Monday, November 27, 2006

Two schools at once


A print version of this story can be read online at in the November issue of LareDOS, or be found around Laredo, Texas.


Tempting, beckoning, curiosity-sparking electives look like presents under the Christmas tree to young college students with a knack for learning.
College and university professors and administrators have seen those many course grabbing students become “professional students” – some never earning a degree after taking more than enough hours for a bachelor’s and master’s in some cases. Texas A&M-International and Laredo Community College have put together a joint, simultaneous enrollment program designed to get incoming freshmen to stay the course to their degrees in four years without straying into professional student status.
Students enrolled in the program have access to facilities at both schools, as well as the public library. The two schools also have access to the records of jointly enrolled students, allowing for a closer course taking scrutiny and more guidance.
“We never say OK, you’re done, see you later,” LCC counselor Lisa Gonzalez said.
This isn’t the occasional guidance contact and degree planning of decades past where word of mouth held a higher importance. Finishing on time is important in the case of many local students who depend on time-related grants, too.
Students in a joint enrollment program like the one LCC and TAMIU have will likely hear more from counselors and financial aid workers than their parents did 30 and 40 years ago. LCC has similar agreements with other universities, but the local program is in its first year.
Taking those extra eye-catching electives costs parents, or the student money and more is potentially lost in the case of the B on Time Loan. The student’s debt is forgiven if they finish within four years with no less than a 3.0 grade point average and don’t take more than six hours over their degree plan.
B on Time Loan students receives some $2,300 per semester. Tuition and fees for 15 hours at TAMIU costs $2,339, but only $858 at LCC.
Any student in any financial bracket can qualify for the B on time loan, but local administrators know they are dealing with many who the first in their family to attend college, so little, if anything, can be taken for granted.
“Some hours don’t transfer into degrees, but with this intervention a student can get in and get out in four years,” Minita Ramirez, TAMIU’s associate vice president for student success, said. “We have a large first generation student population.”
Ramirez says many first generation college students need a little more handholding, noting that many lack basic knowledge of higher education finance, academic confidence, and how to deal with the processes of enrollment and advancement.
“We work with the schools. We help with their requirements,” Ramirez said. “Some don’t understand how things are at the university and want to go to LCC.”
LCC Dean of Enrollment Management Rick Moreno says they try help fill out forms, find financial aid and payment options, which students and their parents can live with.
LCC and TAMIU each award hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in grants, loans and scholarships, but connecting the student to that money requires some professional help and this is where the joint enrollment program kicks in.
That connection will make, or break, college for many students.
“The key is more time earlier and that much more of a chance we can work with them,” Gonzalez said.
Many first-year college students find themselves with their first checking account and are learning the hard way how to use money.
“Finances are huge. We try to support them and we know life skills, reading are important, too,” Moreno said. “We sell education and that improves the quality of life.
“The state continues to raise budget problems and it’s hard dealing with budget problems, but we have to work with them.”

Friday, November 10, 2006

Too close to that old Army home?

Note: Copperas Cove Leader-Press correspondent Paul Gately wrote the following story over the squabble around the Killeen-based PBS station's problem with running a story on the local Congressional race and its relation to the war in Iraq. It provides some insight into living and working around a huge U.S. military installation like Fort Hood.

Carter defeated challenger Harrell to retain his seat, his third 2-year term, on Tuesday.

