Ready to Learn Program Teaches Social Justice Mathematics to Middle Schoolers

Lucia Mogilyansky aims to make math fun for her students in the Ready to Learn (RTL) program of the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.

“I love working with middle schoolers, and I have a secret love of algebra that I usually don’t express, so the program seemed like a good fit,” says Mogilyansky (BA’ 21, History and Creative Writing).

She is one of 19 tutoring mentors from CUE who are providing the after-school experience to Pittsburgh Public Schools students in grades 6 – 8 from University Prep, Westinghouse Academy, Pittsburgh SciTech, and Manchester Academic Charter School.

Students participating in RTL use ALEKS, an adaptive math software powered by artificial intelligence, and work on social justice math projects to apply the math concepts they are learning to analyze real world problems. RTL Math Mentors use the PL^2 app, designed by Carnegie Mellon University through the Personalized Learning Squared initiative to build their skills as tutors.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Heinz Endowments, RTL is an after-school mentoring program focused on building students’ mathematical competence, confidence as a math learner and critical consciousness. According to CUE, proficiency in mathematics is a gateway to high-paying jobs in the 21st century that can help to bridge the gap of generational inequalities in income and opportunity.

Through the RTL program, approximately 40 middle school students participated in fall 2020 and spring 2021 — shifting their work to virtual settings amid the pandemic.

In April, the students presented their projects over Zoom to fellow students, mentors, school leaders, parents, community members, and Pitt and Carnegie Mellon faculty and staff members.

“The social justice math presentations are important to the overall RTL program because they help our students to build critical thinking skills and social consciousness by applying math to real- world situations and using data to understand what is happening in the world,” says CUE  Director of Special Projects Cassandra Brentley.

One of Mogilyansky’s mentees worked on a presentation about sweatshop conditions for Nike and Adidas workers. Other presentation topics included coronavirus and access to care, cost of war, labor exploitation, school suspensions, and wage inequality.

“The presentation that stood out to me the most was a presentation from one of our 8th grade students at University Prep,” says Brentley. “She is very passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement and researched systemic racism as it relates to policing.”

While the presentations showed off how much the middle schoolers learned, the students weren’t the only ones who gained a lot from this experience.

“I learned many general teaching things like how vital structure and routine are to a classroom, how students can get motivated, and the importance of engaging in student’s’ hobbies and interests,” says Mogilyansky.

These are lessons Mogilyansky will take with her when she starts the MOSAIC program for teacher certification at Pitt Education in fall 2021.

Learn more

The Ready to Learn program is actively seeking University of Pittsburgh student mentors. Apply now. For questions, contact Cassandra Brentley at

The Center for Urban Education is one of the many centers and institutes at the Pitt School of Education. It focuses its research and service around three areas: community partnership and engagement, educator development and practice, and student academic and social development.