English instructor Mary Jane Atkins was frustrated that far too many students in her Freshman English classes fell far below what was expected at the college level.
Somehow, they were passing high school English without picking up the skills needed to navigate basic composition courses here at GCC.
After what she remembers as eight depressing years of teaching low-achieving classes, Atkins was at her wit’s end by 1998. “God!” she thought at the time. “What are they doing in grades K through 12 that they can’t write or read critically? This is alarming.”
Now director of the GCC Bridge Program, Atkins works with local high schools to help set students on the track to success.
In 1998, English instructor Sue Brinkmeyer, with the support of English Division Chair David White, contacted the Glendale Unified School District about devising a plan to improve student success.
Atkins, who soon came on board, had discovered that educators nationwide were exploring ways to bridge the transition from high school to college.
Bridging the gap meant confronting head-on the unsatisfactory preparation in English at the high school level. In fall of 1998, 73.1 percent of students entering GCC from high school placed below freshman composition in the placement exam.
The district invited Atkins and English Professor Steve Taylor to read diagnostic essays written by students at the high schools to better understand the problems. Taylor and Atkins also met with high school teachers to better understand the challenges they faced.
After two years in development, the Bridge Program debuted last year at Burroughs, Burbank, Hoover, and Glendale High Schools.
Since then, Bridge has built working relationships between GCC and high school instructors. The program’s greatest challenge has been to clarify post-secondary school standards for English skills, and to make sure senior English classes meet those standards.
Those college-preparatory senior English courses are making a difference, Atkins said. Students placed on track from their freshman year seem to be improving. Juniors at Crescenta Valley High School, included in Bridge as of this fall, have taken the GCC English Placement exam and the majority have placed into English 120 or 191 at GCC, the levels before freshman composition.
With the cooperation of English Department Chair Jennifer Abrams and co-chair Robin Arehart, four sections of College Preparatory English have finished the Bridge track at CV.
Before Bridge was introduced in his classes at John Burroughs High School in Burbank, Sam Kuglen said, “they didn’t think beyond one-word answers.” Now, they’re learning how to develop ideas. The focus in Kuglen”s prototype class is on intensive writing, where they practice organizing and connecting ideas for an essay and, at year’s end, produce a research paper.
Kuglen says he has seen students’ attitudes about college change drastically. Because of the Bridge program, he was able to bring his class to use the research facilities here at GCC. Before that, he said, 95 percent of students had never spent much time in a library.
The Bridge Program “helps you get skills that you would not get in a regular class, like reading and writing,” said David Escamilla, one of Kuglen’s seniors. “I like to concentrate on writing.”
Atkins is positive about the future. She wants to see Bridge expand to other colleges. “We’re not just trying to get students to come to Glendale College,” she said. “I don’t care where they go to college, as long as they’re prepared.”