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Running Start Students at Clark Speak Out About Program Challenges

“High school counselors tell you to talk to the college about your problems but then the college tells you to talk to your high school counselor. It’s just this continuous back and forth” – Alyssa Dolan

Despite seeming like a well-run program, many Running Start students run into challenges with the process and are unsure of who to turn to when problems arise.

Some students feel that the Running Start program has serious problems, including a lack of communication and a general feeling that Running Start students feel like they do not belong. To combat students’ feeling of not belonging, the Clark College Counseling Center started a new support group, a place for students to go when they feel lost.                  

Ask any instructor at Clark and they will tell you that they often have Running Start students in their classes. The program has been around for almost 30 years.

ASCC Executive Assistant Alyssa Dolan voiced her concerns at a Board of Trustees meeting on April 24.

According to Dolan, the biggest problem with the program is communication between high school counselors and college counselors.

“High school counselors tell you to talk to the college about your problems but then the college tells you to talk to your high school counselor,” she said. “It’s just this continuous back and forth.”

Dolan decided to speak out after hearing from numerous Running Start students who were confused and frustrated about registration issues and other problems they encountered, sometimes breaking down in tears, she said.

“I had enough,” Dolan said.

Mattelin Av, a Running Start student from Mountain View High School first joined the program to get away from her high school and take advantage of the opportunity for dual enrollment. Av said that she felt the program was poorly advertised and that the high school program counselors were almost “deferring people.”

Although Av is a fan of the program, she said that there should be stricter standards for which students get into the program.

“It’s a great program, but it’s not for everyone. Don’t take morning classes. It’s a lot of responsibility.” – Mattelin Av

It’s a great program, but it’s not for everyone,” Av said.

Av offered the following advice for future Running Start students “Don’t sign up for early morning classes,” she said. She added that students do not need to take full time credits.  

“Know your limits,” she said. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”

Dolan said she feels frustrated because the college acknowledges the poor communication between the schools yet still highlights the program and Running Start students as if nothing is wrong.

“A big factor is actually that enrollment is going down,” Dolan said. “I personally believe that it’s because Running Start students are getting frustrated with the college.”

Dolan also believes that a large contributing factor to the challenges Running Start students face is an overwhelming feeling of not belonging to the typical molds of a college or high school student, she said.  

“I know a lot of students just come to class then leave because they don’t feel like they belong here,” she said.

Dolan brought all of these issues up in her emotion-filled speech before the Board of Trustees. Dolan said she believes that the board members heard her.

“There is a big difference between listening, not just hearing,” she said. “I do believe that they listened.”

In fact, Dolan is hopeful the new support group that is now being offered to running start students is thanks in part to her speech.  

Valentina Pishchanskaya-Cayanan and Beth Van Buecken, both marriage and family counselors at Clark recently decided to start a support group for Running Start students.

According to Pishchanskaya-Cayanan, they looked around campus to assess different student needs and found that Running Start students didn’t necessarily have a specific place to go to.

“They had a very unique need,” Pishchanskaya-Cayanan said.

After the group was announced, they started a large advertising campaign to raise awareness. Several flyers were hung around campus, in addition to an email blast that went out to all Running Start students to inform them about the group.

Two weeks after the group started, Pishchanskaya-Cayanan was pleased to say that they have had good turnout. “We’re getting more inquiries about the group too, so that’s really good,” she said.

In the group meetings, students choose topics that they feel are the most important to talk about. “One week, we could talk about time management and another we could talk about balancing life with family, school and work,” she said. “It’s very different depending on the week.”

The goal for the group is for students to feel more connected to campus and the many services available, in addition to other Running Start students.

“As they are going through different stages of life, it is kind of nice to have someone that is going through it with you,” she said.

Although this is only the first quarter for the group, Pishchanskaya-Cayanan is hopeful that it will continue on to future quarters.

“With groups, you never know how it’s gonna go. So hopefully it continues on and we can grow from there,” she said.

Dolan encourages future Running Start students to get involved with different groups and events on campus because they can help to generate a sense of belonging and inclusion, she said.

She said that she wishes that she would have known to get involved with ASCC early on because she didn’t know that she could make such a difference.

To Dolan, a feeling of belonging is most important to Running Start students because that is a part of how they succeed.

“You do belong,” she said.

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