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FIM News

Florida School Achieves First In Math Honor
For Fourth Straight Year

WESTON, FL—For the fourth straight year, students from Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston, FL have secured a First In Math® Online Program National Championship.

Manatee Bay 2016 FIM Champs
Caption: The Top Ten players in the school, along with Principal Heather Hedman-DeVaughn, bottom right. Back row, far left: FIM rep Mark Losey and Gigi Forsman, Broward County's Elementary Math Supervisor—far right is Laurie Rich Levinson, School Board of Broward County member. Far right middle row, former student Janae Bell.

In the All Schools National Ranking, the Top 100 Students at Manatee Bay averaged 17,660 Stickers per student, breaking the record they set last year of 17,158 stickers per student.

In addition, Mantee Bay had four teams among the Top Ten Teams in the Nation, All Grades: Alive71fl - Team Leader Annejeanette Washington (3rd); Silk43fl - Team Leader Samuel Allison (4th); Flair97fl - Team Leader Lisa Weingartner (7th) and Skill47fl - Team Leader Lisa Leider (10th).

Principal Heather Hedman-DeVaughn—a driving force for First In Math success at Manatee Bay—is understandably proud. "My message to students was to see and feel the power of when individuals get together for a common purpose. They have proved that individually we can do great things—but collectively we can do even more! I am so proud of them and so fortunate to have teachers who lead and encourage this kind of life changing success."

Long-time First In Math Florida representative Mark Losey has been to the Broward County school several times, but this visit left him even more impressed. “My word for Manatee Bay is persistent,” says Losey. “They just don’t give up on a goal.”

According to Losey, the entire Manatee Bay community exhibits what FIM creator Robert Sun likes to call ‘Social Math’ at it's finest. “Through First In Math, and with the guidance of some amazing educators, these students have been practicing the four C's that lead to 21st-Century skill acquisition all year long,” says Losey.

Losey spells out the four C’s as: “COMMUNICATING together to encourage and lend guidance, COLLABORATING to maximize progress for each minute invested, CRITICAL THINKING and solving problems—not just with math but with time constraints, access constraints, naysayers, and any other inhibitors keeping them from their ultimate goal—and last but not least, CREATIVITY, including developing advanced strategies to keep excitement and the energy level high all year to reach a goal.”

In addition to Losey, there was also a surprise guest. Janae Bell was in fifth grade when Manatee Bay initially brought in the First in Math program. This fall she will begin her sophomore year at Harvard. “Janae attributed her First in Math experience as one that helped lead her to such a high level of success—that means a lot to all of us,” says Losey. 

Lisa Weingartner was Bell’s fifth-grade teacher, and remains an active advocate for First In Math, leading one of this year’s top four teams in the nation.

Texas International Baccalaureate School
Celebrates First In Math Success

HOUSTON, TX—Wilson Academy, part of the Aldine Independent School District, is proud to be home to the top-ranked First In Math team, among all sixth-grade teams, in Texas. They are also ranked 24th nationally at the sixth-grade level.

Wilson Academy Top Sixth-grade Team
Left to right: Sixth-grade Math Teacher and First in Math Team Leader Monica Leija; Christina Duong; Johnny Ho; Renny Hoang and Principal Dana Baker.

“I couldn’t wait to share the news and celebrate our sixth grade First In Math State Champions,” says proud sixth-grade math Teacher Monica Leija. “I am very excited about what these students have accomplished.“ The team averaged 7,885 Stickers per student.

“I want to especially congratulate the top three scorers on the 'ACE75TX' Championship team—who were also the top three players in the state: Johnny Ho (19,270 stickers), Christina Duong (18,866 stickers) and Renny Hoang (18,750 stickers),” says Leija. “These were their totals at the end of April, but I am happy to report that these students are continuing to achieve and earn more stickers.”

Uwe Langhammer, Wilson Instructional Technology Specialist, is excited about what all of the students have accomplished. “Wilson students solved more than THREE MILLION math problems during the FIM competition on their way to becoming the top-ranked intermediate school in Texas.”

First In Math Texas representative Tony Morrow monitored the school’s progress and stayed in contact throughout the year. “Many thanks to Tony, his constant support during the year was a big help,” says Langhammer.

