Friday, June 08, 2007

Get an education!!

I read Larry James' blog every day with my morning coffee. The focus of his blog is:
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor."
Because of this, he and/or his readers often speak about education. I have seen many comments that suggest if urban residents (teens and adults) would simply get a college education, their life would be better. While this may be true enough, allow me to explain why this is way more difficult than it seems.

Yuri, an 18-year old Hispanic young lady, came to me last year (while a senior) and told me that she was going to quit school and go to Job Corps. When I asked her why (she was an A/B student at the time), she explained that the people at her school told her it would be a good thing for "someone like her." They explained that if she went to Job Corps she would be trained in a skill and get paid while they trained her.

After a lengthy talk, Yuri told me she would think about staying in school. Obviously she did. She invited me to her graduation and told me she was planning to go to college...but she needed help. She asked to set up an appointment and asked if she could bring a friend who also needed help. We met today at 11:30.

We started their FAFSA (financial aid) online, but realized they had to have a PIN number. They applied for that, but will now have to wait for 3 days to receive it before we can finish the application.

I began to ask them questions about what they had done toward applying to college (both are planning to go to the local community college).

note: Community college is a much easier process than a 4-year university. Though this process is time consuming, the 4-year would be MUCH more time consuming and MUCH more difficult.

Have you filled out your application for the school yet?...Taken your ACT/SAT?...Taken your THEA?...Applied for Rising Star?...Gotten your transcript from your high school?...Know anything about the TRIO program that works with first generation college students?...Do you have your parents tax forms?...your social security number?...your parents social security number? ID?

Though Yuri could answer yes to most questions, Checo could not. He explained he was busy in school trying to pass the TAKS test to make sure he would graduate. Yuri was willing to help and coached him on several things she and I had talked about earlier this week.

I asked more questions:
How many hours do you want to take?
I don't know...what's a "full load?"
Do you understand how hours work in college?

I went on to explain how classes and hours work. I explained how many hours they will have to take each semester if they want to graduate in 4-4 1/2 years. I explained that they will have to take a placement test to see if they need developmental classes (90% of the kids I work with do). I let them know that developmental classes count for no credit and cost them money, but they must take them to be ready for college level classes.

Both were very receptive and attentive to everything I explained.

Then I started giving "assignments." Go to the school. Get your transcript (You will have to pay $3). Get a Rising Star Application. Meet me on Monday at 8:00 at El Centro. Be prepared with two pencils, paper, ID, tax information, and anything else you think you might need. Check your email this weekend to see if you have received your PIN yet. We will complete the FAFSA on Monday or Tuesday.

Before they left, Yuri asked me to fill out a recommendation form for one of her scholarships and to print an essay she wrote for her Rising Star application. After reading her essay, I refused to print it until she made corrections. Though she speaks fluent English, a lot of her mistakes were grammar mistakes due to mix-ups in translation and sometimes simple errors because of a lack of experience with computers. I always spend the time editing for the kids because 1) I find that teachers often won't/don't, and 2) If she is applying for a scholarship, I want her to have the best chance possible.

By the time we finished it was 2:00...and that was just the first day. There will be many more.Some of those hours will be spent explaining how college works, talking to FAFSA people on the phone or in the office when they don't receive their financial aid on time, figuring out how to register for classes without their financial aid money, encouraging them to keep going to class even when a $6/hour job seems to be making them more money, and so much more.

Kids/families know education is a good thing. But sometimes the obstacles to get there are daunting. Their perseverance and willingness inspires me.

Maybe we're the ones who need an education!
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