April 16, 2012


TC3 program boosts learning

Synergy tutoring program caters to students who need help most


Scott Conroe/contributing photographer
Tompkins Cortland Community College student Josh Snell of Cortland works with Portia Jenkins, student peer advisor, on Thursday at the college’s Synergy academic skills service.

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — Two study rooms at Tompkins Cortland Community College came alive Thursday afternoon as college students read books and then discussed what they had read with tutors.
A professor, two staff members serving as tutors and a student peer advisor worked with six TC3 students on reading and writing skills, in the college’s new Synergy tutoring program. Another professor and another student peer advisor waited for students to arrive to receive help with math.
Synergy is for students in precollege courses — students whose scores on TC3’s placement tests showed they were not ready for college work. The program offers not just a focus on math, reading and writing, but a structure for learning study skills.
Three professors who direct the precollege courses — Anna Regula in reading, Susan Cerretani in writing and Sophia Georgiakaki in math — also direct Synergy.
“About 50 percent of our incoming students need these classes, and Synergy catches them early and gives them support,” Regula said before Thursday’s session began.
“Moving from high school to college can be an abrupt shift in what’s expected,” said Provost John Conners. “You have more freedom in college. Synergy gives the students more structure, which helps smooth the transition. It gives them a safe home, where they feel more secure.”
Students need the precollege courses for a variety of reasons. Some are rusty from being out of school for years. Some never absorbed enough material in high school. Some just could not balance their courses with the freedom of being away from home.
Being placed in the precollege courses can make students feel embarrassed and discouraged, so faculty and the student peer advisors try to convince them that they can indeed do college work — after some help. The peer advisors are mostly students who have taken the precollege courses already.
“I rushed my placement test and ended up in English 99,” said Portia Jenkins, a reading peer advisor from the Bronx. “I could have tested out of it but I decided to stay in it. I loved it.”
She said some students feel “like they’re not smart enough” when the test shows they need a precollege course, but she thinks there can never be enough help for any student.
Jenkins was working with Josh Snell, 24, who has been in the Army since he dropped out of Cortland High School in 2006. A specialist in rank, now in the Army National Guard, he has a General Education Degree and is taking courses at TC3 to improve his academic skills overall.
“I wanted to get an education, to better myself,” said Snell, who is taking Reading 99, English 99, art, math and aerobic fitness. “In the military, you need an education to advance (in rank).”
Snell was searching the novel “Conception” for vocabulary words, studying their meaning in different contexts. Regula gently told him to read at home as well, but he said he reads only car magazines.
“The last thing I read was ‘James and the Giant Peach’ in sixth grade,” Snell said. “I’m more hands-on. I don’t read books at home. But I’ve got to.”
Snell is one of several students who come to the Synergy rooms almost every day.
The Synergy program began last fall and serves 10 to 20 students per day. Conners said the money for its staffing, about $30,000, came from a $200,000 federal grant intended to fund academic support initiatives.
Regula said reading levels improved by 10 percent among precollege students who used Synergy services in the fall semester. The program uses a variety of novels, plays and memoirs.
She said some students need precollege writing and reading courses because they did not learn in high school how to absorb stories, characters, plots or ideas in a deep way, sometimes relying on Cliff’s Notes versions of books instead of reading them.
“I’m not one of those who say it’s the high school’s fault,” Regula said. “I think public school teachers have to do too much testing and teaching for tests, to cover material as they could.”
Bryan Chambala, an editor and writer for TC3’s public relations office, teaches a precollege English course and works part time at Synergy, with students in reading. He said one-on-one work with students is “huge — I can do more in 20 minutes here with a student than in a whole class period.”
“You see students who won’t read a book come in here, read it with other students and then they can’t put it down,” he said. “That they come in here is a big step.”


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