The second-chance club

Dropouts, immigrants and people trying to start over make up The Second-Chance Club at Maryland’s Montgomery College, write Eric Hoover and Sara Lipka in their look at a semester of remedial English.

The students in English 002 stand at higher education’s threshold. If they make it through, they advance to college-level courses that count toward a degree. Otherwise they must decide whether to try again, running down their financial aid, or give up on college and make do without it.

. . . Nationally, of the students who place into remediation—as many as 90 percent at some community colleges—only about a quarter go on to earn a degree.

Greg Wahl teaches writing, syntax, grammar and punctuation, alternating between a cinder-block classroom on Tuesdays and the computer lab on Thursdays.

Each week there’s more grammar to practice: parts of speech, verb tenses, coordinating conjunctions. Chapter by chapter, the class reads The Absolutely True Diary, a young-adult novel about a poor, 14-year-old Spokane Indian named Junior. Some of his struggles reflect theirs. Every two or three weeks, an essay is due.

Each class starts at 10:15, but students regularly arrive 15, 20, 30 minutes late, sometimes in headphones spilling tunes into the room.

One student, who’s repeating the course for the second time, sits slouched in the back corner. He rarely raises his hand, but often whispers the right answer when other students are stumped. He asks Wahl to help him recover his backpack, which has been confiscated by authorities for reasons he doesn’t explain. Wahl offers to try.

Instructors here often must be social workers, too. If you take students in, Greg believes, it’s your obligation to support them.

Half of Wahl’s students are repeating the course. County residents pay $742 for the non-credit course; out-of-county students pay double. At the end of the semester, half his students pass, though some will go to an English 101 course that offers extra support in grammar (for a higher price).

In an essay, Kenneth Okorafor, a Nigerian immigrant, analyzes the “two great obstacles that are hindering me from where I want to be in life.”

My two greatest obstacles in EN002 this semester are not paying attention in class, and not managing time …

Not paying attention in class is an obstacle for me because I usually get side tracked by other things that are going on around me such as in talking to friends or texting on the phone. I intend to overcome this obstacle to pass EN002, the only way I could do that is by sitting in front of the class which I have been doing so I could hear everything the teacher had to say.

. . . Another obstacle is not managing my time, because I usually go to bed late at night staying up watching movies or talking on the phone with friends till around 3am. However I noticed doing this wasn’t doing myself justice at all. Because I almost failed my EN001 class last semester by going late to class and Turing in homework’s late. There was a time I applied for a job, got an interview; I went to the interview late and lost the opportunity. This semester to pass my EN002 class, I am making sure I do everything that has to be done on time, even going to bed on time , turn off my phone so I don’t talk to friends late at night any more.

Okorafor failed the class. He’s trying again in the intensive six-week version of the class. Okorafor enjoyed a high school cooking class and thought about studying hospitality management in college, but couldn’t afford an elite private college. Someone should steer him to Montgomery College’s hospitality management program.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON March 13, 2013

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The second-chance club — Joanne Jacobs

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