It could have been like any other Saturday math competition. The two powerhouses from the Houston area were there: First Colony and Fort Settlement. Franklin Elementary’s math team, as usual, was a strong contender, but something out of the ordinary needed to happen to put them at the top of the heap.

And it did.

Barrington Hwang, 13, stepped up and delivered a perfect score in the general math category, making him the first Franklin student to do so this season. It was also his first perfect score at a contest since he began competing two years ago.

The timing of Hwang’s rising star is perfect. It comes at a time of transition for the team after losing former math coach Janet Scott, who retired at the end of the last school year. And although the team has been winning competitions under the new coach, Mark Olateju – a veteran teacher of 17 years who coached the Pershing team from 1994 to 2001 – it never hurts to have a ringer on the bench.

“It’s a really strong group, but even amongst that group he stands out,” Olateju says.

Hwang takes it all in stride. High-level math has been a part of his life since he can remember. Both of his parents were born in Taiwan and are now doctors. His grandfather, Chuen-Shan Huang, is a math professor at Houston Community College. Every summer, starting at age 5, he would spend four weeks with his grandparents.

His mom, Chiufang, describes the visits as “summer math boot camps.” And she should know, since she grew up spending her summers the exact same way – albeit with different results.

“I never won any math competitions,” she says.

Hwang says while the math lessons weren’t exactly fun, they weren’t boring either. He says it took him a while to understand the value of the math education he was receiving over the summers. Because he was working so far ahead with his grandpa, he never got to use the knowledge in the classroom – that is, until he transferred to Preston Hollow Elementary in the middle of his sixth-grade year. Unlike his old school, Sudie Williams Elementary, Preston Hollow has a math team. It didn’t take long for math teacher and coach John Pickens to see Hwang’s potential.

“I was good at math, and I was getting good grades,” Hwang says. “He had me take the math test for competition. At first, the scores weren’t that good, but then I learned tricks to go faster.”

He got so good that by the end of the year he was ranked ninth in ht estate in general math and 11th in number sense.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh, I guess my grandfather helped me a lot.’”

That summer, he brought his practice math competition tests with him to his grandparents’ house. He worked them under the direction of Chuen-Shan and returned to Dallas for his first year at Franklin with a leg up on the competition.

“I got, like, first and second and thirds, and occasionally I got a fourth.”

Hwang ended the year ranked fifth in the state for general math, seventh in number sense and ninth in calculator.

He was also the top-ranked Franklin team member in seventh grade. And he enjoys working with Olateju, who posts the practice test scores to foster competition within the team. And Hwang is competitive. His goal is to be number one in the state this year.

“I don’t want to lose,” he says.


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