Westward Movement

Monday, November 21, 2011

The greatest gift

One of the most difficult aspects of my job is knowing that so many of my wonderfully bright, capable, enthusiastic students will not go nearly far enough in the educational world. They'll stop after high school, and many won't go even that far. 

A colleague of mine has been helping students at my school apply to a wonderful program called The Alliance.  Its primary goal is to help Hispanic and African American students obtain scholarships and meander through the process of applying to private schools in the greater Los Angeles area.  While I am a believer in providing the best public education possible, many of the students at SMBCC have little opportunity to obtain such an education via the public schools in the area. Thus, an opportunity such as that provided by The Alliance is a gift. 

I have two students on full scholarship through The Alliance. One is in 11th grade at an all-girls school in the LA area. The other, K, is in 12th grade at one of the more prestigious schools in the country. K is the youngest of four children. Her oldest sister was involved with gangs, and had her first child (of four) at 15. She did not finish high school. Her oldest brother was also involved with gangs, and was the victim of a drive-by shooting two years ago. He was shot in the hand. He did not finish high school. The shot was intended to kill. Her other brother was also my student. A wonderful kid then, he's a terrific young man now, with two young children. He did not finish high school, though went on to get his GED a few years ago, and holds a good job repairing electronics. K's mom and dad have raised their four kids, and their four grandchildren. The family was forced apart for two years when the four grandchildren were taken from the home they all shared and put in separate foster homes. They are together now, but it was a very difficult couple of years.  K's mom, M, has sacrificed her life to care for all the children. Her typical daily schedule involves driving K 30 minutes west on the freeway before 7:00 am, turning around and dropping the grandchildren enrolled in my school in time for breakfast and for the oldest to catch the school bus to a feeder middle school, heading to her job as a housekeeper a few miles from school from 8-2, then reversing it all to pick everyone up, take them home, make dinner for all, and start up again the next morning. She works weekends cleaning an office building. I have known this family over a dozen years, and I have never heard one complaint.

K and M came to see me late last spring. It was, hands-down, the most wonderful conference I've ever held with a student and her parent. K brought her list of over 30 colleges to share with me, asking me to help her edit her list. Her criteria was crystal clear - a school that was in or near a city, that had diversity, and that had a liberal arts focus. The community I teach often struggles to let its children move away. M gets it, though. She and K recognize that going away to school is K's ticket to a life different (her mother adamantly said better) from that of her brothers and her sister. She will be the first in a large family, on both sides, to go to college. She will graduate. She's on the honor roll of her high school. The school paid for her to go east with her mom and visit campuses. She's won a special award from The Alliance. It's one of very few awarded. She's amazing. Her mom is beyond amazing. I am humbled to be a part of their lives. 

This is a portion of the email K sent me this evening:

"I've finalized my list of schools so here it is:
1. American University
2. UC Berkeley/ Santa Barbara
3. Georgetown
4. Goucher College
5. Rice University
6. University of San Diego
7. University of San Francisco
8. Santa Clara University
9. Scripps College
10. Seattle University
11. Smith College
12. Stanford University
13. Tulane University
I've already submitted my apps for five of them and I'll be submitting two more before the end of the year. I'm soo excited!!!! As of now, I'm waiting for my latest SAT Scores, but I feel really good about my list of schools and I'm so happy! This year has been going really well for me and I just can't wait to embark on this next chapter in my life." 

I attended K's graduation from middle school, and will again be in the audience when she graduates, with honors, from high school. One of the schools from the list above will be a huge part of the beginning of her next chapter. I can't wait to visit her there!

K's two oldest nieces, two of the four grandchildren I mentioned above, have been my students. The oldest is in 7th grade, and doing well. The other, A, is in my class now. I see K in her everyday. She often says to me that she adores her aunt K, and that she plans to do what she has done. She writes about the school K attends in stories, and recently asked me to spend recess with her so that we could look up the student population and course of study at the school. 

One child, one mom ... and look what they've begun. To be continued ... 

Sweet dreams.

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