Ashley Carlson’s notebook page was neatly divided into two parts, with topics on the left side and details on the right. Also on the left were boldly written notes to herself: *Double Check* and *New Stuff.* The Memorial High School senior was learning valuable study skills along with the algebra in her first-ever class on a college campus.
Area students have been taking college-level classes while still in high school through advanced placement and dual credit programs for some time. But twice a week Carlson sits in a classroom at Chippewa Valley Technical College with 23 other Eau Claire Memorial and North students. They learn Intermediate Algebra along with skills that will serve them well in college. The idea is to increase the odds of students completing college by giving them an early taste of it.
The experience was made possible through a College Success grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. With the grant, CVTC and the Eau Claire Area School District implemented the class as part of the Collaboration for Postsecondary Success (CAPS) program.
“We want them to get the college experience within the institution,” said CVTC Academic Services Instructor Molly Craker, the grant coordinator. “We want them on our campus so they are introduced to our resources such as Academic Services, Diversity Resources, academic advisors and counselors.”
College dropout rates are higher for students from minority groups, low-income families, and first-generation college students. The CAPS program targets students from such groups.
“We were looking for students with a high likelihood of post-secondary attendance who could benefit from the program,” said Dianna Zeegers, an Eau Claire School District instructor who teaches college success strategies in the CAPS program.
Students gain credit toward their high school graduation and credit at CVTC that can be transferred to other institutions. The content instructor for the class is CVTC Math Instructor Mike Davis.
“We teach Intermediate Algebra, but the bigger lessons being learned are the opportunities that college can present.” Davis said. “They get treated as adults and some of them are not used to that as high school students,” Davis said. “The vast majority of them really appreciate that. They want their opportunity to be responsible.”
“One of the first things (Davis) said to us was if you are not going to use your time well in class, there’s no point being here,” said Carlson. “It helps me to take class time a lot more seriously.”
The college experience involves much more than not having to get a hall pass to go to the bathroom.
“They use an electronic textbook, which may be new to many of them,” said Craker. Also, a good portion of the students’ work is done online through a program called MyMathLab, which allows students to learn and work at home.
Students notice, too, that the college will work with them to help them succeed. Many students make use of the Academic Services Center.
“I go there every Wednesday,” said Memorial senior Kayli Werk. “The lady down there is super-helpful. Instead of giving you the answer, she’ll give you worksheets to help you understand it.”
Werk added that Davis encourages students to ask questions and shows concern that students understand the concepts.
“I’m not really good at math,” said Carlson. “It’s shocking to me that I’m doing so well. A big part of it is that Mike is a super-awesome teacher.”
Davis said the students are generally ready for the college work. “Some of the students have had math at the level we are teaching. For some it is very new to them,” Davis said. “But they are all learning personal responsibility.”
Zeegers is there to help them with that part of the class. She taught the class the divided page method of taking good notes, called “Cornell Notes,” and models it on an easel in front of the class. “As they progress through the class, I give them feedback on their notes and assess them on that,” Zeegers said.
The hybrid college/high school class is well received by the students.
“I signed up because I thought I would get a taste of what college math would be like,” said North senior Dave Zook. “It’s going all right. We’re getting into some new stuff, but people are good at helping us out.”
“I am going to go to CVTC next year, so this was an awesome opportunity,” said Carlson.
Davis is happy to see the students advance in their math skills, but also grow as young adults. “There’s definitely a handful of them that we know we have changed their path,” Davis said. “And when they say ‘I don’t know what I want to do,’ we help them work through that.”
Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.