One has a master’s degree and teaches math at Western Nevada College. Another graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a mechanical engineering degree. Others are students who are wrapping up their associate degrees at WNC.
The broad array of teaching assistants for WNC’s new Jump Start College program come from a variety of educational backgrounds, but all are lending their expertise to area high school students who are getting a head-start on their college education.
Deborah Case, WNC’s director of Counseling Services, coordinates, selects and prepares the teaching assistants for the Jump Start program, which allows high school juniors and seniors from nine high schools in the region to complete as many as 48 college credits before graduating from high school.
“Right now, the students are getting lots of support through the TAs,” Case said. “It’s really a safety net for kids transitioning from high school classes to college classes. We didn’t want to put them in four college classes and not support them through the experience.”
More than 200 high school students are participating in the pilot program. WNC has formed partnerships with Aspire Academy, Carson, Churchill County, Dayton, Douglas, Fernley, Pioneer, Silver Stage, Smith Valley, and Yerington high schools, allowing resources to be shared between the college and high schools, while exposing the students to additional educational opportunities.
For those schools that are farther from WNC campuses in Carson City, Fallon and Gardnerville, college professors and teaching assistants have been travelling to teach classes on site.
Carson, Dayton, Pioneer and Virginia City students attend classes at WNC in Carson City, while Douglas and Aspire students take their courses at WNC’s Douglas campus, and Churchill County students come to WNC’s Fallon campus.
Teaching assistants travel throughout the week to meet the needs of students. Yerington and Smith Valley students learn at Yerington High School, Fernley’s 40-plus students are instructed at Fernley High School, and Silver Stage High School students learn on-site as well.
Assisting with the launch of the Jump Start program are Itzel Salazar-Garcia, Carson High School; Amy Barlow, Virginia City and Dayton High Schools; Jessica Batchelor and Penny Clifford, Churchill County High School; Christina Connell, Yerington and Smith Valley high schools; Kyle Egelhofer and Britt Hoashi, Fernley High School; Cindy Matthes, Silver Stage High School; and Danielle Rumbaugh, Douglas High School.
Matthes, a WNC graduate with two degrees, said the program has stimulated the students she works with at Silver Stage High School.
“I like that it gives the high school students the college experience and for the ones who may be bored in their high school classes, it gives them something to challenge them. It’s wonderful that they are getting challenged,” Matthes said.
Case said the educational requirements these teaching assistants needed to become part of the program are stringent.
“The idea was that we didn’t want to put them in the position to tutor and help students with material that they weren’t already very well-versed in,” she said.
Education requirements for a TA position are the completion of college-level Math 126 (Precalculus), Math 127 (Precalculus II/Trigonometry) and English 101 and 102 with at least a B grade in each course. Case also sought teaching assistants who have an interest or background in teaching and enjoy working with high school students. The teaching assistants also needed flexibility in their day-to-day schedules because of the travel time necessary to reach the rural high schools in WNC’s widespread service area.
“I recruited these TAs by getting recommendations from our math faculty and from the ASC (Academic Skills Center) coordinator, by sending a mass email to all graduate students at UNR, and by contacting all students who completed Math 127 at WNC within the last two years,” Case said.
A seven-hour training session prepared the teaching assistants for their contributions to Jump Start. Case provided them with an information binder that includes details about their role and responsibilities and an outline for conducting a supplemental instruction session.
The teaching assistants, who are compensated, are heavily involved in the day-to-day classes of the high school students. They attend the classes, take notes and participate in classroom activities at the discretion of the instructor. They also conduct a supplemental instructional period once a week that provides the students with learning strategies to reinforce course material which was covered earlier.
“The primary responsibility of the TA is to build a rapport with the students in their cohort and help guide them to successful course completion,” Case said. “They function kind of like a hub for the students for information; they are the go-to person that straddles the partnership between the high school and the college.”
Additional supplemental teaching periods not only allow the teaching assistants to reinforce the lessons recently covered by the professor, but they give the TA the opportunity to engage students with different strategies. One instructor divides math students into groups and has them work out problems together on white boards.
Matthes said she helped students prepare for two upcoming tests by breaking them into groups to cover study guide material.
The program also offers the TAs an opportunity to be introduced to teaching as a possible career choice.
“One of the TAs wasn’t considering a teaching career before but now she is getting hooked on it. It can be career exploration,” Case said.
Matthes said she believes students will really appreciate the Jump Start program once they enroll (full-time) in a college.
“It’s really given them a jump-start,” she said. “They’ll already have some idea of what to expect and a better grasp of issues once they get away from their parents and are holding a job and taking classes.”