HOUSTON, TX – Sofia Ivanka is not your average 15-year-old. At age nine, she wrote her first textbook, “Fourth Grade Math Rules.” It was comprised of math worksheets she had made up to help her fellow fourth graders who were having trouble understanding some of the basic concepts. By “translating” the concepts into what she calls “kid language,” her friends got it and improved their grades.
She followed that up the next year with “Fifth Grade Math Rules” and released both books in Spanish editions. But that wasn’t enough for Sofia. She wanted to do more, so she started a non-profit, “Building Smart Kids,” dedicated to tutoring children in math and science. Last year, she and several volunteers offered the classes at Codwell and Emerson Elementary.
“The only thing we require from the schools is to get a permission slip not only signed by the parents but by the students,” Sofia explains, “because we want to make sure that the students… are willing to learn and do want to get better in math.”
Sofia’s found quite a few supporters for her mission, including Senator Ted Cruz and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who helped her introduce a new program for alternative schools called “Combating Crime with Education.” It will start up in August and is based on evidence that tutoring kids can lead to a decrease in crime over time.
“As the sheriff of the county,” says Garcia, “I don’t go out endorsing a whole lot of organizations. I’m very careful about those that I lend my name to. But with Sofia, I need her to be successful because her success, I believe, will truly mean that the county jail of Harris County will be less populated in the future.”
No pressure there, right?! But Sofia’s used to big challenges. She’s spending the summer at Harvard taking classes in international law and psychology. She wants to be a corporate lawyer, but says she’ll never leave “Building Smart Kids” behind.
“In 10 years, hopefully we’re strong enough to be going to different countries,” she says. “I want it to be something global that will help many people around the world.”
For more on Sofia Ivanka and Building Smart Kids, pick up a copy of this month’s Houstonia.