Wilson Academy is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. Founded in 1968, the IB is a program of international education “designed to help students develop intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.”

First In Math: Upper Merion Area Teachers Like it,
Students Love It

KING OF PRUSSIA, PA—It is always a thrill to highlight positive inroads to math education made by schools and districts that implement First In Math, and Upper Merion Area School District is one such example.

Caley ES First Grade FIM Team of the Week
Meridith McKee’s 1st grade class at Caley Elementary School.

“Our students are loving First in Math,” says Sean W. Gardiner, Ed.D., Director of STEM Education Curriculum and Instruction for the Upper Merion Area School District. “During one of our recent 4th grade Variety Shows, a student listed First in Math as one of her hobbies. Pretty cool!”

Gardiner says enthusiasm for First In Math is high among teachers and parents, as well. One teacher described her feeling for the First In Math program very succinctly: “Overwhelmingly positive.” In fact, Gardiner relayed so many wonderful teacher comments that we decided to share them with you, as-is!

“I absolutely love First in Math.  My kids started the year (based on my SLO) averaging 0/20 known multiplication facts.  Based on their January SLO assessment they are now averaging 17/20.  I attribute this directly to First in Math. Overall I love the program, how the kids are progressing, and the direct correlation it has with mastering the basic facts.”

“First in Math has been great for my students. It provides review/practice of many different concepts. I like the Player of a Day, and so do my students—they ask me every morning who the Player of the Day is but they already know, because they are checking every morning before school!”

“The kids seem to really enjoy it. We have played it during our computer time and they all get excited about earning stickers. It's nice to see them enthusiastic while doing math!  In the past, there have always been some kids who complain about websites—but I haven't had one complaint yet.”

“The program is great fun for students and leaves a positive taste about ‘math’ in their mouths. Good for both reinforcement and extension.”

“The kids really love it. I love that they are practicing their facts for later problem solving.”

“My 5th graders are obsessed with First In Math, and they get excited about being one of the top classes.”

“I really like using First in Math in class.  Even when I don't assign it, students will choose to play. I like that they can play a game quickly, or spend more time on other games depending on how much time they have.”

“I began to show them how I can see what areas they have practiced and mastered—which was exciting. It is also a great tool to be able to show them how to challenge themselves. They do gravitate to where they feel confident, but they are starting to branch out.”

“Most of the students in my classroom seem to really love First in Math. It seems to be motivating to them and it seems like it is holding their interest.”

“I use First in Math mostly as a warm-up activity for the skill deficits that I see in the students.  They spend a lot of time in the integers and fractions sections now to bolster their basic skills.”

First In Math Ambassador Honored with
Power of One Award

DREXELBROOK, PA—At their Annual Spring Fling fundraising event, the Metropolitan Philadelphia Area Chapter (MPAC) of the Continental Societies, Inc. presented First In Math Ambassador, Cred U. Dobson, with a Power of One Award.

Cred Dobson Receives Power of One Award
Left: Event Co-Chair Madeline Brown presents the Power of One Award to Dobson. Right: Dobson gifts an illustration of the famous Little Rock Nine—signed by Minnijean Brown-Trickey—to MPAC President Jackie Greene.

MPAC President Jacqueline Greene explained that five focus areas—health, education, employment, recreation, arts & humanities—guide the organization’s mission: “to create environments within our communities that empower children in Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery counties to have access to quality and appropriate opportunities to reach their optimal potential.”

Each year, individuals and/or companies who exemplify the MPAC mission are recognized. Dobson, a life-long Philadelphia educator, was one of four 2016 honorees. After accepting his award, Dobson presented Greene with a signed illustration of the “Little Rock Nine” to recognize her contributions to the Society and her unwavering dedication to children.

Madeline Brown, event co-chair, says that MPAC doubled its efforts to exceed last year’s scholarship fundraiser, allowing them to support more young people who are about to begin college or who are currently enrolled in college.

The April 12 event was attend­ed by approximately 650 guests from as far away as New York and Washington, D.C., and was received a full-page feature in the “Out & About” column in the Lifestyles section of the Philly Tribune.

Continental Societies, Inc. is an international philanthropic and public service organization founded in 1956 and incorporated nationally in 1972. The organization is composed of more than 43 chapters in 17 states, the District of Colombia and Bermuda and has served more than one million children over the last five years.

