Women Making a Difference: Teenager creates non-profit to help children learn math

HOUSTON – When you're a kid, fractions and decimals can be scary for some.

But when Sofia Ivanka was in fourth grade, she wrote the book--literally.

"When I was nine I wrote a book for fourth-graders, so it's called Fourth Grade Math Rules,” Ivanka said. “And I used to help my friends and tutor them who struggled in math. Then I did the same in fifth grade."

Ivanka, who is now 18 and a freshman at Harvard University, attended a Montessori school in her younger years. She’s used what she learned there -- and how she learned it -- to pass on new ways of learning to other young children.

She said that she writes her textbooks in ways that are easy for kids to understand.

"For fractions I would use examples like pizza or Oreos and different things that were interesting to me," Ivanka said.

But writing textbooks wasn’t enough for Ivanka, at 11 years old she decided to create her own non-profit to expand her efforts.

With the help of her mother and a group of friends, Sofia founded “Building Smart Kids.”

"Our mission is to deliver Montessori-quality education at a low student-to-teacher ratio in underprivileged areas,” Ivanka said.

She would travel to different schools to help administer her various after-school-programs, using her own textbooks to coordinate her material with each school’s curriculum and engaging students in activities to stimulate various methods of learning.

She noticed positive results, even in students who seemed unwilling at first.

"A lot of (parents) were really worried about (if their kids were) going to pass the grade,” Ivanka said. “They failed the STAAR test at the beginning of the year, and now, they're in the top 10 percent of their class. So it's really rewarding and satisfying to see that."

Ivanka said that you're never too young to make an impact. In fact, it might be one of her strongest assets.

"After they see the results I think they start to understand how important it is for the tutor to really relate to the student and talk in the same language that he or she does,” she said.

Now, Building Smarter Kids administers after school programs in five schools, with 10 tutors who volunteer for at least a year at a time.

Ivanka said she’s had so much success with “Building Smart Kids,” across the Houston-area and decided to take what she learned to employ her efforts on an international scale.

Her organization is partnering with a non-profit group in Mumbai India called “Prerana,” whose focus is to protect women and children from the sex trafficking industry.

“Building Smart Kids,” will supplement their efforts by providing materials to teach children English.

To learn more about Sofia Ivanka and her organization, click link to visit her website.

To donate to Building Smart Kids, click link here.