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Holocaust survivors’ memories affect their descendants in several clear and compelling ways that relate directly to the migrant crisis unfolding at America’s southern border.
My research into the families of Holocaust survivors shows that when children were separated from their parents during the Second World War, they were more likely to pass on messages of trauma to her own children. But when children were able to stay with their parents, regardless of the circumstances, they were more likely to pass on messages of empowerment and optimism.
As historical data, my findings reinforce the work of child psychologists and others who have noted the trauma that separated children are experiencing due to the current migrant crisis. But they also go one step further. Separating children from their parents doesn’t only traumatize those children. It also causes trauma in the young victims’ own children and grandchildren.
Stories of the American government separating migrant children from their parents at America’s southern border have recently flooded newspapers, cable news channels and social media. Photos and videos of children experiencing the anxiety and pain of separation have outraged and divided us.
“Separating children from their parents doesn’t only traumatize those children. It also causes trauma in the young victims’ own children and grandchildren.”
In interviewing close to 100 children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, 52 had one or more child-survivor relatives. I define “child” as those sixteen and younger at the time Nazi occupation affected them. Of these 52 child-survivors whose descendants I interviewed, 33 were separated from both parents for some duration of the war, while 19 remained with at least one parent.
Of the 33 children and grandchildren of the separated children, 32 received messages of trauma. These messages include fear of people outside of the family, an inability to make decisions and take risks, a belief that some unnamed catastrophic event was about to happen, and a deep desire not to “stick out.” The children and grandchildren described here are emblematic of these messages.
Sarah, a 71-year old retired teacher who lives in New Jersey, and whose mother survived the Holocaust but was separated from her parents, learned never to trust her neighbors and grew up afraid of “something awful” waiting around the corner that she would be unable to fight without her mother’s help.
Jonathan, a 68-year old accountant from Connecticut and the son of two separated child survivors, suffered his whole life with nightmares about losing his parents. He reported trouble forming meaningful relationships as an adult and lived with his parents until their deaths.
Eden, a 33-year old Florida nurse, the mother of three young girls herself and the granddaughter of one separated child survivor, said simply that her life was “consumed by the trauma of hiding and not fitting in.”
Karen, a 40-year old South Carolina human resources manager and mother of two sons, another granddaughter of one separated child survivor, explained that her maternal grandmother and mother both struggled with depression and anxiety, and she did, too. All three of them had sleep issues, and spoke on the phone daily. If she was late in calling her mother, her mother was certain that something catastrophic had happened to her. She once traveled to Europe for work, and set her alarm “for the middle of the night” so she didn’t change the routine and worry her mother to excess.
These examples illustrate what the children and grandchildren shared of their experiences growing up, and as adults. Their stories recounted sleep issues, trouble trusting others, difficulty forming relationships and overly connected bonds with parents.
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Every single direct descendant of separated children grew up traumatized in some way, as did almost all grandchildren. The outlier in my sample, the one participant who did not share messages of trauma, was a grandchild. This lone grandchild is, perhaps, a symbol of hope that the cycle of trauma can be broken over the course of generations.
Those descendants of the child survivors who remained with at least one parent for the duration of the war exhibited a very different set of experiences. Of the 19 I spoke with, 17 inherited messages of empowerment. These messages include taking chances, helping others, persisting in the face of insurmountable odds, and standing up for oneself. These messages, and others, are evident in the children and grandchildren described below.
Edith is a 74-year old retired special-education teacher born in a Displaced Person’s Camp and raised in New York City. Edith’s mother survived the war hiding in the Polish forest with her own mother after the murder of the rest of her family. Edith says she learned to take risks, trust her instincts and help others.
Adam, a 70-year old Arizona man with four children and 12 grandchildren, says his mother, who survived the war with her brother and mother, taught him to “look out for the underdog,”
Edith is a 29-year old dentist who grew up Philadelphia, around the corner from her cousins. The granddaughter of two child survivors who both remained hidden with their mothers, she was taught about the value of kindness, hope, and optimism in the face of impossible odds.
Finally, there is Michael, a 33-year old man, married with three children in Maryland. His grandfather remained with his sister and mother during the war, is now an immigration attorney. Michael says that he wants “to give back to as many people as he can.”
We need to take the long view of this trauma. Children who are separated from their parents are traumatized. Moreover, as my research suggests, a policy separating parents and children has the capacity to inflict long-term damage and trauma on their children and grandchildren.
If we look to the past as prelude, we see that there must be a change in policy. At the moment, despite the loud and persistent calls for this change, it seems unlikely that the current administration will take meaningful steps to help these children. It falls then, to the rest of us, the teachers, lawyers, therapists, doctors, community activists and neighbors. If we can’t create policy change, we can help the migrant children we interact with compassionately, and seek to understand the causes of the migrant crisis in all of their messy complexity. As the subject arises, at summer barbecues, at family meals, in classroom discussions, we can encourage open conversations that acknowledge this complexity. We can arm ourselves with facts. And the fact is this: on the basis of historical precedent, parent/child separation is devastating for multiple generations. It must be stopped.
This story about childhood separation trauma, the migrant crisis and the Holocaust was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.
Jennifer Rich is an assistant professor in the College of Education at Rowan University, and the director of research and education for the Rowan Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Her research and teaching focus on “hard histories” (such as slavery, the internment of Japanese-Americans and the Holocaust), and how teachers can talk about these time periods in more honest and inclusive ways.