Principal and Peers Recognize Eighth-Grader’s Dedication, Success

PHILADELPHIA, PA—Eighth-grader Tyquaill Thomas has attended 16 schools since kindergarten, but when he walks through the doors at Dobson Elementary School in Philadelphia, he knows he has finally found a school that he looks forward to attending every day.

Thomas enjoys his Lunch with the Principal

It’s been a long road and Thomas has overcome many obstacles. These days, he feels a great sense of pride about his recent academic accomplishments, and great dedication to both his school and the community.

“This school holds you up to the best standards possible,” says Thomas, whose road to success began when the First In Math program was introduced just before winter break. A contest was presented to the students—the top 15 scorers over break would have lunch with Interim Principal Marco Zanoni.

Before leaving AMY Northwest, Zanoni led that school to National Top-Ten status within the First In Math program. Zanoni accepted the interim position at Dosbon ES in October, 2015.

“Marco is back in action, and it’s great to see how he always puts children first—I love this guy,” says former educator and First In Math Ambassador Cred Dobson, who has worked with Zanoni in some capacity for more than 30 years. “Marco likes to meet, talk to and get to know each of the students in the school individually—that is why he does these things like this.”

“The students always enjoy contests,” says school secretary Michelle Cohen. The contest was indeed motivating for Thomas, who set a personal goal to be #1 in the First In Math program by the end of Winter Break.

"Mathematics is not about numbers, equations; it is about understanding,” says Thomas, who says he enjoys the challenges offered on the First In Math site.

“This young man’s success is somewhat of a personal point of pride—if you only could understand the back story of this amazing kid,” says Zanoni. “I was delighted to see that his FIM luncheon—and his achievement—was celebrated by his peers all over the school.”

Visit Our Booth at the San Francisco NCTM Exposition

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Educators! Join the First In Math team—and more than 9,000 of your peers—at the 2016 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Meeting & Exposition April 14-16 in San Francisco.

NCTM 2016 Exposition 

During exhibit hours, Thursday through Saturday, First In Math representatives will be at Booth 431 to give one-on-one demonstrations and answer your questions about how to create the most effective implementation. Ask us why First In Math® is the most effective, cost-efficient supplemental math program available—and how our digital-gaming technology has helped “build a bridge to student success” since 2002.

March Math Madness Part of a Larger Goal
For DC Public Schools

WASHINGTON, DC—First In Math March Math Madness once again swept through the Washington D.C. Public Schools, creating a buzz around mathematics in classrooms throughout the district. “The play was incredible—and unpredictable,” says Lauren Allen, Coordinator of STEM Integration for the Office of Teaching and Learning, DCPS.

 “I am very excited to see how much this event has grown each year,” says First In Math creator Robert Sun. “I want to congratulate all participants, and recognize the top sticker-earner during the month of March, Beverly Lee, from Watkins ES.”

Top-scorer Beverly Lee
Left: Top-scorer Beverly Lee uses First in Math almost daily. According to her teacher, Elizabeth O'Donnell, Beverly loves to earn stickers for the class, and sometimes gets up at 6 a.m. to log in and play!  Right: The final bracket, and a Goals Index icon.

During the three-week elimination-style playoff, schools have to solve more math problems per-student than their opponent—over a two-day period—to advance. Grade level or proficiency doesn’t matter as there are hundreds of modules that can engage any skill level—what matters is effort and persistence in math practice. “We look only at growth during each round,” explains Allen.  After a tie between Eaton ES and Van Ness ES in the Elite Eight round, the Final Four became five as Key ES, Patterson ES, Stuart-Hobson MS, Eaton ES and Van Ness ES battled to advance to the Championship round.

Van Ness Elementary emerged victorious over Key ES in the Championship round. Teacher Michelle Johnson took to social media with this message: “Congrats to our hard working Van Ness Otters for winning the Math Madness Competition!”

March Math Madness was one of two First In Math competitions held this year to engage students. Patterson ES won the Fall Fact Face-Off, which motivated schools to integrate FIM into their classrooms. While exciting, competitions such as these are not the only tools to help reach schools, according to Suntex Executive Vice President Nan Ronis.

