October 30, 2014

The Struggle of First Gen Students

Today my feelings went on a rollercoaster of a ride. I absolutely love working with first gen/low income students in helping them on their paths towards college and as rewarding as it can be it can also frustrate the hell out of me. This is my third year working with these same students and I feel like I’m at the point in the year where I’m saying, “I told you this your sophomore year, why didn’t you listen to me?” “Yes, your cumulative GPA is awful, I told you to stop goofing off.”

My frustration started last Friday, the day prior to the October ACT in which many of my students had signed up for. They had their tickets that I printed for them, they had their practice test that we gave them previously, they their calculators, their pencils…

10:03am Friday: Text from student one “I don’t have a ride to the ACT.”

                         My Though: ::: You’ve known about this test for 2.5 months! :::

                 My response: “So, ask around school and find someone taking the test to ride with…”

10:07am Friday: Text from student two, “I can’t take the ACT tomorrow, can I change the date to December?”

                         My response: “It’s going to cost you money to change the date being that it is the day before.”

                         Student two: “That’s fine, how do I do that?”

                         My response: “Call ACT”

                         Student two: “What’s the number?”

                         My response: “I don’t know it by heart, go on the website and find the number.”

                         Student two: “What’s the website?”

                         My thought: “Your joking right?”

                         My response: “www.act.org”

With the frustration already wearing on me I entered the school today to help during the school’s college application day. During period 1 and 2 I had two students that had signed up for the ACT and didn’t go. Then by period 3 another. By period 4 I was so frustrated that I started telling my students that our meeting on Tuesday was not going to be filled with Rainbows and Butterflies… that was the nice way to put it.

I was dead set on ripping these kiddos a new one. You want to go to college but you wont take the steps to get there? You sign up, but then you make excuse after excuse. You waste my time and effort any only ask for things when they are most convenient for you.

Then came 6th period and I was working with another one of my students to submit a community college application. She wanted me to look it over before submitting it which I was happy to do. We then realized that the program she wanted was at a different campus location that she did not want to go to. I don’t blame her, its in the city even further from anything she is use to. I asked the community college advisor to come over and help us figure this out and she started explaining to the student that she can take “Prerequisites”, “General Ed”, and then, “Core courses” later on and that this path here will give you a “certificate” while this one here will give you an “Associates Degree”. As she continued talking my student was nodding like she understood everything the lady was saying then thanked her for her time. The advisor walked away and I could see tears in the students eyes start coming. I knew that the entire conversation went completely over the students head. These terms like Pre-Req, Gen Ed, Core, Certificate vs AA… she was lost before the first word was said.

The struggle for our first generation students is REAL. They have no one to talk about college about at home and if you come from parents who never went to college you are having to explain to them 95% of what you already don’t understand.

I told the student to give me a sheet of paper and I started walking her through semester by semester what her college schedule would look like. Eventually in year two she may have to drive the extra 20 minutes to the city to take a course twice a week but at least the first year she could get the basic courses done. I told her that she needs to be honest and that if she still doesn’t understand that its okay but she needs to have it explained differently.

I rode home with a completely different mentality of how I wish to proceed on Tuesday with my Seniors.

“Motivate don’t Deflate” - “Support them because you may be the only one willing to.” – “Be frustrated with the process and not the student” -- “Look at the depth of the situation and not the surface”

I know we need to keep students accountable. I am certainly disappointed that my students skipped out on the ACT exam and I wish they had more regard to the planning and money that goes into it.

If I take a step back from my own feelings what I begin to feel is the need to become an even bigger supporter in their lives. Maybe the ACT isn’t right for those students. They aren’t ready. They need to be at the community college before they are ready to leap to the state school and that’s okay.

As a society we cringe at lower class citizens and point fingers. We say we want to end the cycle of poverty but these students don’t get the additional support they need to succeed and end up back where they came from.

I’ve decided to put some time in before this Tuesday to come up with the most inspirational, motivational, supporting talk of my life with them thus far. It’s time to say that, “Being scared of failure will only lead you to despair.”  “Your worth in this world is not placed in the value of how others see you but in how you value yourself in this world.” “Stop being afraid to SUCCEED.” 

I’m on a serious mission… 


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