Editor’s note: This story led off this week’s Future of Learning newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every Tuesday with trends and top stories about education innovation. Subscribe today!
It’s technically summer vacation, but about 6,000 kids from Baltimore City Public Schools will spend at least a portion of their break in a school building. And more than a third of them are getting their summer doses of math and literacy instruction by way of the arts.
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Around the country, most elementary school students’ math and reading ability stops progressing over the summer, and kids from low-income families are particularly at risk of slipping backwards. While students of all socioeconomic classes tend to learn at about the same pace during the school year, the impact of summer learning loss is cumulative, and low-income kids can be as many as three years behind their peers by fifth grade.
Baltimore is combating that trend. Its Summer Arts and Learning Academy, for elementary schoolers from high-poverty schools, has been particularly effective at minimizing summer learning loss, as measured by reading and math assessments in the spring and fall from one school year to the next. The academy is run by Young Audiences, a Baltimore nonprofit dedicated to arts-based education. And students seem to love it.
Armed with program evaluation data, Baltimore City Public Schools has expanded the academy from one to eight sites over the last four years. It now serves about 2,200 kids, who spend their days learning a wide range of art forms from professional teaching artists, while also keeping their math and reading skills sharp.
“We’re never going to close the achievement gap unless we deal forthrightly with summer learning loss.”
Matthew Boulay, CEO and founder of the National Summer Learning Association
“They don’t even realize we’re doing math and literacy instruction because we’re having so much fun,” said Lara Ohanian, director of differentiated learning at the district.
Having fun is important for programs like this. They aren’t like traditional summer school, designed for kids who failed classes during the regular school year and need a chance to catch up. They’re more like summer camp, but held in public schools.
Libraries, city parks and nonprofits like the YMCA are other common sites of summer learning programs. They’re most common in cities, which have a higher concentration of nonprofits and foundations willing to host and fund them. But the consequences of summer learning loss are ubiquitous and students nationwide are at risk.
Matthew Boulay, CEO and founder of the National Summer Learning Association, has spent the last 25 years trying to convince people to pay attention.
“We’re never going to close the achievement gap unless we deal forthrightly with summer learning loss,” he said.
Summertime, Boulay said, can also offer an important opportunity for schools and educational providers to innovate. Without the constraints of the traditional school day, kids can have more hands-on learning experiences, they can tackle academics through the arts, or they can dive into new areas like robotics or acrobatics.
The Summer Arts and Learning Academy in Baltimore introduces students to spoken word, percussion, drama, dance, illustration and more, and it gives kids a chance to engage with local artists in a way that Ohanian said isn’t possible during the school year.
And it gives students five weeks in July and August to be excited about learning. That’s important, Ohanian said, for the return to school in the fall.
“They’re going to hit the ground running,” she said.
This story about summer learning was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.
Here are five ways that summer learning programs empower educators:
1. Teachers gain new professional skills— Summer programs, particularly those with evidence-based solutions, empower teachers to discover and hone new instructional methods to overcome common teaching challenges, and apply those lessons in the classroom during the regular school year. Teachers also benefit from having students in their fall classes from the summer program who are ahead rather than behind when school starts. This allows educators to spend less time re-teaching subject matter in the fall.
2. Instructional coaches have more time for feedback — Teachers serving in summer programs that evaluate and give constructive feedback can learn what they are doing well and what skills they need to improve. Working with specially trained instructional coaches can help educators reflect on and refine their craft for their students’ benefit.
3. There’s ample opportunity to build relationships with students — Summer programs give teachers a unique opportunity to bond with students they may teach in the fall. These relationships increase student comfort levels and can pave the way for students to learn more and perform better in the classroom. Summer program class sizes tend to be smaller, leading to greater opportunities to develop meaningful relationships and test-drive new instructional methods.
4. Educators gain fresh perspectives — Teaching students over the summer can lead to more dramatic results. There’s nothing like seeing a student blossom academically and socially to increase educator confidence and serve as a reminder of why they chose the profession. Educators learn innovative strategies, which can boost career satisfaction and make them key school ambassadors.
5. The chance to earn more money — Participating in summer programs can help teachers supplement their incomes while continuing to do something they love. Educators are underpaid and often feel underappreciated. Earning some extra funds over the summer can help change this. Educators are change catalysts who deserve to be supported!
Simply put, participating in a summer learning program is time well spent that can help teachers jumpstart their careers or reconnect with the passion that first brought them to teaching. They can connect with students from their past, present and future while also improving their financial situations.
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Instead of suffering their own version of summer learning loss, educators can be empowered through summer programs to become change agents who benefit their students, colleagues and school districts throughout the school year and beyond.
This story about summer learning loss was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.
Brenda McLaughlin is Chief Strategy Officer for BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), a national nonprofit that designs, delivers and measures evidence-based summer and after-school experiences for underserved youth.
Julia Gomez-Delgado hugs her parents after telling them how grateful she is for their support. Photo: Wayne D’Orio for The Hechinger Report
FRESNO, Calif. — When Jerry Gomez-Delgado thinks back to his first year at California State University, Fresno, he remembers how close he was to dropping out and going to work on a dairy farm with his father. Some days it seemed like the only thing that kept him from quitting was a free peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich.
“I struggled a lot when it came to cooking and paying bills,” said Gomez-Delgado, now 24 and a graduate student at Fresno State. “When I started [in 2013] I weighed 145 pounds. In the first three months, I lost 15 pounds. Everything I tried to cook would catch on fire.”