“At the start of this school year, DCPS Math Director David Goodrich established a district objective that called for all schools to reach a First In Math Goal Index of at least 50. Teams and students would focus on that target—the interest in sustained activity being part of the school-year priority,” explains Ronis.

Ronis says that the importance of positive math experiences for young students cannot be emphasized enough, which is why tracking progress, setting goals and making math a real-world experience matter. Sun agrees. “When young children are actively engaged—in motivating activities like the DCPS/First In Math event—we are setting them on the road to real exploring and learning. Motivating the youngest learners and instilling a love of math is so vital.”

In the grades 3-8 category, schools such as Ross ES (77.2) and Hardy MS (59.7) have already surpassed the goal. Many others—Stuart-Hobson MS (46.9), Key ES (43.6) and Eaton ES (42.7)—are getting close. It is no coincidence that many of these schools performed well in the Math Madness tournament. “Ross ES boasts a perfect 25 out of 25 on the Activity Index and a whopping 21.2 on the Fact Fluency Index – those are great numbers, and show that their students are ahead of the curve where basic math skills are concerned,” says Ronis.

Students Make A Strong Case for First In Math

SAN DIEGO, CA—In March, a group of Valencia Park Elementary students who call themselves “Crockett’s Achievers” wrote a proposal to their teacher, Tamyka Crockett, offering 20 reasons why the First In Math Online program should be purchased for their classroom.

Crockett's Achievers
All 19 “Crockett’s Achievers” from Room 204 at Valencia ES contributed to the First In Math proposal.

Crockett shared the letter with Principal Lori Moore, who requested a meeting with some of the students. “The students prepared their evidence to argue the claim that First in Math is beneficial for all. These future leaders, lawyers, and CEOs convinced Ms. Moore—and a panel—that First in Math is worth the time and money to improve math fluency school wide,” says Crockett.

Each student offered a reason, and together they added one more, for a total of 20 reasons why they felt First in Math was necessary to their math education. Here are some highlights:

•  It allows you to practice skills in depth. (Yehira)
•  Everyone in the school will have access. Students with iPads can’t use some
    other programs. (Mason)
•  It helps with math fluency. (Anthony)
•  First in Math is challenging. (Kassidy)
•  First in Math is fun! (Kaelyn)
•  You have opportunities to try again without feeling bad. (Chloe)
•  More choices, you don’t feel stuck. (Ajani)
•  You can control your learning. (Melanie R)
•  Sound effects and graphics are modern. (Marissa)
•  Headphones aren’t a necessity. (Alyson)
•  First in Math updates with new games. (Julissa)
•  We like the announcements for Player and Team of the Week. (Melanie A)
•  Competition among fellow students. (Alexander)
•  Families can play together! (Room 204)

Principal Moore believes that the First In Math program should be a good fit for her students. “We are one of four schools in the San Diego Unified School District that received a three-year grant to build STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math) at our school. This will enable us to integrate rigorous academic concepts with real world experiences.”

Crockett is proud of her students, and she enjoys working with them every day. “Teaching is my passion. These students want to learn, and the letter they wrote to me is a great example of that. I see great things in these kids as learners—and as people.”

First In Math Speaks Many Languages

FREDRICKSBURG, VA—During the annual Family Math Expo held by Stafford County schools, an ESL teacher looking for some help with a few students not fluent in English wandered into the First In Math lab.

3 Students - New FIM Language feature

“She did not know much about First In Math, and at first probably wondered why I was trying to show her how a mathematics program could help out with her language issues,” says long-time First In Math Virginia representative Brock Estes.

Estes showed her First In Math in several languages on his Mac laptop, and also had the computer read some questions aloud from the Know & Show 5&6 module. “She loved it, of course. Aside from being impressed by the power of the program just for the math itself, I think she saw quickly how math could be another way to work with her kids, whereas before she was almost entirely focused on the language arts arena and other textual studies.”

“First In Math has always been a top-notch math supplement that I recommend to all my schools, but I think this multiple language feature can have a significant impact in many classrooms, and I am excited to be able to offer it, says Estes.”

How does it work? By taking advantage of some already-existing technology that is native to Apple (Mac) devices.

“We recently upgraded our architecture so that we can now offer the entire FIM site—including all the Know & Show word problems—in almost any language,” says First In Math creator Robert Sun. “K&S word problems can also be read aloud in Spanish, or any other language, using the text-to-audio features built into any Mac.”

