Teachers who are devoted to their students are hard to find, but they are exemplary examples that academic classrooms serve as the foundation of new ideas, intellectual discussions, and progress. Ruth Moonesinghe, who currently teaches Math 1+, Math Analysis Honors, and AP Calculus BC at South Pasadena High School, sets the bar high when it comes to inspiring her students. Last year, she received the Hartsough Award for her work with the Calculus for a Cause fundraiser, where students purchase review packets for their math finals twice a year, and all proceeds go to charity.
“I started [Calculus for a Cause] in 2008 when there was an earthquake in Haiti. Because it was a very devastating earthquake, and it happened in a country that’s so poor, my Calc BC students and I were talking about it, and we thought that we needed to help. The year before, we did a fundraiser for the Southern California fires, so they knew that reaching out and helping out was important,” said Moonesinghe. “Then the following year, when the Haiti earthquake occurred, the kids said, ‘Maybe we could tutor kids in every math subject.’ We put our heads together and came up with this idea of helping kids,” she said.
Calculus for a Cause continues to raise money, but Moonesinghe explained that the program has helped her learn more about her students and their drive to encourage others to reach their full potential.
“For me, it is like planting a seed in my students and using their talents to make a difference in the world. You don’t really need a lot of money. You just have to want to do it. You have to care. And your time is important. You have to invest time. But students learn how to run an event, a very successful event. It’s mostly student-driven,” she said.
Growing up in Sri Lanka, Moonesinghe was exposed to the country’s impoverished way of living. As a teacher, she knew that she had a duty to use her knowledge and personal experiences to help whenever she could, which is what ultimately separates her from other teachers.
“I grew up in a developing country, Sri Lanka, and I lived among people who were poor. I feel like I understand a little bit more because I’ve seen people suffer. I think that because I’ve seen it, I feel this urgent need to do something, to make that difference,” she said.
Through Calculus for a Cause, Moonesinghe aims for paving the way for her students to succeed not only in math, but in their lives as well.
“I just believe in young people so much. I want these kids to be good thinkers and have the confidence to do whatever they want to do. They’re like my kids. I have many children. It’s so important to teach my kids a way of life,” she said. “Mathematics is not just about theorems and proofs – all of that doesn’t matter. It’s learning how to study and be independent, not being afraid to make mistakes, and how to persevere. These are skills that they will take with them for life,” she explained.
In the future, Moonesinghe plans on expanding programs similar to Calculus for a Cause and hopes that other teachers on campus follow in her footsteps.
“I would like to teach other teachers how to start similar programs and help their kids reach out to other parts of the world. When I retire, I hope I get the opportunity to talk about what we do here in South Pas,” she said.
Moonesinghe’s dazzling reputation continues to inspire her students, as well as other teachers on campus. She is an inspiration for all of those who want to turn their dreams into realities, proving that motivation and work ethic can only lead to the road of progress. Because Moonesinghe and her students devote themselves to bringing awareness to parts of the world and educating kids in math, Calculus for a Cause is one of the most successful programs in South Pasadena High School today.