A couple days ago I was sitting in a workshop about college readiness and how we support student success. In a room filled with counselors, college access advocates and college admission counselors, we were all eager to learn about the data related to first-generation students as we were hoping to find new ways to support our students. As ACT, a national non-profit more commonly known for being the provider of one of the two signature college entrance exams, provided us with alarming statistics, we all shrunk in our seats. The fact that over one-third of test-takers from the 2016 graduating class did not meet one single college readiness benchmark, meaning they were “not prepared” for college level coursework, at least according to the test, was disheartening. It was then that we began to realize that there were some factors affecting our low-income students that were not being discussed. That’s when the presenter shared Rosa’s story.
Rosa is the daughter of hardworking parents who immigrated to the United States in search for a better life. One day while serving on a panel that focused on barriers students face on their journey to higher education, she decided that before talking about the “systematic” barriers she would first share a little about her life. She shared that at sixteen years old, preparing for a test was not a priority. She was the oldest at home, and her parents left to their first full-time job at 6:00 AM every day. She was responsible for dressing, making breakfast and dropping-off her two younger siblings at day care. Immediately after school, she had to run to the daycare to pick up her siblings to avoid getting charged more. Upon arriving at home, she had to cook, clean, and take care of her siblings, as her parents would only go home for a small break, before heading out to their second jobs. This was Rosa’s schedule every day. At midnight, all she wanted to do was sleep, so sometimes she would forget to do her homework. At school, she was sleepy, not because she didn’t care but because the night before, she had stayed up caring for her little sister who had a cold. She often missed homework assignments, not because she was careless but because there was so much to do at home that she did not have time. When she met with her counselor and was told that she had to get more involved in school to be more competitive for college applications, she didn’t have the courage to let her counselor know that she wasn’t disengaged from school by choice. Rosa simply had other priorities at the moment, but these responsibilities did not mean that she didn’t want to go to college.
Rosa’s story is the reality for many of our students. We talk about data and often focus on how to better prepare our students to be competitive that we forget to ask ourselves how their personal circumstances can first be addressed to offer genuine support. There are many “Rosas” with high educational aspirations. They want to go to college, and they want to pursue a higher education as they understand that attaining a degree can be their key to more options in the future.
What are WE doing to help the “Rosas” in our classes? In our schools? In our communities? Are we being creative with the ways we engage them? Are we being supportive? Are we providing extra moral support when things get rough at home? Are we giving flexible deadlines for projects and assignments? Are we engaging their parents through direct mail, or home visits, rather than expecting all parents to attend parent conferences? Are we judging parents for not showing up without realizing they had to miss,not by choice, but because their financial responsibilities did not allow them to take time off?
It is important that we support our students by providing more than academic support. We cannot overlook their experiences that young scholars have outside of the classroom. Instead, use what you know to inform how you can better advocate for them.
The Rosas in our lives needs us to be their champion. Don’t miss the call.
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