Currently, any computer, laptop or tablet with an iOS operating system running the Google Chrome browser can provide automatic language translation on the fly—written on the screen, or read aloud. (FIM programmers are working to document easy instructions that will help schools enable this feature for PCs, as well.)

Sun sees this expanded access as an important feature for ESL students—and their families. “Because First In Math offers parents their own User ID and Password through the Family Link feature, showing Spanish speaking parents how to access First In Math in their native language may serve as a more welcoming invitation to participate in their child’s education.”

Two Top First In Math Schools Garner State Recognition

TALLAHASSEE, FL—Two perennial First In Math powerhouses, Manatee Bay Elementary and Indian Trace Elementary, earned a spot on the Florida Department of Education’s list of top-ranked schools in Broward County.

2013 FIM Champs - Manatee Bay ES
A blast from the past: Manatee Bay students were First In Math National Champions in 2013.

According to the February 12, 2016 release, Manatee Bay ranked #5 and Indian Trace ranked #9 among all Broward County schools in mathematics.

“These two schools have been nationally-ranked among the top 10 schools—all grades—in the First In Math program for years,” says Robert Sun, creator of the online mathematics supplement. “Congratulations to all of the students, teachers and administrators in Broward County who have long supported the First In Math program, and the quest for quality mathematics education.”

According to First In Math representative Mark Losey, these rankings are based on 5th-grade Florida Mathematics assessment scores, which are aligned to Common Core Standards.

During the 2014-15 school year, Manatee Bay 5th-graders averaged 11,724 stickers earned per student, equivalent to 35,170 math problems correctly-solved by each student. Indian Trace’s 3,538-sticker average among fifth-graders equals 10,614 correctly-solved problems per student.

“The type of steady practice that First In Math offers helps students master procedural skills and achieve the fluency essential to building a solid foundation in mathematics,” says Losey. “In addition, the program is very motivational, and students often participate voluntarily during non-school hours.”

Fourteen Broward County schools considered high-activity users of the First In Math online program during the 2014/2015 school year received an “A” grade from the Florida Department of Education.

First In Math Creator Robert Sun
Basks in Indian Hospitality

TAMILNADU, INDIA—On his first voyage to India in December 2015, Robert Sun, creator of the award-winning First In Math educational program, got a taste of traditional Indian hospitality—where the guest is royalty.

His arrival was heralded by a large group of students and educators from Shree Sarasswathi Vidhyaah Mandheer (SSVM) World School, who came to the Coimbatore airport to receive Sun and welcome him to a two-week tour of India.  Donning hand-made badges and bearing flags with his picture, they garlanded Sun with fresh flowers and draped him in the traditional silk shawl.

Bharatnatyam classical dance recital 
Many greetings, meetings and feasts kept Sun busy during his two-week visit to India. Among other engagements, he was a featured speaker at the 76th IPSC Principal’s Conclave held at The Lawrence School, Ooty. Above, two dancers perform a classical dance recital.

At SSVM, Dr. Manimekalai Mohan, founder and managing trustee, along with her husband, S.Mohan Doss, trustee, and lead administrator, Mr. Karthikeyan, welcomed Sun with a garland of 1001 fresh cardamoms. Later, students performed the traditional Indian Bharatnatyam classical dance recital in front of a gorgeously-decorated, hand-painted backdrop celebrating the elements of the First In Math program.

SSVM’s top First In Math player, Narain Loganathan, offered insightful words in a speech that preceded an even more inspiring address by Sun to the entire faculty, students and several hundred parents.

In addition to enjoying the speakers, the guest of honor was impressed with the entertainment. “The dancers were incredible, everything was so colorful and rich,” says Sun, who explains that his description of the dancers could also be applied to the local cuisine. “The meals were delicious and so well-prepared.”

Sun enjoys a traditional banana leaf lunch.
Sun enjoys a traditional banana leaf lunch.

“The reception I received at the airport, at SSVM—and really from everyone in India—was so warm and such an honor,” says Sun.

We look forward to publishing several additional reports on Sun’s journey, including coverage of the IPSC Conclave and meetings with top educators and entrepreneurs in India.

Welcome to RPS CHESS!

