DVC Aims to Improve Skills of Underprepared Students

Christian Villanueva

Heidi Goen-Salter teaches an “integrated” reading and writing class – which means her students attend five hours a day, two days a week and get six units of credit for both English 116 and English 118.

It’s not the usual pattern.

Until this semester, students took each class separately, most often in different semesters.

“They were doing one thing in one class and one thing in another,” Goen-Salter said “[Yet,] there’s been so much that shows reading and writing are linked together.”

Goen-Salter and two other English instructors are trying the new approach to see if it jump-starts students’ skills so they can move into college-level English classes.

The experiment is just one of the many projects being funded by the state’s Basic Skills Initiative, which, since 2006, has funneled millions of dollars to colleges to help boost the academic skills of students who arrive unprepared for college work.

DVC has received nearly $1 million over the past three years from the initiative, said Chris Leivas, vice president of finance and administration.

Statewide, the number of community college students taking below college-level English and math classes increased from 281,905 in fall 2001 to 293,736 in fall 2005 – an increase of 4.2 percent, according to the DVC Fact Book 2007.

At DVC, that number jumped from 1,044 students in fall 2001 to 1,336 in 2005 – an increase of nearly 28 percent.

“The state has committed for five years as long as the college is making strides towards its goal,” said Patrick Leong, an English instructor who co-leads the Foundation for College Success Committee with counselor Lupe Dannels.

The committee is in charge of distributing the BSI money.

So far, it has been used to upgrade software, launch an online algebra course, and create a companion course to Math 110 that offers students support.

In addition to the integrated English class, projects include a new writing and study skills center on the San Ramon campus and the Ujima project. The Ujima project is a learning community that focuses on the needs of black students, although it is open to anyone.

Black students make up a disproportionately high number of the students enrolled in basic skills math and English classes. Although they make up only 5.7 percent of the total student population, they account for 12.9 percent of the students enrolled in basic skills courses, according the DVC Fact Book 2007.

The Ujima project holds cultural enrichment activities and, beginning spring semester, the school will offer a counseling 120 class. Its first event was a discussion the week of the presidential election, “Are We Ready for a Black President?”

Marika Hinds, who heads the program, said more than 50 people attended. The Basic Skills money also financed a conference Nov. 14 that drew around 40 instructors to the campus to hear presenters address issues with student reading in remedial and basic skills classes, as well as higher-level English and non-English courses.

Nov. 14 was also the final day for instructors to submit proposals for $200,000 in basic skills projects for the spring.