Gomez-Delgado recalls how help from the university’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) allowed him to survive. The federal program, created in 1972 to help children of agricultural workers succeed once they get to college, held workshops on how to cook and counseled Gomez-Delgado on how to pick a roommate, how to interact with his professors and how to apply for a desperately needed part-time job. But most of all, he remembers the free sandwiches.
Gomez-Delgado lived off-campus without a meal plan because it was cheaper than paying Fresno State’s roughly $7,000 a year for room and board, which his student loans didn’t cover. His parents supported the family on a total annual income of $45,000, so couldn’t help. Every weekday morning the CAMP office opened at 8 a.m. and handed out sandwiches (and advice) to its students, so Gomez-Delgado made it part of his daily routine. It was all he ate until the afternoon when he would try to stretch $3 as far as he could at a fast-food restaurant. “That little piece of sandwich was a life-saving moment for me,” he said.
By persisting through his first year and later thriving, Gomez-Delgado’s success has had a ripple effect on his family. He was the first to attend college, and inspired his sister Fabiola to leave home to enter Fresno’s program in 2015. When Jerry earned a degree in 2017, his graduation ceremony swayed his youngest sister, Julia, to follow in his footsteps, too.
“[Students] feel guilty to be studying for a final when their family is out in the field working in 104-degree heat.”
Viridiana Diaz, president of the National High School Equivalency/CAMP Association
Handing out sandwiches, offering regular counseling and teaching students the basic skills they need to thrive in college are only a few of the just-in-time supports offered by CAMP. Over the years, the program has created a model that has helped children of migrant farmworkers, a majority of whom are from impoverished families and the first generation to go to college, beat daunting odds. The strategies tested in this small but long-running federal program could show the way as more colleges and universities try to increase graduation rates for the nation’s first-generation students.
With one of every three higher education students the first in their family to attend college, the issue of how to support this group is pressing campuses across the country, says Matt Rubinoff, the chief strategy officer for Strive for College, a nonprofit that offers online mentoring to help high schoolers navigate the higher education application process.
“There’s been a lot more attention to these students. First-gen is a big buzzword. It’s probably more the exception than the rule to find a campus that doesn’t have some sort of student support service,” he says.
Nationwide, about one in 10 first-generation students from a low-income family earned a degree within six years (in 2003, the most recent year for which numbers are available). But among students in Fresno’s migrant program, one of the oldest in the country and one of the most successful, 64 percent graduate in that time frame, outperforming the university’s other first-generation students who graduate at 56 percent, according to university administrators.
Fresno State’s campus is home to more than 100 tree species. Photo: Wayne D’Orio for The Hechinger Report
Typical first-generation students can face multiple obstacles when they reach higher education. A 2018 report from the National Center for Education Statistics outlines many of them, including lower expectations from family and educators; less than the required number of high school core curriculum classes; an application and financial aid system that can be bewildering to navigate without the help of parents who’ve done it before; and expenses, from tuition to books to food and housing.
For children of migrant farmworkers, these challenges are manifold. They face “every single barrier,” says Viridiana Diaz, the president of the National High School Equivalency Program/CAMP Association. The median annual wage for agricultural workers in 2017 was $23,730 and the average farmworker may not have finished middle school, much less college. (Migrant workers in 2013-14 had, on average, an eighth-grade education.) Students’ parents may not speak English and the students themselves may still be learning it. In addition, the pressure of leaving a close-knit family in which children are often relied on to pitch in can be hard.
“They feel guilty to be studying for a final when their family is out in the field working in 104-degree heat,” says Diaz.
64 percent of the children of migrant farmworkers at Cal State Fresno graduate in six years, compared to one in 10 first-generation students from low-income families nationally.
The difficult jobs they’ve seen their parents do can also be highly motivating, says Jerry Gomez-Delgado. In high school, he remembers working 12-hour days in 110-degree heat at Triple V Dairy, where his father oversees the medical care for 5,000 cows. His mother works at the Del Monte production facility in Hanford where workers can 360,000 tons of tomatoes in a typical 80-day season. Jerry’s sister Fabiola says money concerns were always on her mind. “We try to focus on school, but we worry about finances,” she says.
Their parents pay for cellphones and car insurance and send them back to school each weekend with Tupperware containers full of food, Fabiola says. But all three of the children work part-time jobs during the school year to help cover food and lodging costs.
At CAMP’s celebratory dinner for freshmen in April, Gomez-Delgado’s father, Victor Gómez Hérnandez, considered the impact that Fresno’s four-person CAMP office has had on his family. With Fabiola translating, he said, “For me, I see them as second parents. All my trust has gone with them.”
Fresno’s CAMP model is built on four tenets: Freshmen meet regularly with counselors; they take a three-credit class taught by the program’s academic advisor, Brenda Garcia, that introduces them to possible careers; they complete a mandatory, supervised three hours of study weekly in which they can learn both effective study habits and tips to avoid procrastination; and they can earn $100 stipends three times a semester. Nationally, other CAMP programs follow this same outline but the specifics at each campus may vary.
