Alamance County puts Senate Bill 561 into action

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.

Past

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.

Present

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.

Future

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

Wife of a different mold: how Hallie French defies the role of Army wife

By Alexandra Blazevich

Hallie French lies in bed at her Carrboro, N.C. apartment, her back to the pillows set up to feel as if her husband sleeps next to her. It’s six months after her marriage to Taylor Peele, and he’s deployed in Iraq.

Her cat, Max, lies at her side and purrs along with the humming of the computer as she types her honors thesis. Max lives with her most of the time and goes with her to visit her husband on the weekends he’s not deployed.

From down the hall, her roommate, Nicole Vandiford, sends her a political meme from Facebook. Simultaneously, laughter erupts from their bedrooms.

Before she falls asleep, French gets a call from her husband. The connection is rough. It’s their first phone call in weeks, and the conversation gets emotional.

When he is not deployed, Peele lives in his own apartment in Fayetteville, N.C., about ten minutes from Fort Bragg, where he works as an intelligence analyst for the United States Army. The couple has never lived together.

“She’s very independent,” French’s friend and former Navy Corpsman, Jeremy Zollars said. “She gets a lot done, and makes very good grades. She has an old-person mindset. She is very mature – she’s not the typical 23-year-old going out and getting smashed every night.”

Wife of a different life

After a simple Google search on military wives, a long list of articles like “How Military Marriage Screws Up Your Career” and “How Long Will Your Military Marriage Last?” show up. There’s a popular belief that military couples typically revolve their lives around their husband’s career. The wives cook, clean and take care of the kids, while their husband serves the country to pay the bills. Zollars said about 80 percent of his friends in the Navy were married to women with this traditional lifestyle.

French, however, falls in the latter 20 percent. For starters, she kept her own name after marriage.

“Changing my name wasn’t going to magically make me love him more,” she said. “We’ve always talked about being individual, well-paired partners – not the same person.”

While she feels that changing her name and lifestyle for her husband’s job isn’t necessary, she still supports all that he does.

“She has been nothing but supportive of my decisions throughout my military career, and that is something you can see take a serious toll on people,” Peele said.

French’s roommate has lived with her longer than her husband ever has. Because many military wives live either with their spouse on base or at home with their kids, French’s situation is unusual. She said many people are surprised to hear she has both a husband and a roommate.

French said traditional gender roles are popular in the military, but she thinks they’re old fashioned. She strives to be an individual – something that keeps her strong and independent of her husband and marriage.

“The majority of military wives stand out as very entitled, complacent, and complaining – they don’t do a whole lot, as far as work goes,” Zollars said.

French is definitely not like that – and her husband respects her for it.

“She goes to school and doesn’t complain about my work life,” he said. “She understands that I had this job before I had her and that it is very important to me, just as I understand how important her school is for her.”

French fills her time with a full load of classes at UNC-Chapel Hill, a work study at the Center for the Study of the American South and writing her 40-page honors thesis – a completely different lifestyle than the stereotypical military wife. So in comparison to other Army wives, she said she often doesn’t fit in.

When introducing herself to other military couples at a marriage retreat, French said the other women referred to themselves as wives first, then mothers and lastly their individual selves.

“All of the wives were stay-at-home-moms or sold Avon or something,” French said. “I was the only person there that even remotely fit into my category.”

When it was their turn for introductions, she asked her husband to introduce her simply as, “Hallie, my wife.”

Staying unpressured

Feeling like an outsider isn’t easy, but there is one thing Hallie has in common with many other military wives – her age.

According to the United States Department of Defense’s 2014 Demographics Profile of the Military Community, 23.5 percent of military spouses are 26 to 30 years old, proof that about one-fourth of military couples get married relatively young. A lot of military couples are even younger than this bracket, including French and Peele, but, they do not fit this stereotype entirely.

There’s a popular stigma that young military couples rush to get engaged within a few months of meeting. There’s an expectation to revolve every aspect of their lives around the military.

In basic training, the first two to four months of military training, recruits cannot reach the outside world, with the exception of letters. After graduation, they have access to phones, the internet, and resources off-base. Basic training is typically the hardest part for couples due to the lack of communication, and the pressure to get married young is felt throughout the whole military environment.

“You see a lot of people who get married young in the military for all the wrong reasons,” Peele said.

One of these reasons is for the money. A married person in the Army gets a $60,000 bonus when they finish A-school, compared to $12,000 for a single person.

Zollars said he almost married a friend from home so he could use the extra money to pay her bills. It is a very real option for those in the military, and the pressure is certainly there.

French said she did not personally feel a pressure to get married from the Army, but since the marriage, she’s been pressured by family to have kids. She said her father-in-law asked what her 5-year plan was for having kids – to which she told him to leave and ask again when he’d accept a 10-year plan.

French and Peele got engaged after a year and a half of dating. They were married on their second anniversary – the day after Christmas – a fact that would make any hopeless romantic tear up.

When her family heard news of their wedding after a short 6-month engagement period, French said they seemed more suspicious than happy for her.

“Everyone thought I was pregnant,” she said. Other family members thought she was going to drop out of school to go live with Peele at Fort Bragg.

French said she didn’t appreciate her family’s intrusive questions, but she didn’t let that change her plans.

“It sucks, but it’s also just the price I pay,” she said.

To the chapel

Soon after the engagement, the Army told Peele he was going to be deployed to Iraq. Duty was calling in less than six short months, and French was impatient.

“Our plan was to wait until I finished Carolina,” she said. “That was always our plan.”

But she just couldn’t wait to marry her best friend.

“As long as he was there with me, everything was fantastic – I was on cloud nine,” French said. “As soon as he left though, I was like ‘This is ridiculous. What are we doing?’”

When she picked up her husband from the airport after he spent a month in Texas for the Army, she told him she had a surprise. Peele said he had a feeling she was planning something when she started driving into the city, so he asked her if they were going to the courthouse to get married.

“No, we are not going to the courthouse to get married,” French told him. “What kind of woman do you think I am?”

She was driving him to get their marriage certificate. French referred to herself as the initiator in the relationship, and this action indicates why.

One week later, they were married in the mountains of North Carolina.

“We had been engaged for about six or seven months, and I knew she was the girl for me, but it scared me,” Peele said. “It was such a huge step at such a quick pace, but looking back I don’t think I would rather have done it any other way.”

While French and Peele have not had the traditional relationship, engagement or married life, they still manage to make it work. Living apart is not easy, but they have an understanding when it comes to being together while living separate lives.

When asked if he had any regrets, Peele said without hesitation, “Not a single one.”

After a few moments deep in thought, French said, “The only thing I regret is not wearing shapewear under my wedding dress.”

Edited by Paige Connelly