Summer Program Sets Stage for College

LINDA CONNER LAMBECK lclambeck@ctpost.com
Article Last Updated: 08/15/2007 03:40:48 PM EDT

BRIDGEPORT — Khadijat Adetona, 16, has written more essays in the past six weeks at a Housatonic Community College summer class than she did all last year at Harding High School.

The words that flowed from her pen into a lined spiral-bound notebook have earned the soon-to-be high school senior rave reviews from a college instructor, who admits to challenging his summer students with a lot over a short period of time.

"You mean I worked you guys that hard?" asked instructor Robert Caciopoli as the quiet class erupted into chatter.

Filled with soon-to-be high school seniors, the class is part of a state-funded effort to prepare them for the rigors of college.

Many of the students are from Central Magnet School or Harding's Medical Magnet program. Some want to be doctors and engineers. A few have taken Advanced Placement courses.

But all of them, according to placement tests the students took, have deficiencies in math or English that would have required remedial work once they start their college studies.

"We often see students who have taken what they feel are very aggressive college courses in high school who find out later they weren't that rigorous," said Cheryl Shain, coordinator of high school outreach programs at HCC.

The six-week program is funded by GEAR-UP, a college readiness program run by the state. The program could have supported as many as 60 students, but 39 met the criteria and made the commitment to come every morning for six weeks.

Those who complete the program won't get college credit, but will be able to move directly into college courses when the time comes.

Participants take either math or English from 9 to 11 a.m., with instructors Caciopoli and Barbara Rogo, then have an hour of tutoring before running off to summer jobs. Many get to Housatonic by city bus. Attendance has been strong.

"I thought I needed help in math. I didn't know writing was one of my weak points," said Rose Blaise, 17, who will be a senior at Central Magnet School.

Hoping to get into the University of Connecticut after graduating from high school, Blaise said the summer class seemed like a smart move. Plus, her mother told her to go.

Claudia Silva, 17, isn't sure what makes Caciopoli's English class different from those she's had at Central. Until now, she always considered herself more of a "math person." Now, she loves writing.

"I've never been more passionate about writing in my life," she said. "I don't know. I never knew I could write. We've had more interesting topics to write about."

Monifa Francis, 17, another Central student, called the atmosphere at the summer program more relaxed and mature.

She even likes the fact that Caciopoli corrects papers in green ink rather than red, calling it more neutral.

"You feel better about your paper," she said. She also said she's learned to infuse her prose with more ideas, more details and "college-"level words.

"Instead of important, I might say significant or relevant," she said.

Caciopoli, a college instructor at both Housatonic and Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, was a high school teacher 37 years before retiring in 1988.

He called this class a very earnest, fun-loving group. "I think they thought they were having fun. They didn't look at it as if it were work," he said.

Caciopoli added the best way to teach students to write is to have them write a lot. And to back up what they say with evidence.

"It's the best way to reach terra firma," he said, as one student reached for a dictionary. He told her to put it away. The expression none of them heard before is Latin for "firm ground."

In math, students work their way through equations that include letters and negative numbers. Rogo, a retired Bridgeport school administrator and long-time college instructor, said high school students hold at least one advantage over older students.

"Because they're still in school, they are all used to taking notes," she said.

Jamieca Brown, 17, a Central senior, said math has somehow proved more interesting here than in standard classes.

"Math is hard. I don't like math. But with Miss Rogo, I like it," said Brown, who wants to enroll at Southern Connecticut State University following graduation and hopes to later land a job as a probation officer.

Lamont Coy, 17, a Central senior, plans on applying to Florida State. He called the summer math course a way to keep intellectually engaged and strengthen his skill until it comes naturally. That should be crucial for his goal of becoming an engineer.