‘I passed 100%!’ High school and college students master new skills at City College campuses in Bayview Hunters Point

by Jackson Ly

As City College waits for its accreditation status to be decided this coming June 15, budget cuts continue to limit course sections, reduce available part-time instructors and eliminate student services.

With larger classes and fewer class sections, instructors don’t have enough time to work with every student, said psychology professor Robert M. Clark, who teaches 50 psychology students, including both adults and high school students at City College’s Southeast campus.

Student-Malcolm-Joseph-City-College-instructor-African-American-Scholastic-Program-co-founder-Bruce-Collins-at-Evans-campus-by-Jackson-Ly, ‘I passed 100%!’ High school and college students master new skills at City College campuses in Bayview Hunters Point, Local News & Views Instructors and counselors who are committed to their students adapt by working overtime and helping students after class, Clark said.

“It’s harder to give effective teaching,” he said. “Instead of jumping ship, they [instructors] take pay cuts.”

Clark is also one of the founders of the African American Scholastic Program (AASP) that began in 1992. The retention program was the first of its kind at City College, and it targeted African American males at Balboa High School.

From 1989 to 2009, California’s average high school graduation rate for African males is 47 percent, according to California Postsecondary Education Data.

In hopes of increasing that percentage, AASP concurrently enrolls high school students in City College. In Clark’s psychology classes, enrolled high school students earn five high school units, along with three extra college units.

For 16 years in a row, AASP took high school students to Black colleges in Atlanta to expose them to schools outside of California.

Though lack of funding has stopped these college field trips, Clark and AASP’s GED instructor Bruce Collins continue the program by teaching college level and GED classes at the Southeast and Evans campuses.

Collin’s GED preparation course at the Evans campus has seven high school students and eight City College students enrolled. Students are studying at different levels: from adult basic education to pre-GED and advanced GED students.

Collins used to lecture his students but stopped when he noticed his students were drifting and frustrated. Students felt intimidated and left behind as they tried to keep up with students who were more advanced.

Collins strayed from traditional teaching by making the students work as a team; he grouped the high school students together and City College students together.

As the students from each group answered each other’s questions, Collins had more class time for one-on-one instruction.

However, when his students were too silent and afraid to ask questions, Collins said to his students: “Never be afraid to make a mistake in this class because I’ll never call your mother. Admit what you don’t know and start the process of learning.”

Adult GED student Michael Jenkins took Collins’ advice when he enrolled in the class. Jenkins was committed to reading, but he had no intention of earning his GED certificate.

Jenkins wanted to learn how to read so he could pass his motorcycle test and ride his motorcycle with his friends.

Collins told Jenkins to get two DMV motorcycle books, one for the each of them. Jenkins came to class every night from Monday through Thursday, doing reading assignments, working on Hooked on Phonics and practicing motorcycle tests.

Since Jenkins couldn’t read, he lacked a basic foundation of vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation and critical thinking skills needed to pass the Class M license test.

Collins gave Jenkins the “word attack,” which meant Jenkins had to highlight words from the practice tests that he couldn’t pronounce, and then learn how to pronounce, spell and use them correctly. When Jenkins missed a question regarding the rules for riding with a group of motorcyclists, Collins made him reread, find, research and analyze the DMV motorcycle manual.

As Jenkins practiced each day, he was unconsciously developing his academic, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, Collins said. He came closer and closer to taking the real test.

“His confidence was building because he was working hard to pass the motorcycle test and not realizing he was improving reading,” Collins said.

During class one day, Collins recalled Jenkins taking a piece of paper out of his pocket and saying, “‘Mr. Collins, I passed the motorcycle test 100 percent!’”

Jenkins was so confident in his abilities that he took and passed the Class C license exam, too.

“It’s a thrill just to see something like that,” Collins said.

Students like Jenkins inspire Collins to teach the GED preparation classes. Education is about learning academic skills and applying them to life, he said.

Though Jenkins did not study specifically for the GED, he acquired the basic life skills that are likely to open doors for him in terms of career choices or academic advancement.

Depending on what the Accrediting Commission decides, City College might not offer programs and classes in the fall 2013 for the 1,200 Southeast campus students, who like Jenkins depend on City College for basic education.

Jackson Ly is a reporter for The Guardsman, the acclaimed newspaper produced by students at City College of San Francisco. He can be reached at jly@theguardsman.com.