When I was in K-12, there was one thing I did not want to hear at school: “We’re going to have to tell your parents.” That was bad news. Even the threat of such brought amazing compliance on my part, well sometimes. Off at a university 600 miles away was another story, much more remote.
A Community college has a local feel, but still, students have entered another world—one where adulthood is imminent or has arrived. A little parenting by the college, however, can be in order. It’s not that this is imposed, but it is offered in a new form named Starfish, which is a communications loop for progress reports, either kudos or alerts.
A recent email posted notification that it was time to do the Starfish surveys, and frankly, it felt like a bother, so I ignored it for a few days. I even thought of not doing it. However, there was no point in being a rebel, and the surveys are easy to complete and not time consuming. I just didn’t like the idea of a third party being needed to get students to attend and do assignments.
A look at the calendar of an eight week course pricked me with increased urgency. Week four was beginning, and seven Starfish flags were in order. The next day, my email contained assignments from three of the flagged students plus several Starfish emails about conversations between Starfish coordinator, Teresa Bailey, and flagged students.
I felt like the school who had told the students’ parent, albeit an institutional parent—a college official checking up on the students. Teresa is benign, but no student wants to be reported by an instructor. Being reported as delinquent is the opposite of pleasure in learning, but has its own effectiveness.
It is possible that some of the flagged students will make a brief rally and then fade. It is also possible that the rally will continue.
Speaking of Starfish reminds me of another story. When my ship was deployed to the Philippines in 1972, I found a beautiful starfish while snorkeling and put it in a cabinet to save. A few days later, a bad smell emanated from the cabinet, and my starfish had to sadly be tossed out. It needed the ocean to live, not a cabinet aboard a naval ship. It was naïve not to think this out beforehand.
There is a good lesson there for all of us at a college. College is like an ocean. Students are a type of fish in it. In order to live, the fish need to spend enough time in the ocean, and the ocean keeps inviting them to do that.