While some items in Fresno State’s food pantry are limited, locally grown citrus is plentiful. Photo: Wayne D’Orio for The Hechinger Report
Because the Fresno program is small — there were 62 freshmen in this year’s group, according to CAMP staffers—officials are able to check in on students frequently and foster a tightly knit family atmosphere. The university’s CAMP director, Ofelia Gamez, also piles on other services, ranging from a clothing closet stocked with donated suits, ties, dresses and shoes that students can use when they have job or internship interviews to free printing that entices students to stop by the office and get some informal counseling (and a snack) while they print out their class assignments. A university-wide food pantry offers students a free bag of food every day. The program even offers students free eye exams and discounted glasses if needed.
To address the reality that more than one in four first-generation students drops out of college before his or her second year, the CAMP program focuses squarely on freshmen. The goal is for each student to complete their first year with 24 credits and a GPA of 2.0 or better and to re-enroll for their second year. Nationally, in 2016, 88 percent of CAMP students met the first goal, and of those students, nearly 100 percent were enrolled the next year. At Fresno, according to university officials. 58 of 62 students completed their first year in good standing, and of those 58, all but three returned for their second year. Students are eligible for CAMP if they are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and if they or a parent have been employed in seasonal or migrant farmwork for at least 75 days in the last 24 months. While the program runs in 15 states and Puerto Rico, California has nine CAMP programs, the most of any state.
“First-gen is a big buzzword. It’s probably more the exception than the rule to find a campus that doesn’t have some sort of student support service.”
Matt Rubinoff, chief strategy officer, Strive for College
Despite its success, the small program doesn’t always get a lot of attention in Washington, D.C. “We’re called the invisible population for a reason,” says Diaz. The Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education funds the program, giving it $44.6 million annually to help students in high school and college. Since 2010, CAMP has seen a robust 22 percent boost in funding. Asked about the anti-immigrant sentiment frequently espoused by President Trump, Diaz admits, “In the last two years, I’m happily surprised our budget wasn’t cut.”
In 1995, President Clinton recommended ending the program in his budget proposal before advocates convinced Congress to keep CAMP. The lack of a cheerleader in D.C. has hurt the program long-term, says Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, a nationwide nonprofit that works to increase higher education opportunities for low-income, first-generation students. “Programs have to be really strong programs and have someone to really fight for them. CAMP hasn’t had that person,” she says.
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Given CAMP’s solid results but small footprint — 2,400 students fill the 53 programs nationwide — it’s logical to wonder whether the secret to first-generation success is being overlooked. Experts are split on whether expanding the program’s model would lead to greater success for all first-gen students.
“It’s too easy to try to get a silver bullet,” Hoyler says. While she readily praises CAMP and agrees it could be expanded, she adds, “We need a number of different solutions for a number of different populations.”
Maxine McDonald, the recently retired associate vice president of student success services who oversaw the migrant program from 2015 to 2018, praises its “highly intrusive” nurturing and guidance, but adds that its expense would make it difficult to ramp up for a larger number of students.
The bulk of Fresno’s $425,000 annual CAMP budget pays the four full-time staff (all of whom are CAMP graduates, including Gamez). Part of it goes toward the small stipends that students get throughout the year. The money isn’t considered financial aid, so students are free to spend it however they wish, Gamez says.
The stipends — students can earn $600 if they stay on track the whole year — can seem like a huge sum. “Five dollars is a lot when you are at college,” Fabiola Gomez-Delgado says. “It’s made a big difference.”
Freshman Aided Flores with her parents after the College Assistance Migrant Program celebration dinner in April. Photo: Wayne D’Orio for The Hechinger Report
Talking to a range of students during several days on campus, it was apparent that not every student in the program is confident they’ll make it. Arnaldo Gonzalez’s father is a supervisor for a farm that grows Halo oranges, and Arnaldo has picked table grapes since his freshman year of high school in McFarland. The first-born says he holds “ag near and dear to my heart,” and he returns 80 miles to his family every weekend.
“I have confusing feelings,” the 19-year-old freshman admits while studying outside CAMP’s offices. “The scariest thing in the world would be to disappoint them,” he adds, referencing his parents.
While he says only calculus has challenged him academically so far, he is on probation because of low grades. He admits that the free time of college mixed with his proclivity to delay work made simple classes more difficult. While he aspires to get a degree in agriculture, he’s pondering a transfer to a school closer to his home. Despite the regular contact with CAMP, it took him a while to admit his struggles to staff, he says. “It felt good and bad to be vulnerable. I feel like I let [my parents] down.”
Freshman Arnaldo Gonzalez with his parents after the College Assistance Migrant Program celebration dinner in April. Photo: Wayne D’Orio for The Hechinger Report
Another freshman, Julio Cardona, comes from Salinas, known as the Salad Bowl of the World. He helps his parents pick lettuce and raspberries, and he hopes to learn about plant science and plant health while at Fresno so he can “be a doctor to plants.” As the first in his family to attend college, he admits he feels pressure to succeed. At the same time, because professors don’t take attendance, he found himself wondering why he had to go to class. He admits his 2.0 GPA is “not good” and vows that the lessons he learned about money and time management will pay off in his second year. “I learned from my mistakes.”
Upperclassmen often say they appreciate the help they received much more the further they are from their hectic first year.
“I was one of the first students to complain,” remembers Jerry Gomez-Delgado. “I would say, ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do that.’ Now every time I run into her [Gamez] on campus, I’m like, ‘Ofelia, thank you for doing this. I appreciate it.’ ”
His sister Fabiola says the staff “pushed” her to pick a major in her sophomore year. The pressure now has her on track to graduate within four years after which she hopes to join her brother in graduate school. Because both are so thankful for the help they received to get to college and thrive once there, the siblings are hoping to become high school counselors when they graduate.
