By Ben Hirsch, College Readiness Advocate
As October begins and students are settling back into school, Austin Partners in Education’s college readiness advocates have already begun helping high school seniors get ready for a successful academic career in college.
Senior year is an incredibly tumultuous time: there are the foreseeable hurdles of college applications, financial aid forms, and impending adult responsibilities; the excitement about the upcoming life change or fear inspired by leaving home; and the Hollywood-sanctioned coming of age moments: homecoming, prom, and finally graduation. On some level, though, last on their mind is the question “am I academically prepared for college?” That is where APIE comes in.
This is the beginning of my third school year helping seniors solidify the skills they need to be a high achieving college student. Successful college students can write clearly and persuasively, comprehend the main ideas, philosophical underpinnings and supporting details in the texts they read, and have the math skills necessary to pursue careers they find compelling.
As a College Readiness Advocate, I have the exciting job of helping students identify areas in which they are struggling and give them extra one-on-one or small-group instruction to improve in those areas. At Akins High school I worked with Alyssa, who was struggling to demonstrate college-level ability in math. In her own words math had always been “the worst” for Alyssa.
Working with Alyssa made it apparent that her struggles were the result of some real deficiencies in mathematical knowledge. She was confounded by fractions, had difficulties working with negative numbers, and found graphs incredibly confusing. While a class full of peers and friends is not the ideal environment to reveal deep-seeded confusion, a small group can be more supportive. When one student expresses confusion, others often chime in, “yeah, I never got that either.”
When you don’t have a basic understanding of mathematical concepts, most high school math feels like a series of random steps that, if you don’t do perfectly, will lead you to the wrong answer. This obviously causes stress. But after we discovered the foundation concepts that Alyssa was missing, she was able to make great strides. By solidifying her ability to do things like reduce fractions and grapple with negative numbers, we enabled her to make sense of complex algebra like rational equations (which are essentially just extremely complex fractions) and quadratic functions (which cannot possibly be solved consistently if you do not understand the real significance of a numbers sign).
At the end of the year, Alyssa passed the mast section of the Texas Success Initiative Assessment and was able to avoid developmental courses at the University of Texas San Antonio. She was especially happy because these courses would have been in math. Working with students like Alyssa is why I am excited to work with more aspiring college graduates. Many students have the desire and capacity to be successful and happy in college, but they need a little academic support before they head off on the next incredible step in their life of learning.