After ten years out of the classroom, Lubens St. Fleur knew starting at Miami-Dade College wouldn’t be easy.
“My dream is show my son I could do this,” he said. The 33-year-old was told he needed remedial math and writing courses.
Fellow student Danyelle Carter faced a similar predicament. She had to take four remedial math classes, and ended up repeating one.
“It took a toll on me and it did make me wanna leave school,” Carter admitted. She hadn’t taken a math class since 10th grade.
Their stories reflect what the majority of students face at the campus. Administrators say two-thirds of incoming students are not ready to perform on a college level. Miami-Dade’s president, Eduardo Padron, says he’s seen tears from families shocked to learn their students are not prepared.
“This is a major tragedy,” said Padron. “It’s a national problem. It’s not unique to this institution."
But college professors are not shrinking from the challenge. Carter and St. Fleur credit teachers like Jakeisha Thompson for helping students like them get the basics they were missing.
“It’s what they call math phobia,” Thompson said, half-joking. “It’s almost finding ways as an instructor to find small successes to build their confidence.”
Padron concedes there’s no easy solution. But he says school district and university leaders are working closer to make sure students can meet minimum college standards – like the state of Florida’s adoption of common core standards – a system that outlines what students are expected to learn to receive a diploma.
As for his college, Padron is focusing on getting students caught up.
“We make students believe they can actually overcome the odds,” said Padron. “We are able to tailor a program to each of the students for them to overcome their deficiencies.”
It’s working for St. Fleur and Carter.
St. Fleur is taking remedial Algebra this summer. He gets personalized attention, extra tutoring, and has a tailored course plan designed to help him become a firefighter.
Padron points to graduation rates this spring.
“We graduated almost 14,000 students, and two-thirds of them started at this college requiring remedial education,” said Padron. “What is happening here… is really saving a lot of lives.”
St. Fleur says putting in extra hours at his math lab is helping.
“I’m really beginning to fall back in love with math,” he said, grinning. “I’m having a good time so far.”
Carter says she doesn’t love math, but she’s learned to live with it. She already earned a two-year degree in journalism, now she’s going for a bachelor’s in management.
“This is a college that’s saying we understand you’re a little bit or a lot under where the average student should be, but if you want, we’ll take the time to help you progress to where you want to b, and for me that was enough to say, keep going and I did,” said Carter, who expects to graduate in 2013.
“Anything worth getting is worth waiting for or fighting for,” said St. Fleur.