MAYS LANDING — Dominic Amador, 21, of Egg Harbor Township, is taking two English classes at Atlantic Cape Community College this semester.
The first is college English 101. The second is an Accelerated Learning Program developmental course designed to help him boost his language skills.
During a recent ALP class, assistant professor Stephanie Natale-Boianelli reviewed unfamiliar vocabulary in a short story from Sherman Alexie’s book “War Dances.” She discussed the author’s use of existentialism and how the use of specific words in a sentence can create a deeper meaning.
Amador, one of the more outgoing and talkative students, said after class that he doesn’t mind taking two English classes.
“It works out better,” he said. “(The professor) will explain what I am doing both right and wrong. It helps a lot.”
The high rate of remediation at county colleges and the challenge those students face in graduating have been ongoing issues in the state’s 19 community colleges. As many as two-thirds of new students require at least one remedial course.
Some can spend an entire semester or more in remedial classes, often getting discouraged and dropping out.
In spring 2012, Atlantic Cape tried a new model that places eligible students in both a regular college English class and an ALP developmental class with the same professor. So far, 84 percent of students in the ALP program have successfully completed their English 101 class, compared with just 44 percent of students who started by first just taking a remedial course.
That success rate helped the program receive a 2016 Diana Hacker Award for Outstanding Programs in English for Two-Year Colleges and Teachers by the Two-Year College English Association of the National Council of Teachers of English.
The program is modeled after one in Baltimore and is also part of Atlantic Cape’s Student Success Initiative. Students in the ALP program have the same professor in their English 101 class who mentors them on career and college issues as well as English assignments.
“It gives them more individual attention and also develops a mentor relationship,” said Natale-Boianelli, who is also coordinator of the program. “If students can connect with someone here, they are more likely to stay and graduate.”
Denise Coulter, dean of Liberal Studies, said professors will infuse career discussions into the class, as well as bring in guest speakers from the Rutgers University site on campus and Atlantic Cape career programs that can help students plan their futures.
“Some of these students aren’t really remedial, they just don’t have good habits,” Natale-Boianelli said. “They lack focus, and we try to help them set goals and a plan to meet them. We teach them to advocate for themselves.”
The program started with four groups of students and has increased to 14. Students are mixed in with regular English 101 students and then meet in smaller groups of about nine students for the ALP class.
The college also has revamped its math remedial program, offering a “boot camp” that lets students progress through the remedial work at their own pace, then move directly into the college-level course. Both programs are most effective with students who are “borderline” college ready but need a boost to prepare them for college-level work.
Natasha Muriuki, 18, of Galloway Township, took both the ALP and English 101 classes last semester, even though she was eligible to test out of the ALP class.
“I wanted to meet the teacher and see if it was worth taking the class first,” she said. “I fell in love with the class and found the information useful.”
Natale-Boianelli was her professor, and Muriuki was impressed with the time she took to make sure students understood the work.
“I do feel so much more prepared,” said Muriuki, a hospitality major who plans to complete her degree at Atlantic Cape in two years then transfer to a four-year college. “I’m taking English 102 now with a smile on my face.”