Middle Village 8th Grader Wins Gold at MathCon in Chicago

Council Member Robert Holden awarded Mark with a certificate in his office following his MathCon win. Photo Credit: Council Member Holden’s office

By Iryna Shkurhanishkurhan@queensledger.com 

Mark Primak, an 8th grader from P.S./I.S. 49 in Middle Village, was one of the gold medalists at this year’s MathCon competition in Chicago. 

The victory at the national two-round student math competition came after weeks of preparation with a local advanced math study group based in Forest Hills, and the financial assistance and support of Council Member Robert Holden’s office.

Mark’s math teacher, Saida Atmaca, initially entered the entire school in the online qualifying round of the competition. From there, only the top finalists were selected to participate in the in person competition in Chicago. Mark was the only student in his school who qualified. 

His mother, Ellen Primak, says that Mark has been studying math and reading in Russian and English since he was three years old. And despite only being in the 8th grade, he has completed several college level math classes. For the past six months, he’s also been volunteering to tutor a group of students in algebra through Many Math Circles & More. 

“So I was pleased, but not surprised,” recalled Ellen when she heard Mark secured a spot in the finals. “He’s gifted.”

But despite qualifying, Mark’s family did not not have the financial means to afford an overnight trip to Chicago. Despite the obstacle, Ellen was determined to find a way for Mark to compete nationally. 

She reached out to Atmaca, to see if any support was possible, who reached out to the school’s Principal Thomas Carty.  The message then landed at Holden’s office, who represents Middle Village where Mark has lived his entire life. 

The council member’s office offered to fund all the expenses for the trip, which included airfare and accommodations for Mark and his mother for two days. He also put Mark in contact with Donghui Zang who runs Russell Sage Math Team, an advanced study group, out of the basement of his Forest Hills home with Coach William Collins since 2018.

Since Mark was the only one in his school heading to the competition, prior to the connection he didn’t have a team to practice with or even know anyone who was in his shoes. In the 2019 MathCon competition, the Sage team secured several individual wins and won third place nationwide as a team.

Donghui Zang with Mark outside his Forest Hills home where practice sessions were held. Photo Credit: Donghui Zang

Zang said that Mark fit right in with the group that meets every Monday evening for an hour and a half to prepare for competitions. 

“He was very social despite being a newcomer to the group,” said Zang in an interview with the Queens Ledger. “He always sits in the front and center.”

The 2023 MathCon competition was held on May 13 in Chicago. Contestants were given 100 minutes to complete 32 questions covering algebra, combinatorics, geometry and number theory. Each question had a designated number of points based on its difficulty level. 

Mark was one of three 8th graders from across the country who secured a gold medal.

“He was absolutely blown away. He was ecstatic and jumping from joy for the next three days. He’s been sleeping while wearing his medal,” said Ellen in an interview with the Queens Ledger. “And he’s still wearing it most of the time.”

Following his return from Chicago, Holden presented Mark with a certificate of recognition in his office. He was joined by his mother and Zang. 

Our district has terrific students, and I’m honored to have helped Mark achieve this incredible feat,” wrote Holden in a Facebook post announcing the victory. “Remember this name because Mark will someday change the world.”

In the fall, Mark is heading to Stuyvesant High School, a specialized high school which requires a top score on the citywide entrance exam to gain acceptance. Afterwards he hopes to go into the STEM field and “change the world,” according to his mother. 

“We were all so happy. I couldn’t believe it,” said Zang, who describes his math group as a home where students can make friends and overcome challenges. “It’s always exciting to see how the students excel, how they improve and how they can learn something.”

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