Time for Reflection – A Break From Stories

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Throughout this project, I’ve been slowly gaining a better understanding of the general consensus of feelings towards both community colleges and 4 year universities. With every new story that I write, I internalize a new piece of someone’s experience – a positive interaction with a teacher here, a frustrating experience there. With Thanksgiving just recently come and gone, I thought that today might be a good day for some reflections. So for this blog post, there will be no new story, just some musing from my own grey matter.

 

I want to make it immediately clear that this blog post is not slandering or slamming or dissing any type of schooling. I am not picking sides, but simply sharing what I have observed as an interviewer, as a student, and as an employee. As you probably know by now, I have been a homeschooled student, as well as being a student at both QVCC and UConn, and I have interviewed students who followed the same path I did, as well as students who took a different route.  I have also tutored at QVCC as an employee, and at UConn as a private tutor. While I wish that every homeschooled student could have had the positive, rich, inspiring experience that I had, every parent and child is different, so I can’t make many conclusions about that experience. However, I have dabbled in the community college and 4 year university scene long enough that I think I have a fair amount of experience, so I’m going to take some time today to talk about what I’ve noticed.

 

Kudzai Zvoma – if you are a QVCC student, this name does one of three things to you.

1) It inspires a warm fuzzy feeling at the thought of a beloved, brilliant teacher, 2) your soul goes cold and your heart ceases beating as you remember the most terrifyingly intelligent, intimidating teacher you’ve ever had, or 3) you think of the math teacher that you’re either disappointed you never had, or intensely glad that you never had, depending on who your friends were. For me, I am the third person – someone who never had Kudzai as a professor, and didn’t know much about him other than hearing of his brilliance. I always wished I had him as a professor, but never got to know him until I started working in the Learning Center at QV. No matter what your stance on Kudzai’s math classes are, there is no denying that he is an intensely dedicated, hard working college professor, and I think he’s a great example of the general attitude found in community colleges. I work at the Learning Center twice a week, and every time I’m tutoring, Kudzai always walks through. This semester I’ve noticed Kudzai spending a lot of time with students, often sitting down and reviewing questions that they have before they take a makeup test. Sometimes this turns into a therapy session, as Kudzai helps calm their nerves before one of his infamously challenging tests. While not a scene you would often find at UConn, this is not uncommon at QVCC, but it’s the other students that Kudzai helps that make him stand out. Kudzai helps students from other math classes, and has even helped me, a QVCC alumni that he never had in class. Kudzai often asks for “UConn horror stories” from me, as he suffered through the hiking, parking, and weather horrors often found at the 4 year school. He often recounts his story from this summer of following trying to follow a map while on the UConn campus and being horribly lost because every street, building, and walkway known to mankind was under construction, while I tell him about the mile and a half I walk on a daily basis to get back to my car. However, one day recently we had a different exchange. I was frustrated with one of my teachers for not teaching me a concept that I was being graded on, and Kudzai was horrified. He asked if I had questioned the teacher via email or in person, and when I told him that I had attempted to do so but that it got me no farther, he was shocked. The next time I showed up to the Learning Center, Kudzai had found the nutrition teacher at QVCC, sat me down behind the desk, called her up, and put me on the phone with her. She answered my question without a second thought – not caring that I wasn’t her student, or even a student at QVCC anymore, only seeing a young adult who was frustrated and in danger of getting a bad grade for a concept she wasn’t taught. These types of community relationships aren’t uncommon at QVCC, which I suppose is appropriate, as it is a community college. The students befriend the teachers, and I often look at the computers in the Learning Center to see a gaggle of Engineering students helping each other with a challenging homework assignment. Sometimes, their teacher is with them, pointing them in the right direction and answering their questions, even though it’s not class time and his office hours are long over. Last semester, I got to work and had a test waiting for me – a Marvel trivia test assigned to all of the Learning Center tutors, written by none other than Kudzai, who promptly graded our tests. The Spanish teacher, Elkin Espitia-Loaiza, is another QV professor who regularly walks through just to chat with my boss, while talking to all of his students in Spanish. We have free snacks for students, a pirate frog as our mascot, and plastic aliens scattered throughout this room that has become the center of what I think QVCC stands for. It’s fun, and enriching, and inclusive. If a student is lonely, they just need to hangout in the Learning Center for a few days and they are soon befriended by the “regulars” and the tutors alike. In short, writing this is making me extremely sad that QVCC isn’t a school that I could spend my whole college career at. I miss the atmosphere, the teachers, and the students. I miss the class sizes, and the individual attention, and the dedication of almost every employee you meet. That’s not what I’ve experienced at UConn.

