Latexo Teacher Honored for Inspiring UIL Students
By Greg Ritchie
LATEXO – For almost 20 years, math teacher Audrey Cravens has been a staple at Latexo High School, inspiring young minds to learn and love math and pushing students to overachieve in University Interscholastic League (UIL) competitions. Many of these are proudly displayed on a roadside billboard as you drive into Latexo. Year after year, Ms. Cravens’ students go on to higher education, learn a love for math and compete for “first chair” in math in her classroom.
The UIL recently sent Latexo Independent School District the news that Cravens had received the 2022 UIL Sponsor Excellence Award. Of the 1,400 UIL member high schools, only 15 such awards are given each year. UIL grants the award based not only on UIL success, but the additional work and activities of the nominee locally and statewide to cultivate UIL amongst their peers and colleagues.
The Messenger caught up with Cravens between classes at Latexo High School and asked her about the award and her success with cultivating an appreciate for math with her students over so many years.
“My parents were both teachers, my mom and dad, and my sister is a teacher and my grandpa was a teacher. We just have been around school my whole life. I love school! I could sit in college for another 10 years,” Cravens said.
Cravens is originally from Palestine and grew up going to school in Kennard except for a short time when her parents took the family to Alaska to teach. She teaches a lot of math at Latexo – this reporter is sadly not good enough to count the hours – but everything from honors algebra to geometry and calculus.
Cravens is always on the lookout for those who need extra help – and for those kids with the potential who may not always show it at first.
“I’ve found some of the really gifted kids have gotten turned off math before they hit high school,” Cravens explained. “Because the majority of the class time has to be spent working to the middle of the class. And so to me, some of the gifted kids, the ones that are super talented, they just drop out of of caring. A lot of kids came to me not loving math – they just weren’t good at it. And they were the smartest in the class and their parents wanted them to go the honors route. My job is at that point is to pick out the ones that have the capacity, the endurance, the responsibility and the maturity to handle being picked out for the UIL team.”
In the last few years, Cravens was proud to say two students from her classes were accepted to Rice University – not a small feat for a smaller school district. Her students place in the 99th percentile of their SAT tests. Cravens teaches college-level math for those students who are trying to go into college ahead of the game. She has seen how the UIL training has helped students – even the ones originally forced into the program by their parents.
When this reporter was in school, the math teachers would scoff and say, “What do you think, someday you will have a magic machine in your pocket that will just do math for you?”
Asked how technology was changing math for students, Cravens had an inspiring and surprising answer.
“It has changed things and on the mathematics test – which we’ve won at state these last 10 years – you get to use two calculators for the test. And you do not have to clear their memory. So if you have built programs or someone on your team has built programs, they can share them with each other and show you how they work,” Cravens explained. “(Such as) little algorithms to work through certain processes quicker than getting it done by hand. It would cut down the number of problems they were able to get done by at least 40% if they didn’t have the calculators to use. So the math they’re able to ask the kids to produce is so advanced compared to where it used to be. It’s made a tremendous difference!”
The UIL math tests have incorporated new technology into the testing to make it even more difficult and allow the students to answer problems few could even visualize just a few years before.
With 18 years at Latexo and 22 teaching overall, she is now teaching the students of former students. The obvious question remained, how have students and teaching itself changed over the years?
“There’s a select few who remain the same. I think the core kids I have been teaching for the last 22 years are still responsible and still care about their future and still want to go to college or to go to some kind of schooling and have plans for their future,” Cravens said. “I don’t think those kids are gone. They’re not dumb. Now I get to teach all the honors classes. So that makes a difference. But just because you are in honors class doesn’t mean you’re a genius at the material. It just means sometimes your parents want what’s best for you and they make you stay in it and you’re putting in the work.”
Cravens showed off her classroom, full of plaques and trophies and awards of all kinds. She set up her room almost like an orchestra, with students working the math problems the best they can in order to get to sit in first, second or third chairs. Her passion for her subject is so compelling and contagious you almost want to crack open that algebra book again and let her energy help you understand it better this time around.
Cravens is talkative about herself, but humble about her accomplishments. They are indeed many, from the big wins in the UIL competitions to the students she sends out into world – some into good schools, some to be educators themselves – but all with a new appreciation for math.
“I don’t feel proud of myself very often. If sometimes you give a real good lesson and you’re like, ‘Wow, I did good on that!’ But for the most part, you are still striving to be better, better, better, better. So this award makes you stop for a second. And yes, it was a lot to accomplish because not only do you have to win competitions at the state level, but you also must make presentations and try to get more teachers to raise UIL teams,” Cravens said.
The UIL prize also comes with a $1,000 bonus which Cravens should receive sometime this spring. She admitted she already spent some of the money.
“My husband is going to have to just deal with that! I buy used books, like teachers editions and solutions manuals,” Cravens laughed. “I find them online. I’ve already bought a calculus book, a calculus solutions manual and an analytic geometry book. And I’m still looking.”
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]