News Stories

Grammar glamour: Preparatory course promotes student success in BPASC

By Army Spc. Stefanie L. Fulcher | Defense Information School | April 13, 2016

FORT MEADE, Md. --

When Pvt. Hubert Delany started the Basic Public Affairs Specialist Course at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, he immediately recognized that there were basic grammar deficiencies he had to overcome. Delany did extra homework, and came in early and stayed late for help with the course.

“I didn’t want to be someone who had to do it twice,” said Delany.

When he made it to the features block of the course, he fell short and was advised that he’d have to retake BPASC. Before that could happen, however, Delany would have to complete the Journalism Preparatory Course.

For Delany, the class held a negative stigma. He said he felt as if he’d failed and that he would no longer be seen as a good soldier.

Delany, who completed J-Prep in January, is scheduled to graduate from BPASC on April 13.  He has orders for Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he will be assigned to the 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Delany said that he has been in contact with his sponsor and he is excited to get to his unit and get started.

Although it’s not a requirement for everyone, the J-Prep course builds confidence and improves students’ chances for success in BPASC.

The J-Prep course is an informal 16-day class with a capacity of one to 12 students that focuses on English essentials. It is not a pass or fail course.

The goal is for a student to show improvement in the areas that he originally had difficulty with, said Sarah L. Hood, the J-Prep instructor.

Hood, who has worked at DINFOS for the past 19 years and has been the J-Prep instructor for the last five, took over the course after Faye B. Jones retired in 2011.

“She set me up for success,” Hood said. “I’ve just tweaked a few things.”

Prospective BPASC students begin with taking an English diagnostic test.  The diagnostic test covers capitalization, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure and word usage. Should a student score lower than a 70 percent overall on this test, he is eligible for the J-Prep course prior to taking BPASC.  Students who pass the EDT but score lower than a 70 percent

in an instructional area during the course may also be placed into the J-Prep course and be made to retake BPASC with a following class.

Hood said that she doesn’t think that her J-Prep course would be as effective if it were a requirement for everyone.

Learning is easier when students don’t feel intimidated, she said. If everyone took the course, people who really have difficulty with its subjects wouldn’t be as successful.

J-Prep 050-16 began on March 25 and is scheduled to end on April 15.

Some of the areas Hood focuses refreshing memories on include subject-verb agreement, pronoun use and punctuation. Everyone picks up bad habits, she said.

“You’re surrounded with incorrect usage, whether it’s in advertising, in casual conversation, or broadcast news,” she said. “You hear something often enough without someone being corrected and you think, ‘Oh, that must be the right way to do it.’ So, you don’t necessarily notice when it’s used incorrectly.”

Hearing something often enough the wrong way will make the right way not sound right, Hood said.  For this reason, practicing writing and refreshing the rules can only help.

“You need to make sure that you have your mechanics squared away as much as possible for BPASC and beyond,” Hood said. “We want to set folks up for success and build a little confidence with those skills.” 

She said that confidence, being open to suggestions and ideas, and being open to criticism are keys to being a great writer. Practicing and not being afraid of assignments that don’t appeal to the writer also are essential, she said.

In Hood’s class, the mood is laid-back. She plays music and places examples on the board.  She encourages her students to ask questions and to participate in discussions. 

The J-Prep course has about an 80 percent success rate, Hood said.  Out of the 24 students who have taken the course this year, 10 have graduated from BPASC, 11 are currently in BPASC and three have been dropped from the program.

Out of the 11 J-Prep students who are currently in BPASC, four – including Delany – will be graduating this week.

Eric E. Parris, a journalism instructor for the Basic Public Affairs Specialist Course, said that key issues he’s noticed with writers in his classes were problems with attention to detail and their basic English skills.

Parris said that he tends to lean on the J-Prep students during a class when it first starts. He can rely on them to help with their classmates. When he or any of the other instructors have students who are struggling early on, they send them to Hood for help. Before or after class, students can get coached with English and grammar mechanics.

Students will go into the J-Prep course thinking they’ve failed or have fallen short, but the class is not a sign of failure, Parris said.  Instead, students in the class are in a fortunate and good position.

J-Prep students have a bit of an advantage having received the superior instruction from Hood, Parris said. They get a few extra weeks of almost one-on-one instruction from one of the best instructors the school has.

“You can be a good writer and not be a good journalist,” he said. “But to be a good journalist, you really have to have those good writing skills working hand in hand.”

Delany said that if there is any good work to be done by him, that if there are any good stories to be written by him, it will be because his teachers taught him how to be a good journalist.

Delany said that if he had to say one thing to any student who found himself placed in the J-Prep course it would be, “Congratulations! You’re about to have a great time.”

“Don’t be worried,” he said. “I don’t know whether you think it’s bad or not, but if anyone here can make you feel better about getting recycled, and if anyone here can make sure that you graduate on round two, it’s going to be Ms. Hood. She enriched us all and nurtured our intelligence and gave us confidence to be able to write. She took my fear and turned it into a strength.”