By Juan DeJesus A lifelong affinity for sports and mathematics has blossomed into a successful career for Marija Kero. The 27-year-old math teacher has found a way to capture the attention of her students and unlock their potential. The young teacher makes it a point to get to know each of her students. "Always make it about their life," Kero said. "You never know, something that is going in their life could be a useful in how I teach my lesson," Kero said, adding, "If you understand them as people?you can catch and hold their attention and teach them to embrace the subject the way that I have." Kero initially went to school to become a social studies teacher. "Math is fun to me-it's like solving a puzzle-but I also know that the lessons we can learn from history are just as important and necessary," she said. It was only after a long talk with her father about the opportunities the subject could offer that Kero decided to turn her attention to math. She attended Pace University, where she excelled and graduated from the school's Pforzheimer Honors College. She began teaching career at Washington Irving High School before getting her certification to teach in Florida; but through the push and pull of life, she just missed the window to apply for a New York City teaching position before the hiring freeze. This forced the young teacher to take an unfulfilling sales job with a basketball team in Harlem. "It was as if a piece of my heart was missing," she said. "I should have been out there helping students. I missed two years of helping kids, but now I am focused and determined to make them successful." During her time with the team, she began to look for schools where she wanted to teach. She found Co-op City's Equality Charter School in the Bronx. Vivian O. Patrick, a parent there, said Kero's attention and drive sets her apart from other teachers. "Ms. Kero is a wonderful teacher. She has made math come alive for my son as well as the class. My son needed to be challenged and she did just that, making it possible for him to excel," Patrick said. Kero tries to keep her seventh and eighth grade students' energy levels high by finding ways to relate mathematical theorems into concrete examples. "You have to relate math to life," she said. "Someone will always ask, 'When am I ever going to use this?' Every day you have to answer that question because it is always there." She relates percentages to sports statistics and other concepts to things like shopping, art and music. She has even devised a classroom game called mathketball, a game that came out of her lifelong love of the New York Knicks. She has two teams of students face off while having them solve equations head to head. The wining player can chose to add another point to the tally by making a shot into a waste paper basket or go for three from further out. "I love when they [compete] and they check their work and get excited when they are right," Kero said. She hopes to give students the skills they'll need for life. "I want them to work hard and be thinking people," she said. "I want them to be more involved in their community and succeed. When I see that, I know that I have succeeded."
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