Give It Up for Community Colleges

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week.

At least, I think it was last week.  I’m a little fuzzy on the details, which is why we may or may not have sent in our tokens a week early.  But at least they got there!

And it’s all good because those reminders about Teacher Appreciation Week did work on the most basic level:  they got me thinking about teachers.  I have many friends and family members who are teachers and I can say that without exception, they are caring, dedicated, talented, smart, organized and PATIENT people.  And while my kids may have had a less than perfect teacher here and there over the years, I’m generally in awe of what the vast majority of teachers do all day every day.

This year, Teacher Appreciation Week got me thinking specifically about the people who teach at community college.  I’ve had a chance to see what these guys do up close and personal because I sometimes teach an online class when there’s a need for an extra English instructor. This semester was one of those times.  I enjoy the class I teach and I think I do a decent job as a coach and mentor, but I know enough to realize that I’m a writer first and educator second.  I have the luxury of coming to the class fresh because it’s part-time and occasional for me.  They are there all day every day.

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Can you feel the energy? Students and teachers check out ways to use technology in the classroom at Blue Ridge Community College.

I firmly believe that community college instructors embody the definition of the unsung hero.  They don’t get the Ivory Tower perks that four-year university professors enjoy.  They don’t get many  of those warm fuzzies that K-12 teachers get either.  Meanwhile, they work hard, sometimes teaching six college classes a semester.  They have students with vastly different abilities and backgrounds and somehow find a way to mentor them all.  They are nurturing to students who may be the first in their family to attend college and they are challenging to students who are preparing to enter a high-pressure career such as nursing.  They do it all.

I grew up in a traditional college town where the local community college didn’t enjoy a lot of esteem.  Since then, I’ve lived several places and I’ve found the attitude is pretty widespread.  The lack of appreciation is kind of shocking.

So I’d like to pose a question to all the people who aren’t in the community college fan club:  What would your town be like WITHOUT its community college?

I don’t like to think about it.  After all:

  • When my kids were in Youth Symphony, where did they practice every single week and perform several times a semester?
  • Where did they go on a field trip to see a full symphonic orchestra perform?
  • Where did my son spend multiple evenings a week learning physics and upper level math as part of the county robotics team?
  • Where have my husband and I gone to see live theatre classics and original avant-guard plays?
  • Where did my daughter perform with her non-profit ballet dance company?
  • Where did she and hundreds of other public school students showcase what they’re learning at a technology exposition?
  • As a first-time author, where was I able to participate in a book festival?
  • Where do people from all walks of life come together to celebrate unity on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

This list could go on and on.  The waves of influence from Blue Ridge–our local community college– have touched thousands of people in a positive way.  A huge proportion of the artistic expression, open discourse and critical thinking that occurs in our community is facilitated and nurtured on its campus.  We are all richer because of it and we would be so much less without it.

~~~

It’s true that Blue Ridge is not Harvard.  It’s true that it offers open enrollment, that anyone with basic credentials can start the journey toward a college degree or certification or diploma.  Blue Ridge has no cut throat competition to get in.  The tuition is reasonable.  SATs aren’t required.

Here’s something else that’s true:  These things are the very same things that make it so awesome.

Community colleges offer a chance.  That doesn’t mean everyone will take the opportunity and score.  That doesn’t mean it’s the perfect fit for everyone.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t multiple uniquely difficult challenges on a community college campus.  But still … it offers a chance. 

In my mind, offering a chance is one of the best things any organization can do.

Over the last few months as I got to know my students I was struck once again by the depth of diversity at Blue Ridge.  I enjoyed the interactions in class.  I contributed by mentoring their academic progress, but they contributed by sharing perspectives I may never have experienced otherwise.

~~~

A few years ago I taught a very different type of class at Blue Ridge.  It was a continuing education class on blogging and one of my students was a former judge.  Talk about intimidating….

The former judge wrote a great post about the vast differences in privilege among institutions of higher education.  While some schools have mind-boggling endowments, others struggle with the bare minimum, if that.  Happily, a few people are starting to change the playing field.

I think the judge expressed it best, so I’d like to conclude with a link to her story about LaGuardia Community College and the Pushy Moms Club.

Food for thought.

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About Elizabeth Jennings

I am an author living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My first book, The Button Collector, was released May 6, 2013, by PageSpring Publishing.
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One Response to Give It Up for Community Colleges

  1. aawgreen says:

    Thanks for the props, Elizabeth. It was serendipity to read your post and link while I’m at the Looking Glass Rock Writers Conference. With your friend, Katie by the way.

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