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CRC math students feel pressure from the three-strikes policy

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Christopher Thomas, a 22-year-old neurobiology major, wants to transfer to the University of California, Davis. After obtaining his degree, he wants to attend medical school and become a brain surgeon.

But the journey hasn’t been easy for him, especially in math.

Thomas took intermediate algebra three times before finally passing.

He wondered if he would have to keep repeating the process every time he moved on to the next math level.

“After that third time, I just felt so defeated, in all honesty, that I didn’t even really want to do it,” Thomas said. “I wanted to stop, but I know I needed to [keep going] if I wanted to succeed in getting my major.”

Thomas isn’t alone.

A study from EdSource, a nonprofit organization that analyzes issues in public education, revealed that 45 percent of California community college students enrolled in math courses required for a degree didn’t pass their classes.

Starting summer 2012, students will only have three chances to pass their classes, according to an email from the Los Rios Community College District sent to students during the fall 2011 semester.

The email also stated that withdrawals will count as one of the three tries for students to pass a course. The policy is also retroactive, meaning if you failed a class before summer 2012, it will count as a strike.

Thomas, who is currently taking trigonometry for the second time, said he is “on the fence” about the new policy.

“I was really just waiting on them to do it because it seemed like they were wasting a lot of money just letting people repeat, repeat, repeat,” Thomas said. “Eventually, they were going to get sick of it. So now they have that three strikes and you’re out policy, and I feel that while some might find it unfair, I find it necessary.”

On the other hand, Thomas said the policy will have negative effects on students.

“I think a lot of students will probably end up quitting college, even at this level, before they even get a chance to transfer because if they’re not getting it, they’re just not getting it,” he said. “I know there’s resources, but if it’s just something they can’t do, I don’t feel they should be penalized by having to do so many or having to only have three chances to do it.”

With the pressure of the three-strike policy, Thomas also has obligations outside of class that affect his studies. Because his mother works full time as a receptionist at Kaiser Permanente, Thomas takes care of his two younger brothers—one who is 8 years old and autistic and another who is 13 years old.

Thomas also runs errands for his mother.

“By the time I’m done with all the running around, I’m either so tired that I’ll end up falling asleep in my car before class starts or I’ll come into class and I’ll try to keep myself awake, but I won’t be able to,” Thomas said.

Mary Martin, a mathematics professor at Cosumnes River College, said that this new policy will affect the way math professors teach their courses.

“There’s always a bit of a balance that you’re trying to meet to say, ‘I want to be able to give students enough time on what we’re currently covering to master it, but I don’t want to have six things to do in the last three class meetings,’” Martin said. “So we can’t push it all to the back end.”

“So I think it means we have to really look carefully at planning our semesters so that we have the time to cover the course well,” Martin said.

Although Thomas has trouble attending class because of his family obligations, he said that taking trigonometry with Martin has been a positive experience for him.

“I appreciate everything that she does to help because I can’t always be here,” Thomas said. “In all honesty, I do love math but I just need a little help sometimes, and she’s there to help me. And I think that’s what makes it the most enjoyable because not all professors will take the time out to just sit you down and try to help you figure out where you’re going wrong and she will.”

For Albert Kolesinski, a 21-year-old music major, math has always been challenging.

Kolesinski, who is taking beginning algebra for the third time, said that the new policy has forced him to work harder in his math class.

“It makes sense,” Kolesinski said. “It’s kind of a bummer that I’m one of the people it’s affecting but it does have its place.”

Having a math class from Monday through Thursday is beneficial, Kolesinski said.

“No matter how fast we’re moving, you still feel like you’re learning in good chunks and not drowning,” he said.

Kolesinski said that his professor, Jorge Baca, explains the topics well and doesn’t begin his lectures with math formulas.

“He goes right into examples and shows you how to do certain things right away,” Kolesinski said. “So he kind of cuts that first part off, which isn’t necessary a lot of times in math because math should be practical. You should put it into use right away and that’s what he does.”

Kolesinski said that this is the first time math makes sense to him. He feels confident that he will pass this course and eventually transfer to UC Davis and earn a degree in music composition.

Thomas also feels confident that he’ll succeed in Martin’s class and take one step closer to achieving his goals.

“I feel I’m doing well,” Thomas said. “I feel very confident that I will [pass].”

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CRC math students feel pressure from the three-strikes policy