In Pat Toney's summer remedial English class at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Mass., a half dozen students eager to get on with college work watch as she writes the words "process paragraph" on the blackboard.
She outlines an example: "How to cook rice."
Some in the class ponder for a few minutes, beginning hesitantly. Kristen Marcil sits back, thinks a minute, and she's off writing furiously.
"I'm a good writer," she says later. "It's one of my strong points. But I'm awful at math. I still have trouble with fractions."
Ms. Marcil graduated from an alternative high school this week. But before she can attend Fitchburg State College or Salem State or another Massachusetts state college, she must at least pass this remedial English class - and probably a remedial math class later on.
Officials at Quinsigamond say they have at least seven more students like Marcil in summer classes this year due to tighter restrictions on remedial education at four-year colleges.
"Community colleges know how to do this work," says Sandra Kurinitis, president of Quinsigamond. "We've been doing it a long time and we're good at it."
Alma Vezuli hopes so. She emigrated from Albania just two years ago and knew no English until she enrolled in a public high school in Worcester. She is banking on the remedial work here to get her into a four-year college and launch her into a journalism career next year.
"When I got here I didn't understand a word," she says in hesitant but good English. "I'm just starting to write long essays. I'm excited because my teacher said she loves my intro paragraph."
Felix Rivera is combining remedial English at Quinsigamond with psychology studies at a local private college.
"I've written hundreds of essays here," he says with an air of confidence. "I know when I leave here soon that I'll be able to write well on my own."