Ryan Collier did what hundreds of college students do every semester. He registered for one of his required classes: College Algebra. Not necessarily his strongest subject, he was determined to give it his best shot. And, like hundreds of students, Collier found dealing with those Xs and Ys to be "very difficult."
When the next semester rolled around, Collier contracted with a tutoring company for additional support and was set to give it another try. During the semester, however, he discovered a free resource that would change his life.
"I was very fortunate to have picked a class that had an SI program," Collier said. "I had no idea about SI and was never told anything about the program."
SI, short for "Supplemental Instruction," is one of the latest student success initiatives launched at Tarrant County College and offers students like Collier help from classmates, known as SI leaders. The SI leaders are students who have mastered the courses previously and return to help instruct their peers. The specially trained SI leaders attend all classes, model how to take good notes and lead out-of-class review sessions.
It didn’t take Collier long to realize the benefits of his hard work.
"I made a 95 on my first exam and realized if I continue to attend the meetings and work problems out with my SI instructor, I could do math," Collier said. "Math can be very difficult at times. It was nice having someone to break things down and to answer questions."
Collier, a recent TCC graduate, finished the course with a 97 average and is continuing his education at Texas Wesleyan University, where he is pursuing a four-year degree in psychology.
Ashley Anyasi, who is majoring in nursing, experienced similar success. Following her chemistry teacher’s recommendation, Anyasi started attending SI sessions.
"After going regularly, I noticed an increase in my ability to recall information," she said. "The first result I noticed was getting a 100 on my first exam in chemistry. After that, I knew I (had) made the right choice to decide to go to SI regularly."
TCC has the fourth-largest SI program in the country. SI began in 1973 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to improve student retention and success. The peer-assisted study sessions were created for courses that are deemed historically difficult. To ease some of the stigma associated with the need for academic assistance, SI targets courses rather than students.
"Our students, especially in an upper-level science course like I teach, come into the class often times underprepared for the amount of work that it will be (and without) fully developed study skills," said Northwest Campus SI Anatomy and Physiology instructor, Amy Mullen.
It has been proven time and again that if you have regular attendance with SI then you can get up to, on average, a letter grade higher in the course.
Associate Professor Amy Mullen
Students often seem more comfortable bringing their questions to a peer.
"We can sit in our office all day long. Sometimes, I think the students are afraid that we’re going to bite or something like that and they won’t come talk to us," said South Campus SI Assistant Professor of Biology, Jerry Barton. "But, they’ll go to the SI session and they’ll ask questions. If they don’t know the answer, the SI leader will come down to my office and ask me the question."
Christopher Darville, director of student learning and success, credits much of the success that the students achieve to their improvement in one key area.
"Probably the most beneficial aspect of Supplemental Instruction to a student who is struggling is organizational skills," Darville said.
Every hour that you spend studying in Supplemental Instruction equates to two and a half hours studying in isolation.
Director Christopher Darville
"Participants in SI programs have consistently demonstrated higher re-enrollment and graduation rates, while consistently receiving higher final courses grades and lower withdrawal rates than non-SI participants," said Joy Gates Black, TCC vice chancellor for academic affairs and student success.
"For spring 2015, TCC students who visited SI sessions achieved 15 percent more A, B and C grades than those students who did not take advantage of the SI program," Black said.
Additionally, students who participated in the SI program had 15 percent lower D, fail, incomplete and withdrawal rates than those who did not participate in the program. Data show that students who attended 10 or more sessions achieved an impressive 90 percent success rate.
Black has long known the benefits of SI and is excited by the early results at TCC. "SI is a vehicle for increasing student success and student confidence and we look forward to continuing to grow the program."
Now, even more TCC students can take advantage of the educational resource because the District has hired all but two of the possible 100 supplementary instructors, up 17 from spring 2015, according to Darville.
The expansion has allowed TCC to cover a larger percentage of courses in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) realm. "Data from the spring 2015 semester show that SI was more effective, based on student attendance and successful course completion," Darville said.
Growth is not limited to students taking SI classes. The program also benefits SI leaders. "Being an SI leader revealed how much I love helping others learn," said SI leader Raymond Ruffin, who works with high school students attending TCC’s early college high school at Southeast Campus in Arlington. "I learned the importance of group work. Working with others will always get you higher than you can get yourself."
Ruffin, who has worked with younger learners as a volunteer at an area middle school, said he finds working with high school students better than he had expected.
"The students at the early college high school have so much energy. This makes my SI sessions easy because we play a lot of review games," Ruffin said. "They are very competitive, like me, so they want to win the game, which can only be done if they study."
Ruffin enjoys being a male role model for his students and relishes what he does so much that he often forgets that it is a job, although he recognizes it is helping him prepare for a better future.
"There are definitely benefits I am receiving through this program that are helping me such as the development of leadership, communication, study and teaching skills. The list goes on," Ruffin said. "Who would have thought this program would be so rewarding for not only the students, but for me."