It’s Crazy to Think I’m Getting an "A" in Calculus

September 10, 2019 Adrian Hernandez

I wasn’t really sure if college was right for me.

I grew up watching my parents work hard and hearing my dad speak with pride about how many overtime hours he’d worked that week. I always knew I wanted to be able to help them and take care of them, but I wasn’t exactly sure how I would. I thought about going back to school and enrolled in college classes a few different times, but it never really worked out. In high school classes didn’t come easily; I ended up quitting whenever I encountered things I didn’t understand – graduating with around a 2.0 GPA.

The bad habits stuck with me and I ended up choosing work over college regularly. But the jobs were never consistent, and they ended up not paying enough. Between high school graduation and when I finally committed to college, I had worked around 15 different jobs. I worked in retail stores to factories, any job that I thought would pay me better or offer me more hours. Eventually, the stress and pressure of these jobs became too much. I found myself working irregular hours, getting in trouble for things I had nothing to do with, and for things I definitely wasn’t getting paid enough to deal with. Eventually, I decided enough was enough. With the support of my older brother, I enrolled at Triton College to pursue a degree in Computer Science.

I was terrified of going back to school. High school was so difficult, but I knew giving up or dropping out wasn’t an option anymore. To make things more intimidating, a Computer Science degree meant I had to take a lot of math classes. My low grades in high school meant that I had to take some basic math courses to start out. I walked to class ready for a stuffy classroom with a boring teacher and to be totally lost within a few weeks, but when I got there it wasn’t like anything I expected.

My math class – part of Triton’s iLaunch program – was in a huge, open classroom with tons of computers. Everyone was friendly and talkative, and I instantly felt a little more at ease. This class was set up differently than most, having work stations and computers that students and teachers can sit down at and work together on classwork. Because I’m a first-generation student, I didn’t really have any resources to help me through school in the past and didn’t really know where to turn. This class, since it was more one-on-one, helped me learn not only about math but how to take notes, manage my time, ask for help, and how to study. I finally was feeling like I could do this, I could go to college and succeed.

In the span of 8 weeks, I was able to finish 2 math courses, something I never thought possible. Even more unbelievable is that I finished both classes with an “A”. My first A’s I’ve ever gotten. The iLaunch program was definitely a huge reason I was successful, but the online software used by iLaunch, called ALEKS, was also key. The ALEKS program, which keeps track of how and what you’re learning, helped personalize the practice activities and questions for me. Letting me repeat things over and over again, without failing, until it made sense. It made it so much easier for me to understand all of these concepts and problems that would have made me freeze before. I was able to work at my own pace and felt more comfortable asking for help than ever before. I got so good at the material that not, between classes, I tutor students in math. I never in a million years would I have imagined that I would be good enough to tutor others in math.

Like so many other people out there I didn’t really have any direction after high school. I knew I wanted to make enough money to help take care of my family but didn’t really have a plan on how to get there. Finding a school that supports me and has teachers that have looked out for me has changed my life. I used to think I was bad at school. That I hated math and that I wouldn’t be able to get around it. Turns out, I love math and I’m good at it. Who knew one class could change me so much?

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