This classroom at Parkland College may look different than others. All the students are men. All the students are African-American. All the students are learning from a man with the same background. That's the way the college wanted it.
"This program knows there is a high risk for African-American males, so they've created a program that is designed specifically for them, to give them the academic support they need and also the sense of family structure, the sense of mentorship that they would need to excel in higher education."
This "Together We Achieve More" program is one of several learning communities at Parkland College. The groups are an effort to revamp what Parkland College is teaching and how it's teaching it.
A community report from Champaign County's United Way shows 62% of Parkland students need to enroll in developmental reading, writing or math classes.
"It has to do with whether they come from homes where their parents have gone to college and understand what it means to prepare for college. We do have a lot of students who are from low-income homes and nationally, they say, if a student comes from a low-income background, they're at least 11% more likely to have to take developmental classes, so poverty impacts the success of students. Lack of modeling about what it means to prepare to go to college also may have an impact on some of those students."
She says another reason the statistic exists is because several students come from Chicago and Parkland accepts everyone.
"We are not selective. Anybody can come. You don't see the same group of students going to the University of Illinois because they're a selective institution so we get a broad range of students."
Those students have a broad range of needs, but they also have a teacher who understands.
"Developmental education is me. I came out of it. I have two degrees, but I understand that I started at a developmental level and so, since I've started at a developmental level, I know what students need in order to grasp the material for them to succeed."
"I'm Jalen Travis. I graduated from Centennial High School."
Travis was an example of the statistics. He needed a developmental English course.
"It wasn't a surprise. I knew I was going to be in it. I needed some help with my writing."
But now, he's working to be an exception to the numbers.
"Since I've been in this program, I'm getting A's and B's."
"What were you getting before?"
"I was getting C's and now I'm getting A's and B's."
Travis says it's because his teacher goes beyond the books and gives them structure and motivation.
"It's easier to learn from somebody you can relate to."
"It's basically letting them know they can be something and they don't have to settle for mediocrity and be complacent where they are."
Again, the statistics are for students entering Parkland for the first time. For them, math proves to be the most difficult subject for students coming into Parkland.
Of those who need developmental courses, 30% need reading, 30% need writing and about 70% need developmental math courses. Parkland College says there's not one specific school or type of school which is bringing those numbers down.
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