Learning, teaching can be a game of numbers
Persico incorporates baseball statistics into his lessons when he tutors kids at the RP Boys & Girls Club
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By Natalie Gray  June 6, 2014 12:00 am

Don Persico sits in the eye of a storm of baseball memorabilia. There are framed newspaper clippings, signed baseballs and scores of baseball cards – some framed, others stashed away in what at first appears to be a dizzying amount of cardboard boxes – and he produces stacks from his desk.

This explosion of America’s favorite pastime is in the mathematics room of the Rohnert Park Boys and Girls Club, where he has been tutoring for the past four years. The baseball decorations were placed around the small, rectangular room in honor the Baseball Card Club, which Persico – “Mr. P” as he is known at the club – started himself to help students find an interest in math.

“It’s all for teaching the kids,” he said of the baseball memorabilia.


All for the children

He said this often, actually, regarding a quite a few other aspects of the room; the math worksheets, carefully organized by grade – all for the children – the tables and chairs pushed nearby so as to be close to Persico, should they need help with an assignment – all for the children – and the past four years Persico has spent as a math tutor for the Club, yes, all for the children. 

For his efforts, Persico last month was named the Individual Volunteer of the Year at the inaugural Rotary Club of Rohnert Park-Cotati Dinner and Awards.

Persico has never been a stranger to math, but he did not anticipate his life would ever bring him to tutoring children. He has two degrees in mathematics, a Bachelors from the University of Buffalo and a Masters from Ohio State. He spent 25 years working for Aerospace before being caught in mass layoff, which swept him right into working in the insurance business.

“Well, I couldn’t make cookies,” he said of the switch and his path to a new job, “so I spent 10 years in insurance.”

Persico retired from the firm at 59 and moved to Sonoma County, just looking for a change in scenery. Somewhere between working insurance and his move, though, he and his youngest son of five other children began collecting baseball cards. Once moved, a friend suggested he sub (to which he responded, “I can’t make sandwiches”).


Sounded like a good idea

After clearing up the confusion, Persico agreed that becoming a substitute sounded like a good idea and took his CBEST test. And he subbed for the next 14 years, teaching at least one school in the local area (from Santa Rosa to Rohnert Park) almost every day. He also used his time being a private math tutor.

When he retired from substituting at 74, he found he still had a drive to teach and consult children with math. And that is how he ended up at the Boys and Girls Club, where you can find him now, five days a week, sitting in his personalized math room, surrounded by his baseball cards, now making their way to becoming the students’ cards. 

Persico created the Baseball Trading Card Club (BBTCC) at the Club, a sneaky maneuver that helps teach children about math and allows them some fun. The club is comprised of both younger and older children, of every mathematic level, and meets twice a month. Persico splits the children into groups mixed groups, with the idea that the older children can help the younger, hands them old baseball articles, cards or box scores and then asks the students questions based on the provided information, (i.e., “Which team won the World Series in ’64?”). Everyone has to answer at least one question and, when they do, they are rewarded a small pack of baseball cards of their own. The Club’s program not only teaches children basic math, but also how to work together, reading skills and history. Persico also organized a card-tossing tournament, allowing students to try winning more cards and a chance to become the year’s champion and earn a place framed on the math wall.

He has not bought a single pack of baseball cards since his son left home and Persico moved to Northern California, more than 10 years ago. All the cards he gives to the children are from his personal collection, which features more than 3 million cards.  


Traditional tutoring

Persico also helps tutor the children in more traditional ways, of course. He has personally created and organized some 360 different worksheets for the children to utilize and practice their skills. Should the children like, he takes their finished worksheets, corrects them and hands them back if he feels they need to be relooked at. At the end of the year, he returns all finished worksheets, so students can see their progress. He encourages children to fill out the worksheets, compliments their hard work and never refuses them the chance to challenge themselves to a harder worksheet.

Mr. P is currently readying himself, the club and the mathematics room for the summer semester at the Boys and Girls Club. He wears his green Boys and Girls Club shirt, just put in a new fan in the math room and shows no sign of wanting to stop tutoring. There will always be a math problem to solve, he said, and he wants to help make sure children are ready to solve it. 

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