It took years to come to fruition, and in just 12 short weeks it was over.
“I wish it could have lasted longer,” said Olivia Tarmey. “I just wish I could spend more time here with these people; I’m sad to see it come to an end.”
Tarmey was one of eight students who enrolled in and just completed CCV’s first section of Introduction to College Studies (ICS) offered in the Rockingham, Vermont area. The 16-year-old high school sophomore ventured into the village of Bellows Falls each Monday evening with her 18-year-old sister, Signe, to attend the class. The course, which started in late February, ended on Monday night with a small celebration and presentation of the class project—a five-minute video extolling the course.
Just before the start of the final class the students sat around a conference room table in the Bellows Falls Chamber of Commerce office. In a scene that could have come straight out of a John Hughes movie, the group laughed, razzed each other, and reminisced about the fun they’d had. Very few, if any of them, knew what was in store when they arrived for the first class, but all of them said the instructor, Rachel Edens, made the course fun and full of relevant information.
“It was completely different from what I was expecting,” said Jamie Reed, a 17 year old Windsor, Vermont native who is currently a junior at Compass School. “I thought I was going to be doing rigorous packet work and looking over college curricula and just seeing college classes, but it turned out to be like a strategy-building learning experience for how to deal with college…and most of life.”
Tarmey was also pleasantly surprised, noting that her expectations were less exciting and that her enrollment was driven by a desire to bolster her college applications.
“I signed up because I thought it would look good on college applications. I never expected this to be a sort of close-knit, casual, hang-out type of thing,” she said. “I really just thought it was going to be like a lecture class.”
CCV offers ICS free-of-charge to high school students around the state as a way to get them interested in and prepared for college. The class is one tool the College and the state are using to combat Vermont’s lackluster college going rate—VSAC special report from the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) shows the state’s high school graduation rate at about 88 percent while its college-going rate lags far behind at about 60 percent.
According to Natalie Searle, director of CCV’s secondary education initiatives, the College had been trying to offer an ICS section in Bellows Falls for years. However, due to various hurdles the College wasn’t able to coordinate the logistics to make that happen until recently, when Searle and CCV-Springfield Coordinator of Academic Services Deb Grant tapped into a wellspring of community resources. Working with parents, community organizers, town officials and others, Searle and Grant were able to find an instructor, acquire usable space in the village’s Chamber of Commerce, and enroll interested students.“Having the course right here in the Chamber offices has been a perfect solution,” Grant said. “It’s meant that the students were going somewhere else for the class rather than just staying in their own high schools, which is important. This also allowed us to draw students from three different schools as opposed to only reaching students within a single high school.”
Instructor Rachel Edens said the community support was critical in ensuring the class would be successful. As the administrative coordinator at the YMCA, Edens said through her work she has become intimately involved with the community and familiar with the challenges the small New England town of Rockingham faces. The class, she said, is essential for the region’s youth, and her students’ enthusiasm for the course is just another example of the change that’s in the air all around the Rockingham village of Bellows Falls.
“I think this has given them a really wonderful introduction to what it’s like to mingle in a college setting,” Edens said, noting that having students from multiple schools added significant value to the class. “That’s been very enriching because we can use each others’ experiences and what it’s like at each others’ schools and in each others’ classes as case studies to learn from. If somebody comes in with a problem, we write it down and all look at it and think through the best way to get through something in a positive way.”
The curriculum of a typical ICS class covers everything from time management and budgeting to navigating the shoals of college applications and financial aid information. Although each section varies based on what the instructors and students bring to the class, it can still be a hard sell to get students fired up and excited to sign on to what is essentially an extra class. Edens said that was the case in Bellows Falls.
“They will tell you that most of them are only here because their parents made them come,” she said, motioning to room full of laughter over her shoulder. “I have one student whose father delivered him to me, bodily; like walked him into the room and said ‘this is my child, I will be back at 8:30 p.m.’.”
Edens added that those feelings were short-lived. Soon after arriving on that cold February night, the group bonded, began sharing, and by end of day one, they were having fun. Olivia and Signe’s mother, Ann Tarmey, echoed that statement, saying that to her surprise she heard nothing negative about ICS from her daughters.
“Olivia plays soccer, and they have AP classes, so I just thought once I signed them up I was going to get a lot of pushback, like ‘I’m too busy, I can’t do this right now’,” Ann Tarmey said. “But they’ve loved coming; they’ve never balked at coming, it’s just been one of the most amazing experiences they’ve ever had. And the fact that they’re sisters and they’re hanging out together is even better.”
But the real question is, now that they’re moving on, what’s the takeaway? For Reed, who hopes to study in a science-related field when he gets to college, he feels prepared to take some college classes during his senior year at high school and he’s learned some valuable study skills that he’s implementing into his school work now.
As for Olivia Tarmey, who hopes to study psychology at either Clarke University or Smith College, she’s happy to have a better handle on the application and financial aid portions of the college application process, noting that those two things had been stressing her out. But the really great fringe benefit of ICS: the new friends.
“I never would have met any of these people if it weren’t for CCV.”