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It turned into a day of illumination for Clark Lane kids ... and adults

Waterford — OK. Bad math joke:

Why was the student afraid of the y-intercept?

She was afraid to be stung by the b.

I know.

Terrible.

But there are kids at Clark Lane Middle School today who probably like that one. They're big into linear equations over there.

That's because they lived one for much of the spring. Go figure. Who knew education could be so practical?

Clark Lane became the region's home office for real-life learning last Friday during its effortlessly cool, second annual walk-a-thon that not only raised more than $20,000 for various local charities and programs, but combined the athletic, academic and social into a day of illumination.

Athletic: They got off their ascots, not to mention their phones, and walked eight miles: eight loops of one mile around the school. Some teachers walked, too, while others offered hydration, cheers and refreshing douses with the hose. There was even a play-by-play announcer, math teacher Kelly Barnes, who did the DJ thing, complete with some cheerleading, needling and her musings on life in general.

Academic: The walk, the brainchild of math teacher Jay Gionet, was a real-time math lesson. Gionet made its every detail part of a linear equation, using real-time data within a classroom — and later schoolwide — activity. The project is called "Finding Solutions For Others As We Find Solutions In Math."

Social: The money raised, through pledges and donations, introduced students to a number of local programs: The Stephanie Turowski Scholarship Fund (a Waterford grad and teacher who died earlier this school year); Big Red Memorial Fund (providing equipment and registration fees for kids to participate in sports); Safe Futures (helping people and families affected by domestic violence); Waterford Youth Services; Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation; Camp Rising Sun (for children fighting cancer); Heifer International (committed to ending world hunger and poverty); the VFW and Special Olympics/Unified Sports.

And so the kids and teachers walked last Friday, a day for everyone in and out of Waterford to appreciate innovation within our schools. Surely, a bunch of middle school kids, walking eight miles in hot sun, would get a bit cranky. None of that here. It looked like the Von Trapp family gathered for a picnic.

"A few years ago, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and we learned more about the Terri Brodeur walk," Gionet said. "We walked the 26 miles and raised $2,000 in pledges. In walking the course, I thought 'I can make a math lesson out of this; it's very natural.'"

Stand back. He's rolling.

"Back when we were kids, we learned about linear equations, y=mx+b," Gionet said. "The y-intercept is the starting point. How much it increases by is your slope. Kids get pledges and donations (there are equations in evidence of this all over his classroom) for three days. Before we start walking, we have $1,900, which is our starting point. The goal is to walk eight miles, with pledges per mile.

"Math teachers write their equations in individual rooms and then it becomes a school equation," he said. "Once the kids understand how the equation works, they can apply it to real life."

Hmmm. Math applied to real life. Shall we discuss?

Many of us prefer to think of intercepts as things Tom Brady never throws and slopes as the province of Bode Miller. Heck, Tom Eshenfelder, who charts all the races on Kentucky Derby Day at the Birdseye, likes to say, "if I paid attention to math this much in school, I'd be working for NASA right now."

But this endeavor, with the intrigue of how much money can be raised, the inspiration of helping the community and the enjoyment of walking about outside with your friends, actually adds to their understanding of math.

"I hear it from high school teachers," Gionet said. "I used to teach in East Lyme and started this over there. I'd hear 'oh you're the teacher that does the walk-a-thon. Your kids really understand linear equations. They break it down. There's the y-intercept, there's the slope and that's how it will increase.'"

This program's tentacles are inspirational, none more so than sending three kids to Camp Rising Sun last summer. Eighth grader Milly Walker, whose sister, Marissa, has become a local celebrity for having beaten cancer, suggested the Camp Rising Sun idea.

Not many better ways to spend an afternoon, in or out of school.

"I remember people at Millstone asking me why I was leaving," Gionet said. "I was making a very good living. I came here and made $16,000 a year. But being able to see the kids and share real world experiences is why I come to school every day.

"We get great support from all the teachers and our administration. All of us. The walk-a-thon brings the whole school community together."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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