“I feel a lot of the things that I learned were lifelong, like CAMP taught me how to go not only as a person, but as a student, as a young professional,” Jerry, who is scheduled to complete his master’s degree next year, says. “I feel like I carry a lot of those good habits that were emphasized still.”
This story about the CAMP program was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.
Dartmouth freshmen Daniel Inoa (right) and Natan Santos had uncomfortable moments as they were told: “You look suspicious.” Photo: Liz Willen/The Hechinger Report
Editor’s note: The Hechinger Report followed six students through the college application process last year at Match Charter High in Boston. This story follows the journey of Daniel Inoa, who just finished his freshman year at Dartmouth College. You can read the entire series here.
HANOVER, N.H. — Here are some of the things that happened to Daniel Inoa during his freshman year at Dartmouth College. He discovered team sports he never knew existed, such as equestrian and rugby. He studied harder than he thought possible and still got his first C. He got unexpected mentoring and support from a senior pre-med student.
Inoa also endured questioning looks when shopping for cereal after midnight at the local drugstore with his friend Natan Santos, also a freshman. And the two were confronted at a fraternity party, by a member who told the Afro-Latino men, “You look suspicious.”
The incidents were reminders of the many challenges that set Inoa apart on this rural campus that has been predominantly white and wealthy since it opened as an all-male institution in 1769. He and Santos, both 19, are first-generation college students from Boston and children of single mothers, Inoa’s from the Dominican Republic, Santos’s from Puerto Rico.
Both are keenly aware of the many odds they’ve already defied: Fewer than 1 percent of children from the bottom-fifth income level of American families attend elite colleges. Black adults are only two-thirds as likely to hold college degrees as whites, while Latinos, the fastest growing and largest ethnic minority in the U.S., are only half as likely, recent Education Trust data show.
“We are expected to fail,” said Inoa, discussing widely held perceptions of poor black and Latino young men, while gesturing towards Dartmouth’s iconic symbols of privilege: white brick buildings with black shutters, sweeping lawns and well-stocked libraries. “We are not supposed to be here.”
There are just 746 black and Hispanic students out of 4,410 undergraduates at Dartmouth, a group that’s even more underrepresented in recent years at top colleges and universities than it was 35 years ago
At several Ivy League schools like Dartmouth and other elite colleges, more students come from families in the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent; children of top earners are 77 times more likely to attend an elite college. The knowledge leaves students like Inoa and Santos eager to see more students like themselves at Dartmouth. They’ve become part of the latest wave of first-generation students who arrive at elite schools carrying the burden of great expectations, along with the promise of a very different future — if they can persevere.
“I am my family’s last best hope for financial security,” said Santos, who designed his own clothing line in high school and also started a nonprofit matching minority students in the Boston area with mentors. He’s now studying sociology along with markets, management and the economy, while working two part-time jobs on campus so he can send money home. He hopes eventually to get a master’s degree in business administration.
“Realistically, education is the only way I have out. I have nothing else to fall back on,” said Santos. “It just makes me more hungry and ambitious.”
Their racial isolation is also understandable: there are just 746 black and Hispanic students out of 4,410 undergraduates at Dartmouth, a group that’s even more underrepresented in recent years at top colleges and universities than it was 35 years ago. President Donald Trump issued new guidelines this month that, if followed, would only make the situation more acute: he is aiming to reverse Obama administration policies that called on universities to consider race in admissions.
Both Inoa and Santos are not used to standing out as minorities: they grew up speaking Spanish at home and graduated at or near the top of their majority minority public high school classes in Boston. Both got mentoring and financial support from Janey Scholars, a Boston-based philanthropy. Neither could consider attending Dartmouth, where annual estimated costs are $73,800, without full financial aid.
Where is New Hampshire, anyway?
Dartmouth College on a rare hot day in the spring. Photo: Liz Willen/The Hechinger Report
Before he got into Dartmouth, Inoa said, he didn’t know where New Hampshire was; he’d never been to that neighboring state. While visiting, he was simultaneously impressed and overwhelmed by the university’s spacious classrooms, gleaming science labs and historic houses on fraternity row.
He wondered what he’d have in common with the athletic, outdoorsy students he saw dressed in green-and-white Dartmouth garb, preppy pastels or Patagonia gear, hauling rackets and golf clubs.
“I was, like, golf is an actual sport at Dartmouth and there’s a golf course next to a pond here, and they ride golf carts,” Inoa said.
Inoa had never golfed, skied or played a racket sport. He also had trouble figuring out what kind of clothing he’d wear after seven years of khaki pants and polo shirt uniforms at Match Charter in Boston, where nearly all the students were poor and whites were a distinct minority.
“I didn’t grow up with people who are mostly rich and don’t know the mindset of someone from inner-city Boston,” Inoa said. “I really wondered how I would relate.”
Visiting the overwhelmingly white town of Hanover for the first time, Inoa worried about looking “scruffy or like a wolf,” if he couldn’t find a barber who could cut his kinky hair. He’s since watched You-Tube videos and learned to cut his hair himself; he also bought clippers and shears and started a side business cutting hair for black and Hispanic classmates.
