By Kenzie Cook
Pencils, papers and calculators clutter the desks of students poring over their new math worksheets handed out by their teacher while some take quizzes on the computers in front of them. This is a school I left behind almost two years ago and a class that did not exist in my time. Back in my day, students either understood the material or they did not; nobody received second chances or special attention if they were having trouble. Due to this lack of decent education, U.S. News & World Report has reported that only 13.6 percent of those that graduate from my old school, Southern Alamance High School, are ready for college. I witnessed this statistic firsthand when I graduated. Of my graduating class of roughly 350 students, only about 70 of us went to college right out of high school and many of those that did had already dropped out by sophomore year. While Southern Alamance certainly doesn’t have the lowest percentage of graduates going to college in its school district, it was still the perfect site for the pilot program started by Alamance Community College to help prepare underachieving seniors for graduation and college due.
In a study conducted in 2013, the Community College Research Center at Columbia University found that students who had to take remedial classes in college were less likely to graduate than those that came into college fully prepared. Of the students that went straight from high school to community college that year, 52 percent had to take one or more remedial course in either English or math. To improve this situation and cut down on the number of students in remedial courses, the 2015 session of the North Carolina General Assembly proposed and adopted Senate Bill 561 that was set to take effect in the 2016-2017 school year. This bill required the State Board of Community Colleges to develop a program to introduce high school seniors to remedial courses prior to graduation so they can be better prepared for college.
Students in Alamance County are especially under-performing with a college readiness average of 16.2 percent across all six high schools. For this reason, Alamance Community College has decided to start a course titled “Community College Prep” for high schools in the area to help improve students’ understanding of math and English concepts needed to perform well in college and beyond. Melissa Cook, a college math professor and former middle school math teacher, is one of the main developers of the course and the only math professor from Alamance Community College working on this concept. It is the hope of all involved that the Community College Prep course at Southern Alamance will better prepare high school students for college and that it will be the first of many similar courses at all six high schools in the Alamance-Burlington School System and in school systems across the state of North Carolina.
Jodi Hofberg, curriculum facilitator for the Alamance-Burlington School System, contacted Cook during the fall semester of 2016 about starting a new program to enrich the education of students in ABSS with the help of those at Alamance Community College. Prior to this inquiry, a meeting of all principals in ABSS had taken place in which Teresa Faucette, principal of Southern Alamance High School, said that her school had room in its schedule for an extra class. Added to the fact that Southern Alamance had more students enrolled than any other high schools in the area, this settled the question of which school would be best for piloting the new program. ACC’s Vice President of Instruction, Catherine Johnson, and Hofberg chose to put Cook in charge of setting up an online class for selected students and creating a curriculum that included collective information from ACC’s remedial math and English classes. She was also put in charge of creating and grading placement tests to determine what math and English knowledge the students already possessed so they could build on that.
When asked why the school system picked her to lead this program between ACC and ABSS, Cook said: “I’ve been in developmental math for 10 years at the community college, and I also have a background in English. So when the system office was looking for participants to work on the committee for this project, the Vice President of Instruction basically chose me to be a part of it.”
Along with helping students improve their math and English skills, the course also helps encourage them to apply and enroll at ACC after they graduate high school. They receive credit for the modules they manage to complete while in the course once enrolled at ACC; so they are able to pick up where they left off and continue their education.
The new class began in the 2017 spring semester during all four class periods, averaging around seven students per class. Those who passed the placement test for English work on math and those who passed the placement test for math work on English. Likewise, those who passed neither work on both, and those who passed both do not have to attend the class. A computer teacher is constantly in the classroom, but the students complete all learning through modules put together by Cook. The instructors essentially leave the students to their own devices, watching videos and reading examples to help them learn.
Makayla Starling, a senior taking the course who tested out of the English modules, said she enjoys the class more than the regular math classes held at Southern. “I think it’s really helpful,” said Starling. “You can do the work at your own pace and correct yourself as you go. There’s a lot of writing, and you learn a lot of stuff that you didn’t learn here [at Southern].”
Starling hopes to go into the field of biotechnology and believes this new course is helping her achieve her goals. She plans to go to ACC for two years before transferring to a four-year college where she will complete the degree of her choice.
Daniel Simpson, a senior taking the course who also tested out of the English modules and recently completed the modules assigned to him for math, agrees that the course is helpful. He said that the math modules are helping him remember important math concepts that he had not entirely grasped before. “It really reaches back into what I’ve learned the last four years of doing math in high school,” said Simpson.
Simpson hopes to go into the field of education and is pleased that he already has a path into ACC so that he can eventually transfer to a four-year college to complete his degree.
For students like Starling and Simpson, this course at the high school helps save them a large amount of money. At ACC, it costs a little over $200 for each developmental math and English class, which those who are unable to pass the placement test are required to take. However, with this new program, ACC keeps records of the students’ progress in the modules so they can enroll directly into the courses they need without having the take another placement test. If a student, such as Simpson, manages to complete the entire module, he or she can immediately enroll in higher-level classes.
All students enrolled in this course are required to complete all math and English modules – or test out of them – in order to receive credit at Southern for the class. Cook and Faucette are trying to adjust the requirements so that students that are planning to go into certain degree pathways that do not require all levels of the courses to be completed can be excused. For example, one student in the first-period class wants to go into the Fire Protection Program, which only requires math modules up to MAT030, rather than the MAT080 the students are required to complete. If Cook and Faucette can alter the program in this way, the students will not have to complete the unnecessary extra work.
For now, though, all math and English modules must be completed and passed with at least a grade of 85 in order to progress.
Although Southern Alamance is the only high school in the program currently, Hofberg hopes to add Walter M. Williams High School, Graham High School and Hugh M. Cummings High School to the program this coming school year. They will hopefully be able to add Western Alamance and Eastern Alamance high schools in later years; but for now, Hofberg and Cook are focusing on the success of the program at Southern.
“The goal was to have at least 20 students complete the program. So as long as that happens, it will be considered a success,” Hofberg said when asked what her goals for Southern’s program would be.
As of right now, there are roughly 25 students enrolled in the Community College Prep course at Southern, and about half of those students have completed the modules with half of the semester remaining, so Hofberg’s goal has nearly been reached. Unfortunately, this leaves Cook and Faucette to figure out what to do with these students while their classmates finish their modules. Neither has an idea of how to occupy these students; so for now, they are leaving them in the classes with nothing to do. Cook says that they hope to solve all of the little inconveniences before the program spreads to the rest of the high schools in ABSS.
Alamance Community College’s collaboration with the Alamance-Burlington School System is just one example of community colleges across the state of North Carolina teaming up with high schools in their nearby area to meet the conditions of Senate Bill 561. Several other community colleges are also starting their own programs, though they are flying under the radar for now. Professors like Cook are working overtime to make sure these high school students receive the education they need in order to be prepared for college.
Edited by Samantha Miner