THE JOURNEY TO COLLEGE READINESS
Walking into Akins High School at the beginning of September, I was almost overwhelmed with anxiety and excitement. As part of a team of APIE College Readiness Advocates, our goal was to end the year with every student meeting the Texas Success Initiative College Readiness Standards, meaning that they would qualify to enroll in college-level classes after high school. Even with nearly a month of training, facing the list of over 100 seniors needing intervention was still intimidating. The objective that first week: recruit students for the program. Although challenged by everything from learning the layout of the school to finding the best procedure for bringing a student into a one-on-one meeting, I left the first week feeling assured. It seemed that most of the entering seniors were committed to becoming college ready.
The first few weeks of actual tutoring played out differently, however. I was concerned by how much some of the students struggled to read a short passage or do a basic pre-algebra problem. While some of this was due to learning loss over the summer, it was also clear that these students faced academic gaps in their learning. One student in particular really stood out to me. Helen was highly engaged and motivated to become college ready but also struggled with math, unable to add or multiply without a calculator. Still, she stayed positive and focused on our goal. I was concerned about getting Helen college ready but determined not to let her down. We’d been warned many times during training that this job would be challenging, and I now realized how true this was.
By February, there had been many ups and downs. Elective teachers were becoming increasingly impatient with having students pulled for tutoring, while severe senioritis was kicking in. A round of college readiness testing for Akins APIE students was administered. Though many of my students had already succeeded or were well on their way to becoming college ready, some, including Helen, seemed further behind than they should have been, in spite of almost six months of tutoring. Still, other non-APIE students were asking to join the College Readiness program; I realized we were making a real impact on our students.
The next few months before the final COMPASS test was administered felt like a balancing act of trying to meet with each remaining student for as long as possible while minimizing class absence. I expected the spring semester to be the toughest part of the year, yet it was during this time that the most challenging students started making real progress. The material suddenly started to click and my students were beginning to truly value the tutoring they were receiving. Helen increased her commitment and was working on math three times more often than initially agreed upon. The things she struggled with at the beginning of the year were no longer an issue for her. By the time the final COMPASS test day came, Helen had gone from being the math student for whom I was the most concerned to the one who achieved the most success.
Despite the challenges faced throughout the year, what I found most difficult was the realization that I will not continue working with these students as they begin college. It is comforting and rewarding to have witnessed the progress made by each student and to end the year knowing that all of the students will begin college better equipped with the skills that they need to succeed.
** This essay was published in APIE’s summer 2013 newsletter. Click here to subscribe to future newsletters.
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