The categories into which I’ve placed student comments represent my best effort at organizing the material into recognizable patterns. However, many of the areas overlap; when students talk about feeling connected to their group, they are also likely to talk about feeling connected to their professor. I separate the two concepts, though, in order to emphasize what students note as the different benefits of the Stretch program. Ben, for example, notes that “I’ve kind of built up this little relation with the teacher, and she knows me pretty well. . . . you knew everybody there.” Ben here implies that the professor not only made herself available to students, but set up an arrangement in which the students could get to know each other. The fact that Ben “knew everybody there” is what helps him make a successful transition from high school to college. Dominique notes that “she just made us all comfortable and then the next semester we were already looking forward to being together again.” Stretch, then, allows for faculty to take advantage, in the spring semester, of the good will among students that has been created in the fall semester.

The connection to other students has a different meaning for Eiko than it does for other students. The fact that she feels comfortable talking to other students in this class is in direct contrast to her experience in other classes. Eiko, reflecting on the beginning of the spring semester, says that “everybody knew each other.” When I asked her if she found that more comfortable, she said,

It was, it was, especially, whenever I take other classes and I say I’m a foreigner they don’t really want to talk to you, they don’t really want to deal with you, because they think it will be harder for them to deal with foreigners than dealing with native English speakers. But since I’ve taken e90 with them and now I’m taking e101 with the students that I’ve known from last semester they all know my background well and they know what to expect when they talk to me, so that helps a lot.

When I asked her how e90 Stretch students responded to her, she noted that there are many international students in the class, from places as diverse as Sweden, Slovokia, and Mexico. She estimated that about one-third of the students spoke languages other than English. She says that the students “had a kinda close-knit situation going between students. That was really different from other classes. We knew that we would be . . . seeing each other for the upcoming semester, so we were kinda comfortable getting to know each other."

One of the most important effects of the increased connection among students is the quality of the groupwork. In composition classes I’ve taught, many of the student comments are superficial, very polite, and not helpful. Stretch students, however, note that because they know each other so well, they’re much more likely to be honest in their opinions of other students’ work. As Jason, a twenty-nine year old native speaker of English, says, “It makes it really comfortable to be in a group with people that you already know and that you’ve already dealt with and you know how they react to certain things. . . .You can speak out a little bit more, throw out some of these ideas because you know that even if they are dumb ideas they’re not going to be frowned upon. Somebody might laugh at it, whatever it might be, but you know that it’s taken lightly because you know those type of people. So I like it, I like working with the same people.”

Joe, a native speaker of English who had been out of high school for two years at the time of this interview, comments specifically on how helpful it is to work with people for more than one semester, saying that he thinks “as a group we function better than someone who’s going to be split up every semester, because you get to know the people, you get to know what they want to hear, what they don’t want to hear. So, when we do discussion boards on Blackboard, when we write back to each other, give each other feedback, it gives us insight . . . what the people want to hear, don’t want to hear. Usually, I try to give them what they don’t want to hear, as bad as it sounds, the truth hurts, I mean I get it too, I mean I really think that’s really beneficial . . . because they learn from that.”

Tammy, a native speaker of English who returned to college after an eighteen year break, also notes that students can be much more open with each other: “We got past, with the first half of the first semester, we got past the shyness and the hesitation to work in groups. When we came back in the second semester we were so comfortable with each other that we could just break into groups. There wasn’t the hesitation, so we could focus on things we were supposed to be working on. We could open up a lot more.”

Pamela goes so far as to suggest that her comfort level in English translates to her other classes, but she’s not sure: “Well yeah, because I’ve gained confidence in my writing, and also I’ve been successful, and I think that’s important . . . and because I’m comfortable in that class, I know all of the students have come over to the same class with me, so I’m comfortable speaking in front of them, I’m comfortable talking to her, I’m able to maybe be more comfortable in class discussion in Philosophy . . . maybe that’s just being a returning student and getting used to studies, but this course helped me with that.”

All faculty noted that students were much more willing to talk in class discussion as the year progressed, but Jen in particular noted the improvement in the quality of groupwork:

And I think that’s true too in their reactions to each other, in their feedback to each other’s papers, I noticed that as this semester went on, the e101 semester, they were much more open about their reactions to each other’s papers. . . . by the second semester . . . . the peer feedback became much more meaningful as their comfort level with each other increased. . . . I think that that’s a definite plus.

Students' increased ability to get to know each other over the course of these two semesters is an enormous added benefit to the course. In this small study, it took students longer than one semester, in all three sections of the course, to get to know each other well enough to overcome their fear of hurting their classmates' feelings. Not only do instructors get to know their students better, but students work more closely with each other.