.
“I think kids today are more comfortable with math and maybe aren’t as terror-stricken as their parents were,” he said. “It sets a tone when parents say, ‘math was my worst subject and I never liked it.’ It doesn’t have to be like that.”
Cushine opens each show with a segment called “Math in the News.” On a recent Wednesday — the last show before the district was to begin airing reruns over the holiday break — the topic was PNC Wealth Management’s 29th annual survey of what it would actually cost to buy a partridge in a pear tree and other items in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song.
The 364 purchases (the total for each time a gift is mentioned) would cost $107,300.24 in 2012, up 6.1 percent from last Christmas, Cushine reported before explaining how PNC arrived at those figures.
Next, the camera cut to a white dry-erase board where Rosedale Middle School teacher Marylou Long and West High School teacher Chuck Kropp took turns explaining answers to callers in fourth through 12th grade.
One wanted to know how much 15 gallons of gas would cost at $4.15 a gallon. Another wanted help converting fractions to decimals for placement on a number line. Still another wanted to figure out the value of c in this brain buster: 4 (c+3)-(c-1)=64.
Josiah Quiroz, 12, is a regular caller who enjoys watching the show.
“I call when I’m having trouble,” he said. “I like math, and you can win prizes and stuff.”
His mother, Francis Quiroz, appreciates the show, too, because it’s been years since she’s had to solve math problems regularly.
“Sometimes between school and home they forget the formulas,” she said. “I can do up to Algebra 1 or so, but I don’t always know the answers.”
Bella Reyes, 10,, is especially grateful to have the show when she’s missed school for some reason.
“I really like math. It’s one of my favorite subjects. But sometimes it’s hard for me, like if I’ve been sick or something,” she said.
Her mother, Mariane Reyes, watches the show with her and is impressed by the quality of the teaching.
“They’re really good at giving clear instructions to kids in a way that’s easy for them to understand, and sometimes they won’t just show them one way to solve the problem, but two or three so they can choose the way that’s easiest for them to understand.”
“Do the Math” is funded by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office, Bakersfield City School District, Chevron, Occidental of Elk Hills and Panama-Buena Vista Union School District.
KCSOS hasn’t been able to track what kind of impact “Do the Math” has had over the last decade because it has no way of knowing who’s watching. But there are plans to do that in collaboration with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kern County early next year, said KCSOS spokesman Rob Meszaros.
The district will test children in the clubs’ after-school program, then have them watch the show for 12 weeks and test them again to see if there’s any improvement.
In the meantime, Cushine has to be satisfied with the accolades he receives when he’s out and about and recognized by a fan.
“They’ll stop me and say, ‘Hey, aren’t you the math guy?’” he said. “And then they tell me how much we’ve helped them. We have kids who started watching us in fifth grade and they’re in high school now. They’ve grown up with the show.”
For his part, Cushine can’t believe he’s lucky enough to host it.
“It’s so fun. I’m having a great time, and the fact that they’re paying me to do it is just a bonus,” Cushine said.