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PROGRAM BOOSTS ENGLISH SKILLS STUDENTS GET HELP PREPARING FOR COLLEGE.

Byline: Helen Gao Staff Writer

GLENDALE - After years of seeing Glendale Community College freshmen writing at middle-school levels, English instructor Mary Jane Atkins knew she had to do something.

``All of us together were talking about how difficult it is to train students and pass them on when their writing skills and reading skills are so poor,'' she said, noting that 70 percent of the college's freshmen have to take remedial courses before advancing to English 101.

Such frustration led Atkins and her colleagues to create the High School Bridge Program. The 2-year-old program trains local high school teachers to teach their college-bound seniors the mechanics of writing essays and research papers.

Preliminary results from the program are encouraging, according to statistics provided by the college. Of a random sample of 29 students who attended Glendale College after completing the one-year Bridge Program, 21 - or 72 percent - passed their English 101 course with a C or better last year.

``I knew it would be successful, but it's far better than I thought I would be anticipating. It's blown us away,'' said David B. White, chairman of the college's English division.

Currently, the program serves about 300 students from Burbank, Burroughs, Glendale, Hoover and Crescenta Valley high schools.

Atkins, who heads the program, hopes to expand it to other public and private schools in the area, including Eagle Rock High, St. Francis High in La Canada Flintridge, Holy Family High in Glendale and Verdugo Hills High in Tujunga.

``You've got the AP (Advanced Placement) students at one end and ELL (English language learners) at the other,'' she said. ``Why I got involved is ... because there is this huge middle that needs to be addressed.

``They are native and non-native speakers alike. They write very simple English - fifth- and sixth-grade English.''

As word of the Bridge Program spreads, Atkins said, she has received phone calls from officials at other community colleges in Southern California interested in learning how they can launch their own program.

Local high school English teachers who are participating in the program say it fills a gap in the high school English curriculum, which focuses more on exposing students to literary canons than the fundamentals of writing and reading.

``A lot of the literature-based classes just don't transfer to the kids. If they read a novel, having to write an analytical essay on it is difficult for the students,'' said Paul McNiff of Burbank High School.

In his writing class, McNiff said, students work on paragraphs, transitional words, topic sentences and other fundamental writing skills.

``That's why I think the class succeeds: because it focuses on very specific skills,'' he said. ``We work on those repeatedly.''

Sam Kuglen, who teaches at Burroughs High School, is excited to see how well his students have done on their midterms recently. On a scale of 1 to 5, most of his students scored a 3.

``The majority of my scores are marginal fails. It sounds bad but I tell my students: You are really at the place you want to be,'' he said. ``Now you can see being able to pass is within your reach.''

Kuglen said some of his students from last year contacted him after they started college and thanked him for the class.

``I've had students of mine come back to tell me they feel prepared for college and how that translates into grades,'' he said.

Jeff Mirosavich, English department chairman at Glendale High School, said another important aspect of the Bridge Program is getting his students mentally prepared for college.

Atkins visits participating campuses to talk candidly to students about the rigors of college courses, showing them examples of syllabuses and marked-up papers.

``That really opens their eyes. After she came to talk to them, their attitude changed,'' Mirosavich said.

Encouraged by the success of the Bridge Program, Glendale College teachers are now discussing creating a similar program focusing on math. An overwhelming majority of freshmen at the college also fail to test into regular math classes.

Because of the Bridge Program, officials say they now see a spirit of cooperation between local high schools and the college, in place of finger-pointing over student failure.

``The frustration brought us together and became a vision of how can we work together and help each other,'' said Jan Swinton, program manager of Glendale College's Office of Workforce & Economic Development.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Words:729
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