 

Obviously directly comparing UConn and QVCC would be unfair. It’s like comparing an apple to an actual ton of oranges – their size and shape and flavor are so different it’s not fair. But at the core of each school, I think it should be remembered that they’re both that – schools. And often I feel like people at UConn forget that if it weren’t for the students, there would be no school. UConn is known as a research school, and I’m proud to be a student at such a well known university doing such good, productive research. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss knowing my teachers, or having my teachers know me. My pants would catch on fire if I said I didn’t care that it’s been two semesters (and 8 classes) since one of my professors has picked up a white board marker and done anything but lecture off of powerpoint slides. My nose would be a mile long if I told you that I didn’t think the students who only show up for exams and skip every class (and read off of those Powerpoints in the comfort of their own beds) were way smarter than me – the sucker that still hikes through wind and rain and snow to get to every class, even though their grades rival mine. However, I know I am receiving a quality education in the intricacies of being a dietitian. I just can’t forget how my expertly crafted email asking questions about a study guide this semester was responded to with a quick, one line dismissal, even though it was sent a week before the exam, and even though I had attended every class. There are teachers at UConn who will go above and beyond for their students, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule. At UConn, I have often felt isolated and ignored, like a number being fed through a conveyer belt. They take my tuition and silence my voice in one fell swoop – especially since I’m a commuting student. As a commuter, my class schedule is inconveniently spread out throughout the week, ensuring that almost every minute of my day is spend sitting in class, walking to class, or driving to school, taking away time to work, work out, or even spend time with my family. At QV, the teachers understand that school is not our whole lives. The classes are bunched together, and at QV I’ve never seen a student who has to be on campus 5 days a week. This leaves time for jobs to support the cars needed to get to school, since everyone is a commuting student.

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I suppose this sounds like I have picked sides, huh? I guess I am a little biased towards community colleges, because I like feeling like a person and not a number. I like being a voice that can be heard, who can petition to get a chemistry class put onto the schedule, instead of being just another body to help fund research. It isn’t a secret that 4 year universities are normal and accepted in society, and if a student wants a Bachelor’s degree (or more) they have to attend one sooner or later. And don’t get me wrong, I think that’s a good decision. I think a Bachelor’s, or Master’s, or Doctorate degree helps make people more productive, thoughtful, insightful members of society and higher education should be encouraged. I just don’t think that community colleges should be shunned and put down, like I have seen often – especially from students and professors at UConn.  I think the value of community colleges should be highlighted, their teachers praised, and their students rewarded for making a smart educational decision, as well as a fiscally responsible one. If you, my reader, only take away one thing from this whole blog project, I hope it’s this – don’t judge, belittle, or underestimate those who have chosen a different path. In my experience, being “normal” is highly overrated, and often the road less traveled has a way cooler view.

