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Formulating success
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Sue Adams earned her associate degree the same year her oldest son graduated from high school and the next year earned her bachelor's degree in education.

Many families residing in West Virginia rely on the state's rich coal mines to make a living - although the work is not as reliable as it was in the last century.

"My husband got laid off so we decided to go to college together," Adams said.

Adams, who has been teaching now for 13 years, and her husband moved to Georgia after she lost her teaching job in West Virginia due to cutbacks.

Her pastor had moved to Georgia and encouraged the family to relocate because the job market was much better in the South.

She has now taught freshman algebra and Quest geometry at Newton High School for 10 years.

Adams, a self-described "number person," said mathematics is often a difficult subject for teens.

"In math it's not just one thing I have to focus on - we review all year long," Adams said.

Every two or three weeks Adams' students take a benchmark test so she can ascertain what concepts they have grasped and those with which they continue to struggle.

She said every test contains new and old material she has covered.

"Math builds from day one until they get out of school completely," Adams said.

According to Adams, students often do not understand the importance of learning algebra formulas and how to work a geometry proof.

To keep students interested in learning as well as to reinforce central ideas in the curriculum, Adams plans creative activities for her students and provides constant positive encouragement to do well.

Before the end of the semester, Adams had her students write stories using algebra vocabulary words and formulas.

Since it was December when the project was due, many of Adams' students wrote holiday stories where they calculated the distance Santa had to fly and a number of other festive formulations.

In the spring, Adams instructs her geometry students in how to construct a kite made from straws linked together to create pyramids and then glued or taped together to make larger pyramids.

"When it's pretty weather, we do go out and fly them," Adams said, "and the ones that survive I hang up."

Students' work and accomplishments line the walls of Adams surprisingly colorful mathematics classroom, which is also decorated with numerous college football and NASCAR flags.

 She also places students' names who maintain an A class average in her class on a bulletin board inside her classroom she calls the "Math Hall of Fame." In the hallway outside of her classroom, she places students' names who make A's on their algebra benchmark tests for all classes at Newton High.

"Believe me when they come back from Christmas, they'll be looking for their name on those boards," Adams said.

She said she doesn't want students to be afraid to attempt something in mathematics simply because they do not know how to approach a problem at first.

Adams, who was named Newton High's 2008 teacher of they year, has undertaken a new responsibility this year as the school's graduation coordinator.

She said she has many colleagues to help her with all the preparations from caps and gowns to decorations.

"The hectic day is graduation day and making sure they get in that room OK," Adams said.

Adams said her students are the best part of her job, because she feeds off of their youthful energy and they keep her mind sharp.

 "If I didn't teach, I wouldn't work," Adams said. "I tell my husband my worst day of teaching is still better than any other job."