Financially, Dartmouth’s generous aid could not be beat: It’s one of a handful of well-endowed colleges that say they meet 100 percent of applicants’ demonstrated financial need. “The perception is that we are more than $72,000 a year, and that obviously is a really daunting and scary number, but for students with tremendous need, we are going to be more affordable than the state university,” said Dartmouth’s financial aid director, G. Dino Koff.
Still, 54 percent of Inoa’s Dartmouth classmates get no financial aid from the school at all, and Inoa overheard conversations about privileges unknown in the world he came from: weekends on yachts, trips to Hawaii, trading in Range Rovers for newer models.
“Realistically, education is the only way I have out. I have nothing else to fall back on.’’
Natan Santos, 19, Dartmouth freshman
Inoa and Santos both decided against inviting their mothers to visiting weekend, when wealth is on full display with parents arriving in Porsches, rounds of golf, pricey farm-to-table meals at The Pine.
“My mom wanted to come, and I said, ‘How will you relate?’” Inoa said. Santos told his mother he thought “it would be really boring.”
‘Like a fantasy’
Wealth disparities aside, Inoa is floored by his freedom to take a pre-med track along with sociology and a dizzying array of courses in subjects to which he’d never been exposed.
“It’s something like a fantasy for me here,” Inoa said, after meeting with health science advisor Sarah Berger, who is part of a Pathways to Medicine initiative at Dartmouth that he’s joined.
Berger had given Inoa a hug, asked how his studies were going and provided pros and cons of courses that will keep him on a pre-med track next fall. Such advice and support have made a huge difference for Inoa, as has mentoring from successful upperclassmen from similar backgrounds.
Santos took advantage of Dartmouth’s First Year Student Enrichment Program, which offers pre-orientation events, workshops, retreats and an array of supports. Jay Davis, the dean who heads the program, also keeps a box of Kleenex handy in his office.
Freshman Daniel Inoa discusses what pre-med classes to take at Dartmouth with his advisor Sarah Berger. Photo: Liz Willen/The Hechinger Report
“People put their initials on it when they cry in our office, that way they don’t have to apologize,” Davis said, adding that he wants them to know that “struggling is part of being a college student.”
Inoa missed participating because he hadn’t read the email invitations. Still, Santos introduced him to many freshmen in the program, along with older students from similar backgrounds who helped advise Inoa on courses and professors.
He spent his little free time lifting weights, shooting hoops with Santos and playing on the rugby club team (he stopped because it took away too much from his studies).
Occasionally, he went to parties at fraternity houses. Aside from the uncomfortable looks he and Santos got at one of them, Inoa said he found the parties “pretty boring. They play a lot of pong. And no one dances! They just fist-bump to the music.”
‘The doubly disadvantaged’
Culture shock, along with looks of suspicion like those Inoa and Santos experienced at Dartmouth, often shapes the experience of students whom Harvard sociologist Anthony Abraham Jack dubs “the doubly disadvantaged” — meaning they’ve come from public high schools that are both segregated and largely poor.
They may struggle more in college than the group Jack calls “the privileged poor,” who have attended well-funded prep or boarding schools and are often part of support networks such as A Better Chance or Prep for Prep.
“The norms, the rules of engagement, the very feel of a place like Dartmouth is foreign to the doubly disadvantaged,” said Jack, relating to his own alienation as a first-generation black student at Amherst College; he graduated in 2007 and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 2016.
The peaceful, rural campus of Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H. Photo: Liz Willen/The Hechinger Report
“Your roommates are flying on private airlines and going on vacations to places you have never heard of,” Jack added. Inoa and Santos “may be feeling blacker or more Latino and poorer in all these white spaces.”
Dartmouth says first-generation college students have ranged between 10 to 15 percent of each entering class since it started tracking the number in 2009; they will be 13 percent of the incoming class, its most selective ever.
Daniel Inoa gives his freshman year at Dartmouth “eight out of 10.” Photo: Liz Willen/The Hechinger Report
The editorial board of The Dartmouth, the school newspaper, last year called for ending legacy admissions, while students groups at several Ivy League colleges this year urged a review of the practice. Jack of Harvard is among those who believe giving an admissions advantage to alumni children “has no legal, political or moral foundation.”
Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s dean of admissions and financial aid, expressed a different view that same year in an interview with Dartmouth’s alumni magazine; he said legacies “ultimately make up about 12 to 13 percent of each entering class,” and called them “an important constituency in each applicant pool and in the way we think about the class we are shaping. A goal every year is to include as many of these students as we can
Inoa is more concerned about creating an inclusive atmosphere for Dartmouth’s minority students in common spaces — all topics of discussion in a class called Status, Power and Interaction he took with assistant professor of sociology Kimberly Rogers.
The final project included presentations on ways to decrease inequality on campus, based on theories studied in class. Rogers invited administrators from around campus to hear student suggestions, ask questions — and ideally act on them.
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“There’s a dialogue, and a starting point now,” Rogers said. At Dartmouth, “We have made strides, but there is much work to be done.”
One presentation noted that three-quarters of the 80 black athletes who participate in Dartmouth’s 35 varsity teams miss orientation and most of the welcoming events for freshmen; they suggested coming up with ways of including them.
Another urged eliminating application questions for exchange programs that assume previous travel experience in studying abroad and offering ways to help with additional costs so poor students can afford to go.
Inoa and Santos’s presentation focused on rearranging social spaces on campus and suggested the school’s programming board come up with additional ways to include minorities in planning events “that make different people from varying backgrounds feel welcomed.”