 

 

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Overcoming the Odds – Stephanie Medine’s Story

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I don’t know Stephanie very well. We both took statistics together at QVCC, and have crossed paths in some interesting ways. My past is slightly entangled with her present, but I like that we are both mature enough to sit down and talk about some common themes that our lives have. Just like me, Stephanie was homeschooled through high school. However, her experience wasn’t as positive as mine, because she didn’t always want to be homeschooled. Her older siblings went to public school, and she was jealous of them at times. Her mom wasn’t very persistent with her keeping up on school work, so there were many days where her homeschooling was “go outside and play.” Stephanie has very low self esteem in regards to her education, because she didn’t feel as though she was smart or could understand “anything about anything – academically I thought I was really stupid.” When I asked Stephanie why she was homeschooled, she told me that “I think it’s because of my mom.. She started out homeschooling my brother, and then he was allowed to go to high school because he showed interest. I showed interest as well, but my parents – I think it was more my mom clinging to me because I’m the youngest.” There were also religious reasons, but Stephanie knows that some of the reason she wasn’t allowed to attend a school was because of her family dynamics. When she was homeschooled, Stephanie told me that her curriculum was very disjointed and unorganized. “I think the biggest problem with homeschooling me was that my parents didn’t try hard enough. They expected the curriculum to do everything, and that didn’t work.” She says that personally, she doesn’t feel as though she gained anything from having been homeschooled. She didn’t get much socialization when she was homeschooled, apart from going to church and being involved in youth groups and studies. This type of socialization was challenging the older she got, because these days, she doesn’t interact with people in the same situations as she is now out in the world. “I think I got a lot of my social skills from churches. Which, honestly, has taken a huge toll on my personal life as well, just because I grew up and then I realized ‘oh, not everything is my little Christian bubble that I was brought up to believe.’” She still keeps many of these church friends, but she realized how much she really missed out on the older she got. Stephanie wasn’t allowed to date until she was 18, so she felt like she was really kept out of the typical teenage social scene until that age.

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When she was about 16, these feelings really culminated as she started looking at different schools to attend. However, by then it was too late to start and finish high school, since she wouldn’t have enough credits, so one of her friend’s mom’s suggested that she attend QVCC instead. Stephanie went to QV the day before classes were supposed to start, took a tour, and her BSA. She quickly realized that her worries about keeping up academically were unfounded as she tested into college math and English at only 16. Once she got to QV, Stephanie’s relationship with education completely changed. SHe loved everything about QV. “Honestly I got such an experience there, I can’t even explain how amazing it was. The teachers want to know you, the staff actually wants to help you, and there’s so much more one on one and actual interaction. Smaller classes – that’s awesome – because you’re not a number, you’re a face and a name.” Stephanie told me an amazing example of the dedication of the teachers at QVCC when she explained a challenging time she had during her last semester at QVCC. “[My last semester] was really tough for me, because I knew I took on too much. Seventeen credits, I have a horse and she costs so much, and I’m working, I’m living on my own.. It’s just.. It’s hard.” She was able to talk to Professor Lynch, with whom she took an online class, and he allowed her to finish some of the classwork over the summer so she was able to graduate on time, with the rest of the students that helped make her time at QVCC so amazing and remarkable.

 

When I asked Stephanie to compare what she got out of homeschooling versus QVCC, she was overwhelmingly in favor of the community college experience. “Honestly I don’t think I got social experience, I don’t think I got academic experience [out of homeschooling]…” The only positive she could find about homeschooling was that “because I got to start QVCC earlier … I got to get a head start on college and actually understand how a classroom works.”

 

While Stephanie was very doubtful of her academic skills when she was homeschooled, I find that she is another perfect example of how resilient young adults can be. Even without having a stellar educational foundation, Stephanie was able to overcome this challenge and succeed in a community college setting. This May, she graduated from QVCC with a degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences, and she plans on continuing her education at some point to become a vet. She would like to get into UConn’s pre-vet program, and in the meantime, she wants to continue working at a local animal hospital. She loves her job as a receptionist, because she is able to work in her future field, and is also surrounded by animals on a daily basis.

