Tuesday, October 28, 2014

AVC's Success Center is just that--a Success

Welcome to the newest space on campus.

Through a mix of Title V grant money, Basic Skills funding, and small handfuls of magic beans, two rooms inside the Learning Center now have been reconfigured to be the home of AVC's long-discussed, long-delayed, and now finally HERE support space, the Success Center.

This is really noteworthy, and this week's AVC Blog wants to spend a few moments thinking about the achievement, and looking ahead to what it might mean for our academic community.

In the Success Center, students can check email, work on supplements provided by their teachers, look at art books, be guided by a peer mentor, or just recharge the batteries in a quiet, supportive, pleasant environment. In the shot above, Cain Martinez helps a classmate work on math. Cain is a Student Learning Assistant, and about that crew of great mentors, more in just a moment.

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a committee to --- well, hmm, I am never quite sure WHAT committees get done. I do know that through his efforts with the Basic Skills Committee, Santi Tafarella more than anybody else moved mountains of indifference and waded seas of skepticism to bring this site to completion. Great job, Santi!

He himself would be the first to admit that many others helped too, of course, including Dean Forte-Parnell and Linda Noteboom and Crystal Garcia and Vejea Jennings --- and many more besides. Thank you to Bill Vaughn, for example, for donating the dictionary that is the website logo, shown on the phone screen in the first picture, above.

Right now the key person helping to look out for the practical details is Crystal Garcia. According to her business card, Crystal is "Secretary, Title V and Basic Skills." Until some final shifts in reorganization get settled, she's helping to keep the day-to-day functions of the Success Center up and running. I don't want to create a ruckus with the Classified Union nor ever to suggest she is working beyond pay grade, but I will say when I need information, she's the person who knows what forms go where and why things happen in the order that they do. Here, in this shot, she is sharing with me some of the art books the Success Center now has ready for me to use.

Contrary to urban legend, I want to confirm that this is not a special space made for / kept hidden by / hogged up by the English faculty. It happens that some of the leadership to carry it out came from Language Arts, but Christos Valiotis and many other voices had a say too, and it is truly intended for all students, all disciplines.

True, there is a class set of poetry books . . . .

But right next to that is a class set of science materials:

On the wall are posters keyed to a phone app. Aim your phone at the poster and (like magic) the appropriate part of the body turns up, on your phone. Studying Anatomy is no harder than pre-ordering lunch from Panera Bread.

What's the benefit of this space? Crystal Garcia shared with me some of her thoughts:
"The variety of books and media available in Success Center enhances student learning and enhances cultural literacy, too. The resources open up the perceptions of possibilities, especially among our least empowered students. It really helps open up new areas of education."

Even more poetic, more passionate was Language Arts professor Vejea Jennings.

He told me, "Each day, we re-create this colorful space as a determined collective; we know our creativity and curiosity have the potential to transform everything around us, and this center helps us become part of the larger whole." That was seconded by English Chair Mark Hoffer, who added to Vejea's comments by agreeing that "it has the potential to be an extraordinary instructional space." 

This indeed has been my experience. I've used it with both English 097 classes and 099, and think there's a measurable difference in class performance if we do our writing projects in this space instead of (ahem) in a run-down room with ugly walls and projection equipment that doesn't work. It's not just me who has had this experience; here is Dr. Rachel Jennings, ready to share her own perspective:

The Success Center is an oasis. The cafe-esque ambiance encourages learning and inspires students to participate in intellectual exchange.

Earlier this week, I used the state-of-the-art-projector to show a movie clip. I followed this with group discussion of the movie's themes, enhanced by use of the class set of the book of Symbols

Having taught English at AVC for 13 years in computer-less classrooms, I was thrilled to hold writing workshops in the new venue today. The space is versatile and the resources are top-notch. Some students used computers around the perimeter of the room, while those who preferred peer feedback shared tables in the center.

There was ample space for me to circulate and help everyone (no clambering over desks was involved, as in my regular classrooms). Many students were so motivated that they stayed during the break to continue writing. I am so very thankful to the team that had the vision to imagine the possibilities.

We can only be as good as our staff, and from what I've seen, the student mentors are all super. Their technical title is "Student Learning Assistant," and the newest hire and hence the person I've met most recently is Cain Martinez.

His teammates include Rebecca Arant, Anthony Sanchez, Carolina Fuentes, Jordan Salazar, and Kevin Shoptaw. Hours and who can do what in the evenings and so on is still being worked out. Like any start-up, there will be some additions to policy that may need to be fussed with a bit, or a final sense of how best to spend limited resources. This was up on the whiteboard yesterday, when I was taking some photos:

Key word is "subject to change" --- I am sure the use pattern and staffing issues will continue to evolve. Need a boost in spirits? There's a mix of practical advice and whimsy present on the ever-changing "Positive Wall." Here's what's up now.

In the picture, you can't read the smallest notes. What do they say? Good question --- why not stop by in person and find out? For those people like me who mostly know where things are if compared to where things used to be, the Success Center is the east part of the Learning Center where the Reading and LS-90 classes used to be held, way back when.

I for one am very happy that Santi et alia stuck with it and made it a reality. One idea is that instructors can keep office hours there; this is not a space just for students to use, but faculty too, and it will be fun to watch how to can enhance more cross-disciplinary contact and better support for our Basic Skills students. One of my first-night activities in any Basic Skills English class is the special "Let's go find the owls" campus tour. Besides looking for the owls (or at least their coughed up pellets of mouse bones), we go to the Health Science Building, the Art Gallery, the Black Box and Main Theatres, the Library, and the Writing Center. Now we can add to that a new stop, the Success Center.

(We also go to my office, and I just about force everybody to touch the door. "Here, THIS is where it is. THIS ONE, right here. Remember this hallway. Now you know how to find me --- come back often!")

If anybody has anything negative to say about the Success Center, I've not heard it, and that's saying a lot on this campus, where kvetching seems to be the number one hobby. To quote from Miranda in Shakespeare's Tempest, " O, wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here. / How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, / That has such people in't."

When we think about what our legacies will be as AVC employees, those folks who helped bring us the brave new world of the Success Center will have reasons to smile indeed.

later --- just a post script. Since the blog went up, there's now a Keurig coffee maker in the Success Center, in the smaller, corner room (LC 114). It's BYOKC ... Bring Your Own Keurig Cup. Please don't take drinks into the main Learning Center. Inside the Success Center, though, this is already very popular.

Also, there will be an art gallery function as well --- look above the windows in LC 114 after the first of the year.


Today's blog was posted by Language Arts instructor and Shakespeare quoter Charles Hood. (He took the photos, as well.) He can be reached at chood@avc.edu or at (661) 722 - 6472. For more information on the Success Center, its hours, or how to donate a class set of books, please contact Crystal Garcia at (661) 722-6300 (x6844). Her email is cgarcia4@avc.edu.


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