By Sarah Wakefield Rosser
ORANGE PARK – There is a scene from 1982 cult classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" where a young Sean Penn, playing a perpetually foggy California high school student, has a pizza delivered to his classroom, much to his teacher Mr. Hand’s chagrin. Hand asks student Jeff Spicoli if he is hallucinating, obviously peeved at the interruption. Mr. Hand, played by Ray Walston, tells Spicoli that he will not waste his time. Spicoli replies, "If you’re here and I’m here, doesn’t that make it our time?"
St. Johns River State College President Joe Pickens proposed the same question to educators from Putnam, St. Johns and Clay Counties at a recent seminar on college readiness. "For decades, we’ve acted as if they were ‘your’ students and not our students all the way through," Pickens said to public school members from surrounding counties. "We need to start acting like ‘us’ from middle school."
With 57 percent of all first time students entering college needing remediation courses in math, reading and writing, Pickens wants to alert younger students about the necessity of taking harder classes with the goal of not only going to college, but being college-ready.
Pickens and his team are aware of the new statewide curriculum called Common Core State Standards, which he hopes will reduce the need for review courses for college freshmen. Common Core standards are a set of rigorous skills designed by educators to provide students with a competitive edge when they move on to college or directly into a career. The goal of Common Core is to elevate students to be immediately ready to enter college through rigorous coursework from kindergarten through high school graduation.
"Common Core is directed at high school curriculum, but it affects us," Pickens said during the seminar dubbed "Core to College."
Eventually, reading and math portions of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT will be replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC Exam.
For example, instead of writing a final paper, students will be expected to incorporate keyboarding skills to type the project that they worked on with a team in a collaborative effort. Educators in 45 states, including the District of Columbia, developed and voluntarily adopted the Common Core standards. Adopted in July 2010, they will be fully implemented into public school classrooms at the start of the 2014 school year.
"It’s thinking of different ways to teach critical thinking and to go deeper," Cassandra Brown said, Coordinator of Postsecondary Readiness for the Florida Department of Education. "With the same rules, everyone can compete on the same staircase nationally and internationally."
What Pickens sees at the community college level is a higher level of unprepared students.
"Nationwide, nearly 60 percent of all first-year college students discover that despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not academically collegeready," Pickens said. "We need to create understanding early. Legislation created the [FCAT] standard and kids have graduated with a diploma, but they are not necessarily ready to enter college."
The plan is to interest younger students in higher education by visiting SJRSC campuses while still in junior high. Using corporate partnerships and grants, SJRSC recently hosted 900 Putnam County eighth graders for career and college rallies and camps that focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Walking the halls and witnessing college lectures gives pre-high school students a tangible goal to focus on as early as possible.
"It is not a pitch for St. Johns but for college and opportunities," said Vice President of Academic Affairs Melissa Brown. "They need to start shaping up in ninth grade. Students need to realize that they need to take rigorous courses and that it is a real high school [grade point average]."
SJRSC is hoping to expand the college visitation program to students in Clay and St. Johns Counties soon.
"Nationwide, nearly 60 percent of all first-year college students discover that despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not academically college-ready."
– St. Johns River State College President Joe Pickens
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