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Supplemental Instruction nationally certified and changing students' lives

2019-03-06-Cheyenne-Chester-1
University of North Georgia junior Cheyenne Chester attributes her success in a history class to the school's Supplemental Instruction program. The academic success program uses a collaborative group setting to help students through difficult courses. After using the program, Chester became an SI facilitator. Now she is a full-time senior SI mentor, providing guidance to SI facilitators.

University of North Georgia (UNG) junior Cheyenne Chester did not like history in high school.

When she enrolled in a history class at UNG, Chester took advantage of Supplemental Instruction (SI), the academic success program that uses a collaborative group setting to help students through difficult courses. In it, Chester experienced an "aha moment."

The 20-year-old from Dawsonville, Georgia, said the SI session discussed Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's march during the Civil War. The SI facilitator told Chester to think about Sherman as a real person and not a character in a history book.

"I thought about what Sherman was feeling and thinking," she said. "Then it clicked for me. These historical people had emotional and human motivation just as I would. It made more sense than memorizing events and facts."

Chester's perspective about history changed that day. Now she is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in middle grades education with a focus in math and history as well as serving as a full-time senior SI mentor.

She attributes her success to UNG's SI program, which has earned the highest accolade possible. The university's program recently was designated a Certified SI Program by the University of Missouri of Kansas City, which is the hub of the training and certification of SI professionals. UNG is the second institution in Georgia to be certified. Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville was the first.

"We were thrilled," Emily Cook, UNG's Supplemental Instruction director, said.

Dr. Shannon Gilstrap, associate department head and associate professor of English at UNG, said SI reaching the major milestone was not surprising based on the program's success.

"The data speaks for itself," said Gilstrap, who has been involved with SI for a couple of years. "Students who attend at least one SI session tend to earn higher grades in these classes."

Cook said the process to earn certification involved supplying the data to show the program's success, letters of support from faculty, ongoing SI model and leadership training for the SI team, among other elements that met or exceeded certification requirements.

SI sessions are supplied to courses in which more than 30 percent of students earn final grades of D, fail or withdraw — commonly called the DFW rating. Departments offering SI sessions for lower- and higher-level courses include biology, chemistry, history, physics, math, and English.

"We are targeting the at-risk courses," Cook said. "It is inclusive and open to all students in the course. And it is voluntary and anonymous for attendees."

The impact on students and classes is substantial.

SI sessions help students reach their own milestones. First, they review the class information in two 50-minute sessions in a critical-thinking and encouraging manner instead of regurgitating the information or lecture.

"SI facilitators do not spoon-feed the student the information they need to know for the test," Chester said. "Facilitators help empower the students and encourage them to take ownership of their learning process. We believe in our students and show them the way, but they are the ones who learn it."

Second, students learn better study habits and critical-thinking skills that can transfer to other courses.

"Students who attend SI regularly earn, on average, half a letter grade higher than those who do not attend and improve their grades in other classes as well," Cook said. "It is because the skills they are learning in the SI sessions are being applied to everything else."

Dr. Clay Ouzts, professor of history and environmental studies at UNG, has had SI facilitators for his classes since it started at UNG. He said it has impacted not only his students but his teaching as well.

"I use the SI facilitators as a gauge for the fairness of my tests," he said. "And I have a better success rates in my classes with my SI."

Chester said the SI sessions changed the way she studied and the way she plans to teach when she graduates.

"I'm going to teach students how to learn and study," she said. "The SI motto is 'we do better when we work together.' I hear testimony to that. And I want to utilize that in my classroom environment."

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