Three years ago, Wild River Books launched Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning at Philadelphia’s historic Mermaid Inn, home to my own Sacred CowBoys and numerous other Philly-based performers. The occasionally raucous event featured a conversation with Community College of Philadelphia Vice President Judith Gay and me about the importance of community colleges in America, hosted by WXPN-FM and NPR luminary Roger LeMay. It also drew people that I’ve taught and taught with—in other words, folks with whom I’ve learned, including my former student, CCP alumnus Trevor Angelucci, shown below speaking during the Q&A. 

For Trevor, as for so many other CCP graduates, including myself, the classroom experience there became one of life’s important turning points. The same is true for Stephanie Kroupa Sheridan, a former Honors student of mine, who, like Trevor, now teaches in the Philadelphia School District. Roger LeMay called Open Admissions “a love song to the promise and accessibility of affordable higher education.” And that’s what people passionately talked about that afternoon.

Stephanie Kroupa Sheridan and her class

Community colleges change lives for first-generation students who quietly blend into the American economy and culture in ways that benefit all of us. But not all are invisible. Some notable CC grads take the time to acknowledge the impact that community college had on them, like Hollywood’s Tom Hanks.

Former CCP Honors student Hazim Hardeman before his year at Oxford

After the publication of Open Admissions, I was thrilled to see Hazim Hardeman, another CCP alumnus (and former Honors student who attended after I left the College) earn a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford.

One of our first Honors English 102-Developmental Psych Classes at CCP

Pictured above is the beloved group that took the link of second-semester academic writing and developmental psychology that my colleague and friend Vince Castronuovo and I developed and taught. Mr. Hardeman took the first-semester academic writing-introduction to psych link not long after Vince and I had retired.

Much of our readings and activities focused on what psychology has learned about social factors in learning. You could say that after many years of collaborative teaching, it finally dawned on me that we ought to teach what we practiced, so students learned about psychologists like Vygotsky, Bandura, and Lawrence Steinberg, who teaches a few blocks down Broad Street at Temple University.   

Writing our first link of honors courses on Vince’s porch at the Jersey shore

Vince and I tried to welcome first-generation students into academic culture. We wanted their time with us to help them on their way to important turning points in their lives.

When I settled into Cottage 8 at the Cill Rialaig artist center in Ireland for a month’s sabbatical, I immediately realized that I would not merely be writing about the previous semester’s students but also about the four weeks I was about to spend in an environment as foreign to me as college was to them. Those two stories run alongside one another in Open Admissions. Turning points can arrive unbidden. We are blessed when we recognize them as such.

I learned to operate a peat-burning stove and to share my spot on the hillside with my neighbors, both human and sheep, which far outnumbered the humans. And I learned to adjust to life without a television, the internet, or a car. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll order a copy.

Thank you to the wonderful publishers at Wild River Books, to all the folks who helped me during the writing of Open Admissions, to its readers, and to the many people who have blessed my learning life by creating and encouraging turning points. And special thanks to Vince Castronuovo, my brother of the chalk.

Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the TURNING POINTS blog on City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction.

Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” was featured in the May 2019 issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S.