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Modeling their unique "math department t-shirts" are faculty members Kyle Knutson, John Gullingsrud, Diana Porath and Jeff Morris. In a matter of days, the fundraiser shirts were nearly sold out.

Who said math teachers aren't cool?

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From a standpoint of mathematical probability and sound business planning, it would seem an enterprise doomed to failure.

Create an image of four high school math teachers, print it on a t-shirt, mass produce them, and sell them to students for a profit.

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Apparently, nobody told Perham High School math teachers Kyle Knutson, John Gullingsrud, Diana Porath and Jeff Morris that students really don't like math. And as a grim, but inevitable, consequence--students really don't much like those who teach math, either.

Inexplicably, within 24 hours after the 120 t-shirts went on the market, the merchandise was nearly sold out.

"We're down to about 45 shirts," said Morris, a cross country and track coach. He's a highly popular guy--in spite of his fondness for algebra.

The t-shirts are printed with caricatures of the PHS Yellow Jacket math department faculty members.

"Hey, we're changing the world!" exclaimed Knutson, whose caricature depicts his extracurricular involvement in coaching tennis and football. He's also wearing a Star Wars t-shirt, reflecting one of his personal interests.

Meanwhile, math teacher Gullingsrud is toting a basketball in his caricature. ACC by some weird--no doubt evil and holocaustic--incantation that reads something like: epi i + 1 = 0.

The senior teacher of the PHS math department, Diana Porath, demonstrates a fierce Tae Kwon Do kick in her caricature. Though retired from the martial art, she is a black belt who is probably still capable of kicking behind.

The equation accompanying Porath's picture is: a2 + b2 = c2. If calculated backwards, it reads something to this effect: "solve this problem by tomorrow, you dumbell, or risk the wrath of Mrs. P-Rath," a nickname many students have, affectionately, given her.

"I think we have a really good rapport with the kids," said Porath, who has taught math full-time in Perham since 1984. She said the present four-person math faculty team is the most cohesive during her tenure.

"It's so much fun working as a team with them. It's a really good group," said Porath. "The three guys are all young, energetic and they're all coaches, so they're connected to the students in a lot of ways."

With the numerous advanced and college-level courses offered by the math department, the teachers have had some of the kids for four years in a row, noted Porath.

"Every year, at the seniors award ceremony, we present a math award," said Morris. "We thought it would really be a cool thing if the math department could give a scholarship."

So, these mathematics speicalists concluded that they knew their customers well enough to sink "venture capital" into the t-shirt enterprise.

Raising money for a scholarship fund was the objective behind creating a cool t-shirt to sell.

Working with Long Weekend, a local novelty printing company, 120 shirts were produced. There is a black model, a blue model; and just to prove that math teachers really can be cool, there's a nifty tie-dyed number, in Yellow Jacket yellow, black and white.

"All the money goes back to the kids," affirmed Knutson.

Perham school administrators and faculty are encouraging innovative math and science instruction. And based on the success of the t-shirts--and the corresponding positive relationship between the math department and the students, the strategy is working. Among the school's initiatives is "Project Lead the Way," a special curriculum geared toward preparing students for pre-engineering and other science-related higher education disciplines. In a sense, the PHS math department's camaraderie and motivational approaches to reaching the kids--such as the t-shirt scheme--are another way to help the next generation thrive in an increasingly competitive, global environment.

With pride, the math teachers point out that the artwork and four caricatures were created by a former student Rocki Lueders, a junior at Bemidji State University.

Her major?

Math education.

Not only were the students snatching up the t-shirts; adults were buying them, too.

School board member Jim Rieber bought four of the things.

Even school Superintendent Tamara Uselman bought one. One would think she has had just about enough of mathematics and arithmetic after two years of budget cuts.

When all the t-shirts are sold, there will be about $1,000 for scholarships. The math department hasn't yet settled on criteria for awarding the scholarships, but the money will likely go to students who are considering a math-related career; or who excelled in math while they were at Perham High School.

Act now, if you are interested in one of these collectible items.

Demand will quickly exceed supply. With a grade 9-12 population of 507, and a quantity that rapidly depleted from 120 to 45 in just one day...well...you do the math.

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