Half of all the math classes in the spring semester at Atlantic Cape Community College were at a remedial level.
The college has faculty who specialize in “developmental education,” which means they don’t just teach a subject, they also try to address the larger issues of why their students are not ready for college-level work.
In the last class before the March midterm, math professor Michele Leacott took questions from her students at ACCC’s Mays Landing campus.
“You can’t use calculators for the test,” she reminded them before writing an algebra problem on the board. “But you’ll get as much scrap paper as you need.”
“Calculators make it so easy,” student Cindy Gerson-Seid, 55, of Galloway Township, said with a sigh. “I can’t add anymore without a calculator.”
Leacott teaches Math 073, the first of two levels of remedial math courses at ACCC. She will review fractions and percentages and introduce them to algebra.
“The problems are not hard,” she reassures them. “It’s all just memorizing the rules.”
Most of Leacott’s students are young, just a year or two out of high school. Leacott said many students tell her they did not take math their senior year.
Chris Carpenter, 20, of Tuckerton, wants to get into ACCC’s nursing program. Estelyn Collado, 19, of Galloway Township, is interested in criminal justice. Both will have to pass two developmental math classes to get there.
Leacott has high hopes for this class. On average, about 75 percent of the students make it to the next level, Math 074, which is algebra and a little algebra II.
Assistant professor William Osler teaches Math 074 at ACCC’s Worthington Center in Atlantic City. Students there tend to be a bit older. But they still struggle with math.
“The class is always full on the first day,” he said. “Then some just stop coming.”
By mid-semester, those who remain are factoring polynomials and working with square roots and linear equations.
Like Leacott, Osler takes his time, answering questions, running through problems, offering encouragement.
Luiz Velasquez, 24, of Atlantic City, is also inspired by his young son. He’s taking his third math class, and hopes to get into the new air traffic controller program.
“It’s not easy,” he said, admitting he didn’t take math seriously in high school.
“In high school I was immature,” he said. “Now I’m motivated.”
The word maturity comes up a lot with the ACCC faculty members who teach remedial courses.
“You try to dispel the idea that this is year 13 of high school,” said Maryann McCall, assistant professor of developmental English.
“Kids who have no support, no role models in college are lost,” said English Department chairwoman Denise Coulter. “They have to learn to be more responsible.”
On a warm Monday only eight students arrived on time for assistant professor Jay Peterson’s English Composition class. Three trickled in five minutes late, two more arrived five minutes later, and two wandered in 40 minutes late, halfway through the class.
The class began with free writing, then students discussed a story they were reading and reviewed grammar rules about the use of commas.
“We’re doing a lot of basics,” he said after class.
If students place in both English and math developmental courses, they are also put into a College Skills class, which teaches them about note-taking, studying and scheduling their time. They cannot begin their degree program until they pass the developmental courses.
“We put a lot of emphasis on how to be a college student,” assistant professor of developmental English Stephanie Natale said.
In late April, a week before their final exam, Leacott’s math students were far more confident than they had been before the midterm.
“It’s a good class,” she said. “They are ready to move on.”
She gave them a review packet, and reminded them that Math 074 will pick up right where they left off with her.
Students have high praise for the instructors, saying they really care about their progress. The students also admit they’ve matured.
“In high school, we messed around,” Carpenter said.
“It’s time to grow up,” Collado said.
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