Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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Woman accepts challenge to deal with basic skills needs

An English as a second language (ESL) and developmental communications instructor with program management experience in complex organizations has been chosen to lead Antelope Valley College’s efforts to equip students with the basic skills in English and math that they’ll need to succeed.

Agnes Jose-Eguaras was named the college’s Director of Basic Skills earlier this academic year to develop ways to more effectively serve large numbers of adults in need of skills necessary for them to succeed in college-level work. 

The effort is part of a large-scale initiative throughout California to address a statewide statistic that 80 percent of students entering community colleges are under prepared for college work, according to Jose-Eguaras. One out of three California community college students are enrolled in basic skills courses in English, math or English as a second language (ESL).

The number of students entering Antelope Valley College who are assessed as basic skills students is 92 percent, according to college data.

Behind the statistics are some students who lack even the most fundamental skills and abilities. They struggle to read, write, spell or perform simple arithmetic. Others, for example, may not be up to the level where they can function in a college algebra course.

“Our goal is to really provide effective practices and resources for these students so we can help them succeed. There are foundational skills that they will need – not only for their academic goals, but for the workplace,” said Jose-Eguaras.

Helping people learn language and academic skills is something Jose-Eguaras has been involved with for several years, starting as a drop-in volunteer with ESL students in her mother’s community adult school classroom in Los Angeles.

“Sometimes she had so many students, I would just be in there helping her.” With as many as 45 students in a classroom, her mother needed help. Jose-Eguaras would assist with paperwork and observe.

That experience shaped the woman’s career goals.

Jose-Eguaras earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She worked as an events programming manager in the advertising marketing department of a major newspaper in Los Angeles.

She got a teaching credential in adult education from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While enrolled at UCLA, she dropped her job at the newspaper and went to work for the university’s Anderson School of Management as a senior program manager.

At the same time, she started teaching ESL part time at College of the Canyons and Pasadena City College as well as English and Developmental Communications at Los Angeles Mission College. Later, she accepted a full-time position at College of the Canyons as project manager for its employee training institute and continued to teach ESL and Developmental Communications part time.

She went on to pursue a master’s in education at the University of Southern California (USC), taking a job with the nearby Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority as project manager, where she acquired experience in providing services to the general public in a much larger scale. 

By the time the AVC director’s position opened, the self-described overachiever felt she had a variety of experiences needed to help her with the monumental task of coordinating the basic skills functions across the campus.

“Because I’ve been in the classroom with students in basic skills courses, I am very much aware of their needs as well as the barriers they have that make it difficult for them to do well in school and succeed,” she said.

AVC has several hundred faculty members – full and part time – across six academic pisions. Jose-Eguaras is working to make basic skills initiatives, projects and activities more collaborative across pision lines while adding more structure.

“One of my goals is to … make people aware here (that) the majority of our community college students lack the foundational skills in reading, writing, math, and English as well as learning skills and study skills needed to succeed in college-level work. We as a community, as a community college, need to address this issue,” she said.

Through collaboration, additional resources and developing effective practices, Jose-Eguaras hopes to help basic skills students succeed in college and, ultimately, in life. 

The need for skills includes study skills.

“A lot of students in basic skills courses don’t even know how to take notes. They think that going to school is just sitting down and listening; not necessarily because they are ‘lazy’ but because they are not aware and were not taught learning strategies and study skills that are essential to help them succeed in school,” she said.

Jose-Eguaras knows the challenge before her. Since arriving at AVC in July, she’s already seen state budget cuts reduce AVC’s basic skills funding by 32 percent from the previous year.

“How do we provide services for these students when we don’t have the funding to do that?” she asked.

“I think as an educational institution, it is our duty to provide educational opportunities, resources and access to high quality of education to these students,” said Jose-Eguaras. “This is the future work force of our community and we are their hope for a better life; therefore, we must deliver.”