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Gunn students learn why math matters in new BEAM class

Gunn math teacher Cristina Florea was tired of hearing the same old question: Why do we have to learn all these formulas and equations? That’s why she created the BEAM program three years ago, where students would learn to apply their math skills in business settings. “I wanted my students to put their knowledge to work in the real world and to see why math matters,” Cristina recalled.

6536281BEAM, which stands for Business, Entrepreneurship And Math, attracted just six students in its first year as a lunchtime club, but now it’s a fully accredited class at Gunn. BEAM is so popular at Gunn that Cristina is helping teachers start BEAM programs at other high schools around the area.

What makes the BEAM class unique?

BEAM is a year-long course that immerses students in the business world through three elements: applied math instruction in finance and quantitative marketing, external consulting with a local small business or nonprofit and the optional experience of starting a business.

During the first semester, the BEAM students get a comprehensive overview of applied business math through a curriculum that Cristina created in partnership with local business leaders from Ernst and Young (EY) and Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC). The EY and PwC leaders donated their time in the early stages of BEAM and are still closely involved with Cristina and her students.

Students spend the second semester of BEAM applying what they have learned to real-world problems, working in teams to help local businesses and nonprofits address specific challenges related to growth, profits and audience. Students also have a chance to start their own business, getting advice from local design thinking experts like Donald Olgado of Dfarm.

BEAM gets kids out of the classroom and into the world

“Being part of BEAM requires team building and business skills,” explained Austin, a Gunn freshman who was part of the program last year. “It’s a good first look at the business world and a way to learn about different jobs and companies.”

Echoed Kaitlin, a Gunn sophomore, “BEAM lets me learn what I like to do and the kind of work I want to pursue when I finish high school.”

BEAM creator Cristina Florea with her BEAM students spring 2016. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse

BEAM creator Cristina Florea with her BEAM students spring 2016. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse

Teammates and leaders vs. students and teachers

Another thing that’s unique about BEAM is that Cristina has structured the classroom like a business team. Rather than a teacher in front of the class, there are students elected into key leadership roles, including CEO, a Chief Marketing Officer, and more. Cristina’s job title at BEAM is Chair of the Board.

“We run the class like an organization,” Cristina explained. “I help the students carry out their jobs, but they also help me by taking leadership roles with our external partners and companies.”

BEAM students help businesses tackle real problems

From the YMCA to the City of Palo Alto, local businesses and organizations have signed on to have a BEAM project team offer ideas about how to solve a challenge related to growth, communications, customers, and more.

Neighbors Abroad is a Palo Alto nonprofit that came to BEAM with a simple question: how can we increase enrollment in our exchange programs for high school students?

The BEAM students did market research- polling over 270 Gunn parents and students- and came back to Neighbors Abroad with specific suggestions: reach out to 10th grade families, use Instagram and Facebook to spread the word, and include community service in the trips.

Photo by BEAM

Photo by BEAM

When we sat in on the BEAM presentation, it was clear that the students were excited to share what they had learned, and the Neighbors Abroad board members were eager to hear new ideas for an organization that’s been around since 1963.

“The kids tell me that one of the greatest things about BEAM is that adults are listening to them and taking them seriously,” said Cristina. “My Gunn students are so creative- BEAM gives them a chance to show what they can do.”

Business and community leaders love BEAM

“…Gunn BEAM is an excellent example of a cross-sector partnership,” remarked Lea King, Executive Director of Silicon Valley Talent Partnership on the BEAM website. “We are excited about its long-term impact on students’ academic achievement and career potential.”

“We feel this is an innovative education program that will provide a win-win-win for local students, businesses and the community,” echoed Thomas Fehrenbach, the City of Palo Alto’s Economic Development Manager.

New this year: internships to extend BEAM learning

Two BEAM Gunn students spent this past summer working as interns at TIBCO, a business management platform company based in Palo Alto. The BEAM kids had such a positive impact on TIBCO that the company plans to offer more internship opportunities to Gunn students this year. “TIBCO actually made money from ideas created by our BEAM students,” Cristina explained. “It was a perfect way to extend their classroom learning about business.”

photo by BEAM

photo by BEAM

Learn more about BEAM

To learn more about BEAM, visit the Gunn BEAM Facebook page, or email Cristina Florea at:

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About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.