Giving them the tools they need to succeed: COM class increases retention, completion

Posted on: April 08, 2013

Karmyn Spino-Chantre knows she wasn’t ready for college.
 
“I felt trapped in high school. I wasn’t the best student. I wasn’t prepared at all,” she said.
 
When she enrolled in COM, placement tests showed she wasn’t ready for the college algebra course she needed. She signed up for developmental math classes at COM to bridge the gap.
 
She was also required to take Psychology for Success, a course that helps students acquire the skills needed to succeed in college from consistently coming to class to learning how and whom to ask for help.
 
“That was probably one of my favorite classes,” she said. “Psychology for Success gave me a new outlook on things. I’m kind of a procrastinator. It helped with strategy and time management.”
 
She enjoyed the class’ hands-on activities and that students are free to share about struggles with co-workers, family members and school. Some students discuss the pressure they face as the first in their family to graduate from high school, let alone from college.
 
“[Professor Lalanya Ennis] made it where I could be comfortable talking with her. I felt like I was able to get personal,” Spino-Chantre said.
 
It made a difference for her. Though reenacting scenarios of crisis resolution and constructing towers from marshmallows isn’t traditional college work, along the way she learned about taking responsibility, persisting and looking at things in from a new perspective.
 
The class also gave Spino-Chantre a confidante and cheerleader as she continues college.
 
“I go see [Ennis] all the time. I’d say she’s a mentor to me,” said Spino-Chantre.
 
She’s not the only student to benefit from the course. Before implementing Psychology for Success as part of the national Achieving the Dream initiative designed to increase student success at community colleges, COM saw 51 percent of students in developmental math complete the sequence of courses and begin college-level math. Now for those who complete Psychology for Success, the number’s risen to 72 percent. Previously, the rate of students completing developmental English was 57 percent; now those who complete Psychology for Success also complete developmental English at an 87 percent rate.

The results are what those who implemented the Achieving the Dream initiative, which seeks to increase student retention and degree or certificate completion, especially of low-income students, aimed for.

“The impact of this course on our students has been dramatic, and we view it as one of our most powerful student success interventions,” said Dr. Pam Millsap, Achieving the Dream co-director and dean of general education programs.

Not only are younger students reaping the benefits but so are those who return to college after years in the workforce. James “Bam” Young enrolled in the COM Process Technology Program after 10 years of working various jobs including owning a small trucking business that ended after the economy downturned. The class, he said, changed how he viewed himself.
 
“I realized that I really am a decent student. I enjoy getting up and going to school, doing a challenge. It all stemmed from Ms. Ennis’ class. I absolutely loved it. I’m able to look at a lot of things in a positive light now,” said Young.
 
Through the class homework and textbook “On Course,” he discovered more about himself.
 
“That class made me write journal after journal. That made me release things I’d held onto for years. I realized that writing is therapeutic,” said Young.
 
The writing practice is also helping him in the speech class he’s currently taking.

“I recommend that class for anyone, someone who wants to take just one course. You learn a lot about society; you learn a lot about yourself. It gave me a newfound excitement about learning. I’m just ready to welcome more challenges,” said Young.
 
Young’s transformation is one repeated in many students, said Ennis.
 
“You see a major change in most of the students who take the class. Everything we teach in class is giving them tools. I think they’re taking those skills and realizing, ‘I can do this,’” Ennis said.

COM professors Stacey Henderson and LaWanda Franks also teach Psychology for Success and have seen the same results.

“There’s definitely a remarkable change throughout the semester. After a couple of weeks, they start saying, ‘This applies to all aspects of my life,’” Henderson said.  “At the end they’re sad it’s over. They’ve formed relationships with other students in the class.”
 
They’ve also formed relationships with others on campus. One strategy that Henderson initiated and that the other professors adopted a campus-wide scavenger hunt. Psychology for Success professors send groups of students to collect information from college hotspots—the Library, Learning Lab and Student Success Center. Through the exercise, they learn where and whom to ask for help.

“By the end of semester they have new connections with people at college and new skills,” said Ennis. “Little light bulbs start going off. Students realize, ‘College is not this big, scary thing. I can finish this.’”


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