Two teens, 13 and 17 years-old, in jail for crimes in Brazil, are now actually believing it’s possible to make plans for a better future—having made it to the national math olympic games.

Their dedicated and passionate math teacher, Hugo Tortorelli, wondered if he could enroll any of his students in the competition this year. He works at a facility where inmates normally don’t show an interest, and if they do, they don’t have much success. To his delight, thirteen of his 550 students wanted to try.

“I was blown away to know I had students actually interested,” says Tortorelli. But that wasn’t the most inspiring change.

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One of the kids had only ever envisioned a career in drug dealing, but with his newfound success in math, his dreams have changed.

“Now I see that I can study law to help my friends stay out of jail.”

A 16 year-old also has ambitious plans for his life. “I want to be an engineer; I see I can work with numbers fairly well.”

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The math teacher says that if five out of every 100 continue their studies every year he considers his mission is accomplished.

Taking classes is mandatory for reducing jail time for the kids, but having inmates enthusiastic in the classes is a totally different challenge.

“Math carries a bad reputation, but everything in life involves numbers and I try to equate this to their own reality,” Tortorelli says.

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The math teacher tailors story examples so the kids will understand. “I rarely mention words like ‘fraction’. What I do is show them how big a portion of their medicine is, or how an angle of a soccer field influences a match.”

The final results of the Obmep competition, an acronym for the olympic games of math and science, will be known on November 30th.

(Research by GNN Latin America correspondent, Joao Freitas)

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