 

I found it very interesting to talk to Stephanie, because prior to our interview, I only knew her as a community college student. Until I started this project, I was unaware that she had been homeschooled, and I think the fact that I wasn’t able to pick this out due to her academic performance is a nod towards how hard she worked once she got to QV. Not only is she a dedicated student, but she is also a kind, compassionate human being, who will do almost anything to stop and make sure a stray dog gets back to it’s home.

Fourteen – Elijah Dufour’s Story

20205599_1964783873805583_297945225_oCommunity colleges are an amazing resource for students of all ages and backgrounds. Whether you’re straight out of high school and looking to save money, a single parent returning school to continue education for a new career, or just someone who isn’t quite sure what they want to do, the value of these schools can’t be understated. While the types of students named above are some typical examples of community college students, there is one group of students that I’ve been talking a lot about lately – homeschoolers. Elijah Dufour is no exception, however he is also not a rule. Elijah is a homeschooler who attended QVCC, but he has been standing out since he first began taking classes at the age of 14. That’s right – fourteen.

Elijah is the second youngest of four children, and says that it was his dad who really pushed for them to be homeschooled. They’ve been going to church for Elijah’s whole life, and “obviously, even at a Christian school, no matter where you go there are influences that probably aren’t the best on a kid growing up.” Elijah and his sisters were homeschooled to avoid some of the unnecessary social pressures found in school systems, but he wasn’t ever deprived. He and his sisters were involved in co-ops, which helped hone their math, history, and English skills. Elijah was often thrown into the fire with his older sisters, and was always working ahead of where he would have been in a public school setting. His oldest sister is 5 years older than he is, and yet he was often placed in the same group.

When I asked Elijah about how he made friends when he was homeschooled, he told me that he was never lacking for socialization. “Yes we were sheltered from a great deal of stuff, which is important, but we also.. We weren’t like antisocial homeschoolers as the stigma might go.” Elijah found the majority of his socialization through sports and church. He was involved with music and youth groups through his church, and was played soccer for many years. “Every single night, even though it might have seemed like I was sitting at home, doing school all day, not seeing anybody.. Every single night I either had youth group or music practice or sports practice, so I wasn’t exactly deprived.”

Elijah really enjoyed having been homeschooled. He told me that “if I said I didn’t feel like I missed anything I would be a liar,” but he felt like he gained a lot from having been a homeschooler. He found that the benefits of homeschooling extended beyond just his studies. He was able to spend time at home and foster a better relationship with his siblings and parents. “With homeschooling you can work at your own pace, and it was more one on one – it was just my mom and me.” He was able to do school from 8:00-12:00 and get just as much done as other people would in a whole school day.

 

By the time Elijah was 14, he was already working at the college level in math and English, so he felt as though he was already ahead at home. He wanted to start earning college credits at an early age, so he started with math 137 at the Willimantic branch of QVCC. This class was challenging for him, and he only began with one class. This helped him ease into the college scene, and after he got an A, he realized that he could do whatever he set his mind to. Originally, he enjoyed the small size of the Willimantic campus, but after switching to the Danielson campus (which offers many more courses), he has grown to love the facility and resources that it has. Elijah is very involved with campus life – as he is involved with the pool and basketball clubs, the Student Governing Association, and PTK (an honors society). Elijah found the classes at QVCC to be enjoyable, and said that all of his math classes after Calculus II were very challenging.

These days Elijah has graduated with one associates from QVCC and is finishing a second. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his future career, but he knows that he doesn’t want to get stuck behind a desk. He wants to be involved, going out into the community and perhaps owning his own company one day. Right now he’s looking into Mechanical or Acoustical engineering. He might go to UConn and commute, because he will help save more money. No matter what Elijah does from here, it’s obvious that he’s had a remarkable educational history so far. He ended up being 4 grade levels beyond his peers, and “by the time my friends were graduating high school, I’ve had an associates degree for almost a year.” While this path might not work for everyone, Elijah clearly thrived in the challenging educational environment and will do amazing things wherever he goes.