Rachel Edens, an assistant dean, chats with Dartmouth’s financial aid director G. Dino Koff. Photo: Liz Willen/The Hechinger Report
Rachel Edens, assistant dean and adviser to first-generation and low-income students at Dartmouth at OPAL, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, has heard many such suggestions, and she, too, worried about a lack of diversity in the area when she came to New Hampshire from Tennessee.
“It can feel really isolating here,” said Edens, who is black. Like Inoa, she obsessed about where she’d get her hair cut in Hanover; she now crops it close to her head and has arranged to bring a hair stylist to campus for black female students.
‘No one does that here’
Inoa attributes some of his freshman year isolation to “the woods effect” of rural life. But he also elected to live in a single room without a roommate and wants nothing to do with Greek life on campus, which he finds too exclusive; financial aid does not cover membership dues, and the frat houses he walks by on his way to classes seem overwhelmingly white. “They pick those who look like them,” he said.
He would love to see more students from the Dominican Republic at Dartmouth (the school said it does not keep track of how many are there now) and especially would love to grab a partner, as he does in Boston, and dance “the bachata, the merengue, salsa – no one does that here.”
Instead of studying abroad, he and Santos both expect to spend a semester in Atlanta at historically black Morehouse College, with which Dartmouth has an exchange program. Inoa also hopes he’ll become more involved in leadership.
Inoa gives his freshman year “an eight out of 10,” despite some setbacks and discomfort. After his first dismaying C, he developed better study habits; the rest of his grades were all A’s and B’s. “I think next year will be better,’’ he said.
This story about minority students at elite colleges was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.
Students engage in creative activities on the playground at Pre-K 4 SA North Education Center in San Antonio, Texas. Photo: Bekah McNeel for The Hechinger Report
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — By the end of the school year, the playground at Pre-K 4 SA North Education Center looked like a dreamscape of “DIY Outdoor Learning Spaces.” The playground was divided into a series of yards, separated by gates, each with its own cozy reading nook and a music station equipped with unconventional instruments. Some yards featured kid-sized building materials.
The teachers on these playgrounds were in the middle of the action, playing alongside the kids. One teacher, surrounded by pint-size fellow actors, took a bow on the stage. Another challenged an eager student to a building contest at a LEGO table.
The playground is part of a deliberate approach to early learning designed by San Antonio’s city-funded pre-K initiative, Pre-K 4 SA. Since 2013, the program has served almost 8,000 students in its four education centers and awarded $8.5 million in grants to other pre-K centers and school districts around the city.
Although parents praise it, the program has also had to contend with constant scrutiny from district superintendents and conservative politicians, including some who have indicated they will use the third-grade test scores of Pre-K 4 SA’s inaugural class of 750 students — whether the scores are above or below the district average — to campaign against the program. The City Council, largely supportive of Pre-K 4 SA, will decide whether the program’s continuation will make it onto the 2020 ballot.
The point of the public program, as it was presented to voters in 2012, is to boost long-term educational outcomes and eventually improve the citywide workforce. While critics question whether the Pre-K 4 SA initiative accomplishes that goal, few question the quality of the education children receive at the four centers.
Pre-K 4 SA uses a research-based curriculum called High Scope, which stresses a hands-on approach to developing memory, creativity, problem solving, and self-control. When they aren’t outside, children at the four Pre-K 4 SA centers spend their days in meticulously appointed classrooms. They grow food for their lunches in school gardens and they spend several weeks in an outdoor classroom, a covered porch with a full classroom underneath.
The program’s CEO, Sarah Baray, says the approach makes a big difference. Baray, a former teacher and principal in the Austin schools, has also taught at Texas State University, where she conducted extensive research on educational leadership, community involvement, and school improvement. She said she sees clear evidence, as do others in her field, that developing those skills helps students persevere, work with others and think critically.
$35 million — the amount generated by the one-eighth-cent local sales tax that funds Pre-K 4 SA
“It’s like embedding your educational foundation in the bedrock,” she said.
Students who qualify for pre-K in their home district pay no tuition to enroll in Pre-K 4 SA. In 2016-17, 1,311 of the program’s 2,060 students qualified for free tuition because of their family income or their status as English language learners or as children of military parents. Others who qualify are in foster care or homeless.
Families who do not qualify for free pre-K can pay tuition on a sliding scale to ensure that it is affordable and available for everyone. For example, a family of four making $50,000 per year pays $1,000 per year per student. Ten percent of Pre-K 4 SA spots are reserved for tuition-paying families.
Parents say the instruction at Pre-K 4 SA is as good as any they’ve seen at private schools. If Pre-K 4 SA hadn’t been available, said Denise Ojeda, “I would not have been able to send my son to a school like this.” Ojeda, who works for financial services provider USAA, said she paid some tuition. Although she couldn’t remember the exact amount, she said it was much less than private full-day preschools, most of which cost around $750 per month in San Antonio.
Ojeda’s son Cristóbal, now 9, was the first student to walk through the doors at the Pre-K 4 SA South Education Center five years ago. He is still enthusiastic about it, she said. “Pre-K 4 SA definitely is focused on the success of its students, but also extending that arm to the families that need it,” she said.
Engaging parents, one of the program’s original goals, is a high priority at all four centers. Staff members “are super involved, and they make it easy for you to be, too,” said January Rishell, a few days before her son Cameron, 5, graduated from Pre-K 4 SA South Education Center, “We don’t know who’s going to take it harder on the last day of school, us or [our kids].”