Sometimes, a thing can be incredibly successful, and still be misunderstood. Such is the case with our ‘Rock Paper Scissors’ module, which has been retooled and renamed RPS CHESS for 2016.

New RPS Chess game
To better illustrate how these games employ strategic thinking skills, chess imagery has been merged with existing game icons. The fist (rock) moves like a KING; the open palm (paper) shows a ROOK image to connote movement like a rook; and the two fingers (scissors) icon incorporates a BISHOP image and corresponding characteristics.

“First In Math’s Rock Paper Scissors has so much depth, but we began to realize two things: that a name change could help convey the module’s true focus, and that we need to do a better job of explaining the games to educators,” says Cred Dobson, current First In Math Ambassador and former Mathematics Curriculum Academic Content Coach for the School District of Philadelphia’s Northwest Region.

“Mathematics is not limited to basic facts and procedures, and these games are valuable, mathematically-oriented activities that promote the development of thinking in logical steps and understanding proper sequencing skills,” says Dobson. “The greatest stumbling block that students face when moving into higher-area math is the lack of logical thought processes.”

All students need to learn HOW to think, not just what to think, says Dobson. “When studying algebra, students learn how to reason, and RPS CHESS promotes that same kind of thinking—in logical steps from the simple level to more complex levels. It helps students develop and practice strategic thought processes. For this reason alone, the RPS CHESS games are crucial, but within the framework of the FIM site, they also serve as a base to launch the presentation of other logical, thought-provoking games. Building brain-power in students is a multidimensional process!”

“Cred’s insight into the value of developing higher-order mathematical thinking is spot-on,” says Robert Sun, creator of the First In Math program. “RPS CHESS games build the ability to follow a series of logical steps, and this is not an easy thing to teach. In reality, we can’t really teach kids to do things; we can only teach them to practice things.”

According to Sun, an activity designed to build strategic thinking skills also benefits greatly from a familiar framework that kids already know and love, because it encourages the amount of repetitive play needed to build these skills. “I chose Rock-Paper-Scissors because it is one of the few games where the pieces capture each other in a circular fashion, and it is well understood by many people. Combining this unique feature with the parameters of how certain chess pieces move is the innovation that transforms a common children’s game into one that requires rigorous strategic thinking to play well.”

Unfortunately, some teachers who had not tried the game online associated it with the original Rock-Paper-Scissors they occupied themselves with as children, which required little thinking.

“An activity like RPS CHESS develops higher mental processes as we create hypotheses, make predictions, and fine-tune our expectations,” explains Sun. “In addition, every one of these games shows kids mathematical ideas in a spirit of play, which is a big and often hidden part of the true spirit of math.”

“The games, especially MASTER RPS CHESS, are difficult, but also for many kids kind of addictive, which means they strengthen their ability to focus on a complicated skill for the length of time it takes to master it. Math needs that.”

See More Articles in the News Archive

FIM 2016 Champion:

Daniel Wang, Jr.

2016 Honorable Mention

Daniel Wang, Jr (PA)
Aiza Khalil (CA)
Vy Trinh-Nguyen (PA)
Prisha Ramasamy (CA)
Anirudh Balachandra Rao (PA)
Sharvaa Selvan (FL)
David Rodriquez (CA)
Kevin Wu (PA)

Team Leaders
Maribel C. Ordonez (NJ)
Umbrenda Fisher (MD)
Annejeanette Washington (FL)
Samuel Allison (FL)
Jeff Keyes (PA)
Adam Yaller (PA)
Lisa Weingartner (FL)
Marcos Cortez (CA)
Stephani Snyder (VA)
Lisa Leider (FL)

Chris Sakers (MD)
Susan Whited (VA)
Carol A Lauck (PA)
Mickey Komins (PA)
Mary Higgins (PA)
Randall J. Baker (FL)
John Lewis (PA)
James Scanlon (PA)

Sister Georgiana Connell (PA)

Our Lady Of Calvary School (PA)
Brywood Elementary School (CA)
St Monica School (PA)
Watkins Elementary School (DC)
Eastshore Elementary School (CA)
Hershey Primary ES (PA)
Manatee Bay Elementary (FL)
Jefferson Elementary School (CA)
Upper Merion Middle School (PA)
St Cyril of Alexandria School (PA)

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