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Julia Hetmansky, 13, has struggled with math all her life — until her mother enrolled her in a program designed to increase students’ understanding of numbers.

“I would get B’s and C’s on my tests, and I would get really frustrated, and my mom would try to help me, and we would get in arguments,” Julia, a student at Plum Point Middle School, said. “Before I started Mathnasium, I really hated math.”

Mathnasium, described as a “math learning center,” opened June 16 in Dunkirk by husband and wife Paul and Kama Friedman. The pair decided to open the franchise center in the county after Kama left a finance career after 23 years and was looking to take on a new challenge. After tutoring children in math for free as a hobby for more than 20 years, and with her bachelor’s degree in math and an MBA from the University of Maryland, Kama thought opening a math learning center would be a “perfect fit” for her.

The first Mathnasium Learning Center was opened in 2002 in Los Angeles by Larry Martinek, creator of the Mathnasium Method. More than 35 years ago, Martinek, a public and private school teacher, looked to find a better way to teach the subject. Rather than relying on repetition and memorization, the Mathnasium Method aims to focus students’ attention on building a deep mathematical understanding through a combination of mental, visual and written exercises. It is this method that Kama Friedman believes is making the difference.

“Our goal is to make math make sense to that student,” Kama Friedman said of her business.

With about 50 students enrolled in the center this summer, students from throughout the county, mainly the northern end, and some from southern Anne Arundel County, visit the center to receive help from one of five instructors, who all have different backgrounds, including careers and education, in mathematics.

For Julia’s mother, Vanessa, it is not her daughter’s grades that matter to her; rather, it is the level of understanding that matters most.

“As a mom who loves math, I found her knowledge of what was being taught and learned was not where I wanted my eighth-grader to be,” Vanessa Hetmanksy said. “Her overall grasp of math was not satisfactory. I had some concerns about what was being taught.”

Her concerns, as shared by other parents who bring their children to Mathnasium, Kama Friedman said, are with the new Common Core State Standards.

Vanessa and her family moved to Calvert County from Prince George’s County in 2004 primarily for Calvert County Public Schools. Before, her two older daughters went to a private Catholic school, but Julia started in CCPS and has had, for the most part, a great experience in the school system.

What she has seen improve in her daughter since attending Mathnasium — that wasn’t there before — is her confidence in math, Vanessa Hetmanksy said.

“She is beginning to like math,” she said of her daughter. “She’s taking on the challenges, and her overall attitude has completely turned around.”

That confidence is what Kama Friedman hopes to continue to build for her students beyond the summer when they return to school, where they will not be taught using the Mathnasium Method.

“Children have to understand math and be successful to be happy,” said Kama Friedman, who has noticed some parents bring their children to the center because of frustrations with Common Core.

“Some love it. Some don’t,” Friedman said of the state-mandated standards that were gradually implemented in math and language arts last year.

Under the standards, math is taught differently than how current teachers and parents learned it, making it difficult for some to help their children with their homework. Though Mathnasium does not follow the Common Core State Standards, Kama Friedman said there are multiple methods used to help each student be successful in school.

“I didn’t think kids were going to like coming here,” Friedman said of when she opened her math learning center. “But so far, no one has left crying.”

As she goes into her eighth-grade year, Julia is looking forward to bringing home A’s on her math tests and possibly going back to Mathnasium during the school year if she needs help with her homework.

“You can understand way better than what they teach you in school,” Julia of Huntingtown said. “It’s just really fun, and I actually enjoy doing math and going there every day.”

Monthly membership fees at Mathnasium range from $150 to $350 per month and are dependent on the student’s initial assessment of their understanding.

“Sometimes, a parent may think they’re doing ‘get ahead,’ when really the child needs more ‘catch up’ than they realized,” Kama Friedman said.

“This, to me, is money well spent, especially when I can see the positive outcome,” Vanessa Hetmanksy said. “I can see her confidence building.”

snewman@somdnews.com