More from the Copperas Cove Leader-Press can be seen online at

From the Nov. 7, 2006 edition

KNCT reverses blackout decision

Leader-Press correspondent
GATESVILLE – It took less than 48 hours for policy makers at KNCT-TV in Killeen to reverse a decision to eliminate a news program from Friday night’s line up and re-schedule the local broadcast of “Now” for Monday night.
The particular program was a look at the U.S. Congressional District that includes Fort Hood and Copperas Cove – the 31st Texas Congressional District, and the two candidates who are running for the seat.
Citing a fear of unfairness to one candidate or the other, KCNT Station Manager Max Rudolph and Central Texas College President James Anderson decided to pre-empt the scheduled airing and delete the program from the run list.
KNCT’s station manager and college officials decided not to air the program late Friday when they were unable to obtain a copy of the program for review prior to airtime. The purpose of the review was to ensure fair and balanced coverage for all candidates in this local race.
But a groundswell of opposition that came immediately from citizens in the area prompted Mary Beth Harrell, the Democratic candidate for the job, to seek an answer as to why the program was cancelled. The effort resulted in a Saturday news conference at CTC’s KNCT studio and coverage of the issue to the point that Rudolph reversed his original decision on Sunday and rescheduled the program for Monday night.
Station and college officials viewed the show online late Saturday and subsequently scheduled the show to air Monday evening.
“Max cancelled the program because we didn’t know if it was fair and balanced,” said Barbara Merlo, community affairs spokeswoman for KNCT.
“They (PBS) didn’t notify us it was going to run and they didn’t notify us when they came down here to shoot the program,” Merlo said. “We just didn’t want the program to influence the local congressional race.”
If that was the intent – it backfired.
“We didn’t intend to have any impact on the election, but unfortunately the Mary Beth Harrell campaign has used this to their advantage. We certainly didn’t anticipate this degree of response form the public and I don’t know if we would have made the same decision if we had,” Merlo said.
“I’ve never gotten a realistic answer about why they cancelled the show in the first place,” Harrell said on Monday. “It wasn’t a story about politics in the first place. It was a story about Central Texas, Fort Hood and the soldiers who live here who are fighting in Iraq. I just thought it was a real shame that the very people the show was about weren’t able to see it.”
To say they were not aware of the program and its content somewhat falls back on KNCT, others in the business say. The President and Chief Executive Officer for KWBU, the PBS station in Waco, said her programmers are notified of content on “Now” as much as 14 days before a particular show airs and then again one week out. As well, the entire program was available on the Internet. In fact, Merlo said Rudolph viewed the program on Saturday via the PBS website.
“If we did receive that, I’m not aware of it,” Merlo said.
The PBS-Now website ( clearly states the show’s content and purpose: “With less than a week to go before the election, it’s clear no single issue will have more impact than the war in Iraq. This week NOW goes to one of the most pro-military districts in the country – the Texas 31st – to see how people deeply affected by our presence in Iraq might vote next Tuesday.
“This conservative district is home to Fort Hood, the largest active duty army base in America, and almost everyone living there has a personal connection to the war. Since the war began, Fort Hood has sent tens of thousands of young men and women to fight in Iraq.”
Despite the district’s support for the military, Democrat Mary Beth Harrell, is trying to win a seat in Congress with a campaign strongly critical of President Bush’s war policy.
“The civilian leadership, this administration, this rubber stamp Congress, has failed our troops, and failed our community, and failed our country,” Harrell told ‘Now’.
“She is challenging the pro-war Republican incumbent, Congressman John Carter, who argues that the war is vital to protecting America from terrorists. Matt McAdoo, a 26-year-old libertarian candidate, is also in the running. He believes U.S. troops in Iraq should ‘pack up and leave.’”
Merlo said after viewing the program, Rudolph decided it was fair and balanced and did need to air for the sake of the viewing public.
“There should never have been a question,” said Polly Anderson, of KWBU. “This is PBS. It is our job to serve the public and airing programs like “Now” is one way we do it.”
Cursory checks with PBS stations in Waco, Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Amarillo indicated the program aired in its original time slot last Friday.
“I found nothing offensive about it. That’s a personal opinion, of course,” Anderson said.
And in the long run, both the other Congressional candidates say they approved of the show’s content, as well.
“We’ve heard Congressman Carter and Mr. McAdoo both thought the program was good and had no problems with it,” Merlo said.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dealing with the bad guys

Texas House Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, of the 42nd District, has a good idea in dealing with bullies, which he hopes will go through Austin's lawmakers for a governor's signature and become law.

It used to be, we had to learn the hard way as kids to find the courage to stand up to bullies, organize coalitions to impress upon the bully that we've had enough and we're not going to take it any more, or just jump the idiot from all sides if all else fails. But lessons learned in school shootings across this country and a few others say not all children and teens can do what is necessary to halt the bullying. Some can't take it, something snaps and they bring a gun to school and people start getting killed.

Raymond's intended legislation seeks to give the schools the power to act in these situations and move the bully toward a safer disposition.


State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, wants to see schools have the tools to push bullies off the property.
Raymond says he will introduce legislation in the coming session, which would hand decisions on consistently troublesome, problem bullies to justices of the peace. The JPs would then determine if the student in question should be sent to detention facilities.
Raymond doesn’t believe children victimized by bullies should have to form coalitions of friends to confront the bully, or test their fortitude by standing up to them eye-to-eye by themselves.
“Parents can move a child out if they are being harassed, but they should move out the bully,” he said.
Raymond noted the bullying element in numerous school violence cases across the country, which includes Columbine and other school shootings.
Raymond and JPs attending his news conference on the issue discussed statewide school rules, which punish both students in a fight. It takes one to start a fight, but two to have one. The proposed law seeks to separate the fight starter from the answerer.
“We have parents who say my child is afraid to go to school in the morning,” Raymond said. “We have a priority for safe schools.”
“If they break the law and are in court and charged accordingly, it will mean a lot,” parent Rene Cervantes said, attending the news conference.
Precinct 4 JP Oscar Martinez says are harassed to the point where anyone would be forced to fight, but bullies are sometimes gang members and need to be made to understand that there is help for them, too. Martinez sees this potential law putting the bully in conversation with JPs who could help steer the aggressive child, or teen, away from trouble.