Identical twins Kaitlyn and Keilani Pellerin of Fair Haven are in agreement: Intro to College Studies is a lot of fun.
The two Fair Haven Union High School sophomores, along with nine fellow students from the school, are spending their Wednesday evenings learning about communication, time management, college financial planning, and a bevy of other useful skills that will help them get into college and succeed once they’re there. And while they both say they’re enjoying the ICS subject matter, there are some other aspects of the course that’s got the Pellerins and their ICS classmates singing its praises.
“I really like that we get to take the class on a college campus and that it’s not at our high school because then it would feel just like any other class,” Keilani said. “But this is like, we’re there, in a college classroom, getting to go to the college cafeteria. It makes you feel like this is what college is, this is what the classes are like. It just makes you feel like this is what the experience is going to be like.”
Getting high school students to experience college at a point when they’re beginning to think about what the future holds for them is a key part of CCV’s ICS courses, which is available to high school students throughout the state. For Fair Haven Union High School, a rural school south west of Rutland, that meant some special considerations had to be taken into account to ensure success.
According to CCV Coordinator of Academic Services Ginger Gellman, who’s been a key player in making the Fair Haven model work, arranging transportation for the students from the high school to the Castleton State College campus and then home again has been one major part in making the course a success. Beyond that, Gellman said, offering meal vouchers, free textbooks and course materials, and scholarship funds has made the course more accessible and appealing to Fair Haven students.“In the past we’ve had attendance from Fair Haven Union High School at ICS sections here at CCV Rutland or at Castleton, but there just weren’t many students,” Gellman said, “but this semester we have 12 enrolled, whereas in the past we’ve had more like two or three from that school.”
Gellman said this tailoring of the program came about through the close work she and colleagues did with the guidance department at Fair Haven Union to better understand what could be done to reach the school’s student population. The implementation of those changes, she said, has only been possible thanks to the help provided by the Vermont Community Foundation.
“Because we have this unique funding source in place, it’s enabled us to do these extra things to support the students further,” Gellman said. “Without the funding from the Vermont Community Foundation, this would just be a plain ICS. Because of our partnership with Castleton, we could still have it at Castleton, but the other arrangements would not be a part of it. It really does make a big difference for this community.”
Fair Haven Union High School Director of Guidance Kelly Stewart agreed, noting that the transportation arrangements, the scholarship funding, and the meal vouchers were all very specific solutions to barriers that were keeping her students from enrolling in the course. And it’s definitely working.
“With the initial group we had so many students sign up they had to add another section the first semester,” Stewart said. “It’s fantastic to see them have those opportunities that sometimes kids in more populated areas have access to. That our kids have that, and that they have the ability to be there on campus and have access to all sorts of things that help them gain confidence in themselves, it’s just great.”
And while Stewart is seeing that confidence boost in the students who’ve now finished their ICS course—she noted that those students have used their vouchers and applied the skills learned in ICS to their high school work—Keilani says she sees it even though the class has only met twice so far.
“I know that my time management is not the greatest, but this class is teaching me how to manage my time better,” she said. “And individually, people in the class have different strong suits and things they’re not so great at, but it’s kind of individualized so that we all learn techniques so that we can get the most out of our college experience.”
That individualized instruction in material that will help students succeed in college is something ICS instructor Kathy Perzanowski says is what makes the course such an important and valuable offering for Vermont’s high school population.
“There’s a lot to learn about college besides how to get into college and I think the things that we’re teaching them in Intro to College Studies is helping them to stay in college once they get here,” she said. “Once they get comfortable with the idea that ‘yes I can go to college,’ we’re showing them all of the attributes that successful college students possess, you know study skills, time management, organization, those are big things this class teaches and I think they’re important for anybody coming to college to learn.”
Perzanowski went on to say that in many cases these fundamentals are critical to teach because for some of her students they’ll be the first in their family to attend college. In those instances, she said, there’s often no role model to pass on the lessons of how to succeed in the higher education environment.According to Gellman, that’s most certainly true with the Fair Haven students, where ICS demographics run the gamut from students with strong family histories of college attendance to first generation students and everything in between. But while it might be tempting to think that the so-called high flyers won’t necessarily gain much from ICS, the Pellerin sisters stand as evidence against that notion.
“Going to college has always been something I knew I’d do but this helps me understand what I need to do in order to do it,” Kaitlyn said. “I always just thought it was just something I was going to do, but it wasn’t really tangible. This makes it more real. It makes it feel like you can actually get there, that you know you can get there. It makes it feel like you’re not just jumping off a cliff into college, you’re climbing stairs.”
Perzanowski echoed those ideas stating that for all of her students, college is a big deal that can be a little intimidating because it is so very different from the small high school environment they are familiar with.
“This group I have now is really questioning ‘can I go away from home, can I got to college, how am I going to pay for college,’” she said. “They’re really afraid of the expense of college and a lot of these kids, because they come from a small high school, coming to Castleton is big for them, it’s a big place, and they’re nervous and excited.”
ICS, Perzanowski said, gives them the opportunity to see college life, and see themselves in it, and that experience might just make going to college seem less daunting and more enticing to Vermont teens. And if the Pellerins’ experience from those first two ICS classes says anything about the course, then nervousness has no place in ICS, there’s only room for fun.
“I have two friends who are taking it with me,” Keilani said. “We’re all enjoying it. We’ve come out of the classes so far and we just talk about it on the entire ride home, and before that when we ride to class, we’re all really excited for it.”