Meet South Seattle’s Pied Piper of Math

Meet South Seattle’s Pied Piper of Math

By Amber Campbell

Longtime South Seattle teacher and Columbia City neighbor Norman Alston has quite the reputation, with local parents, students and colleagues singing his praises.

“Norm is the Pied Piper of Math,” says Mount Baker mom Christiana Muoneke. “He doesn’t just teach the subject, he brings it to life and inspires a love for learning and exploring. He sings his merry tune and the children happily follow into the magical lands of algebra, calculus, physics and all things numerical.”

Norm has been teaching in South Seattle for more than two decades and is the founder of eMode Learning Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing more mathematics enrichment opportunities to students in the Rainier Valley. Headquartered right here in the community, eMode offers Early Algebra Program instruction and a Saturday Math Academy.

“The best way to spend a Saturday morning — whether you’re a grade school student, or a professional who wants to help kids learn math — is at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club with Norm’s eMODE Saturday Math Academy,” says Shemiele Da’Briel. “He makes Math irresistible!”

Norm says he wants to help bring about an urban mathematics renaissance.

“Our country needs a revival, a rebirth of simply learning and doing mathematics for its own sake,” he says emphatically. “Not for a test score, not for a grade, and not for admission into some college. We simply need to learn that mathematics can be enjoyed the same way you’d enjoy literature, the arts, entertainment, or athletics.”

This week, he was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people.

normalston1Norman V. Alston


Columbia City

How long in South Seattle?
Teaching in Southeast Seattle since 1994

Where from originally?
San Francisco, California

Day job:
Acting Executive Director: eMode Learning Foundation

What do you like most about your day job?
I get to share my love of mathematics with children.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My love of teaching and learning.

What motivates you to do this work?
Seattle Public Schools failed me. I loved learning but hated school. I fear that if we continue to turn out children who feel this way then the system has again failed. I am motivated to see children learn to enjoy learning for its own sake, and therefore, to become autodidacts; life long learners.

What are you passionate about?
Giving children inspired and expanded opportunities to learn mathematics outside, and apart from their regular classroom.

What are your hobbies?
Biking, swimming, cooking, Googling and learning new things.

Tell us about your family:
My wife Marilyn and I have four children and seven grandchildren. We celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary on June 1st. We host foreign students in our home and presently have two Japanese siblings that we love!

What’s your most favorite thing about South Seattle?
The diversity and the flavor that it brings. South and the Central District are the two places in Seattle that I truly feel at home.

What’s your least favorite thing about South Seattle?
I am extremely troubled by the disparities in education that children of color experience in South Seattle Schools. It seems there are achievement gaps, enrichment gaps, and opportunity gaps that are becoming chasms. But there are solutions!


Norm Alston has been teaching Southeast Seattle students for more than two decades.

Where is your favorite place to go in South Seattle?
Seward Park has been a favorite haunt of mine for many years now.

If you could live anywhere besides South Seattle, where would it be?
The Piedmont Region of North Carolina, ancestral home of the Alston’s. I have 23 acres there that I inherited from my great grandfather. I’ve been visiting there since 1972. In 2002 my wife and our youngest two children went to visit the Cherry Hill Plantation and visited with the great grandson of the Alston family that had once held my great great grandparents in bondage there at Cherry Hill in Warren County, North Carolina. My earliest known ancestors are buried there and often I go back to be near that part of my being.

If there was one thing you could change about South Seattle, what would it be?
I would build the most fantastic institute to mathematics and science. It would be the intellectual crown jewel of the city of Seattle. It would be filled with exhibits that children would be drawn to and inspired by. It would be staffed by people who love children, and teaching and learning.

Who inspires you?
Children are my heroes and my role models. I always look up to them. They have kept me laughing and loving to learn. Every time I even see a kid I just smile!

What was the last thing you read?
The Bible, the Book of Proverbs

Tell us something about you that not many people know:
That History is my favorite subject, and not mathematics!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Having a relationship with Jesus Christ. He loved kids so much and was an awesome teacher.

What is your greatest fear?
That I am not doing enough fast enough to bring about serious education reform. Ultimately, I fear that after I am gone far too many children (especially African American youngsters) still won’t like school very much.

What is the trait you most admire in yourself?
I am RESOLUTE. All my life I never even once had a “Plan B.”

What is your greatest regret?
Being estranged from a father that has never shown me any respect or love despite all I have tried to do to earn it from him by demonstrated achievement.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
The Lord Jesus Christ, my wife and family, and my students.

What is your current state of mind?

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being married and having raised our children.

nalston7What is your most treasured possession?
It isn’t a tangible thing. What I hold most dear is the affection and admiration that children and their families seem to have for me.

What do you most value in your friends?
LOYALTY and TRUTHFULNESS, even if I don’t always like hearing it!

Who are your heroes in real life?
My grandfather, Anderson Alston, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, my students and Russell Wilson. Go, Hawks!

What is it that you most dislike?
Violence, Injustice, Unfairness and Inequality

What else should we know about you?
That serving children is my life’s work, and only by death will I retire.

Is there a South Seattle neighbor you’d like to know more about? Nominate them for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people. Send your suggestions to Photo/Norm working on Applied Mathematics with students at Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club.