“If a child has high-quality K-3, they are almost indestructible academically.”
Sarah Baray, CEO of Pre-K 4 SA
Although Pre-K 4 SA does offer some transportation using specialized 15-passenger vans outfitted for 4-year-olds, Rishell drove 45 minutes across the city to take her son to the South Education Center after he was waitlisted at two other locations. “I don’t regret it at all,” she said. She even made additional trips regularly to volunteer. “There’s always something going on up there,” Rishell said.
The program will need that support — and more — in 2020 when San Antonians will vote on whether to continue funding it.
Pre-K 4 SA is funded through a one-eighth-cent city sales tax that generates around $35 million per year. The program currently reports spending about $11,500 per year per student, along with about $4.2 million annually in grants to other pre-K providers and school districts to help expand full day pre-K and teacher certification. The program also spends over $2 million per year on professional development and coaching, which it makes available to any pre-K through third grade teacher in San Antonio.
Former mayor Julián Castro placed the initiative on the November 2012 ballot, where it passed with 54 percent of the vote. The first two centers opened in 2013 with 750 students between them. Now at full capacity, four centers serve a total of approximately 2,000.
The per-student spending is high for Texas, which spends between $9,000 and $10,500 (depending on who is doing the calculating) on average per K-12 student, but only around $3,800 per preschooler.
Pre-K 4 SA spends what it needs to offer an excellent education, Baray says. “We’re staying true to what we know in the research works and what has long-term benefits,” she said.
Pre-K advocates across the state are also aware of those benefits. The advocates, who recently testified in Austin before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance to make their case for more pre-K funding, came armed with copious data showing that kids who start early see immediate and lasting benefits.
However, many Pre-K 4 SA graduates go on to attend chronically low performing schools, which makes it harder to sustain the benefits imparted at Pre-K 4 SA. That’s why the program was designed to offer professional development to kindergarten and elementary school teachers in San Antonio’s 19 public school districts. “We do know that what happens after they leave us matters,” Baray said. “If a child has high-quality K-3, they are almost indestructible academically,” she said.
The program’s first 750 alumni took the state’s third-grade reading test this year. The scores on this test are a benchmark of Pre-K 4 SA’s success, as laid out by the taskforce that designed the preschool initiative. In theory, these scores will demonstrate whether Pre-K 4 SA is really performing better than pre-K programs in the city’s school districts.
67 percent of Pre-K 4 SA alumni in the San Antonio Independent School District passed the state’s third-grade reading test this year, compared to 62 percent district wide.
One of the program’s perennial skeptics on the city council, Greg Brockhouse, would like to see the $35 million stretched to serve more kids, with less spent per child. The best way to do that, he has argued, is by using the funding to supplement existing programs in the public schools. He doubts that Pre-K 4 SA alumni will continue to stand out from their peers as they go through school; even if they do, their success will not be enough to convince him that the program is accomplishing its mission to improve educational outcomes for all San Antonio students.
It will be October before Pre-K 4 SA can get individual data on all 750 of its first-year alumni but one of the eight partner districts, San Antonio ISD, is already using initial reading scores to compare its 51 Pre-K 4 SA graduates to their third-grade classmates. The district has a high rate of poverty: Over 90 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. In 2018, only 62 percent of district third graders passed the state reading tests, up from 55 percent in 2017. Of the Pre-K 4 SA alumni in San Antonio ISD, 67 percent passed, according to data provided by the district.
A greater percentage of Pre-K 4 SA alumni also scored in the highest range. The same was true, though the margin was slightly smaller, when comparing the Pre-K 4 SA alumni only to their classmates who attended district pre-K.
Baray doesn’t like using standardized tests for children below third grade and won’t change the curriculum to groom students for test prep based on “the mistaken notion that if we get kids to mimic academic learning then they’ll excel.” She is also openly critical of elements of district pre-K programs when she talks to superintendents in partner districts. “I’m not going to tell you every single one of your classrooms is great,” she said.
For instance, Baray has criticized districts for using Pre-K 4 SA grant funds to buy iPads and other “bells and whistles” with no proven impact. Pre-K 4 SA campuses themselves are very low tech. Those dreamscape-like playgrounds begin the school year almost completely empty. Over the months, teacher assistants, using reclaimed materials, work with the students to build all the components. This collaborative activity is far more valuable than any iPad program, Baray said.
Baray stated she would rather see students work well together, express themselves appropriately and demonstrate good reasoning skills than learn to take tests or use an iPad. Those skills will stick with them, she said.
“Reading scores only indicate how a child does on a test. My son has the ability and desire to learn.”
Denise Ojeda, parent
Some teachers say they can see the lasting effect of Pre-K 4 SA on young graduates of the program as they enter the elementary grades. Christopher Flanagan-Gonzales, a third grade teacher at Mission Academy, said four of his students, who have been through the program, are more mature and interactive than most of their classmates. “They collaborate very well,” he said. Three of these students are reading at or above grade level, he added. The fourth, who came into the class significantly behind, still struggles with reading. Flanagan Gonzalez attributed the child’s difficulties to an especially unstable home life.
Knowing that many students face such challenges during and after their time in Pre-K 4 SA, Baray is even more determined to give them a strong footing. The developmental delays associated with instability at home are one reason she stresses the need to have teachers who are highly-trained in early childhood. Pre-K is the first chance many students get to recover lost ground.
Another group of students also benefits from having highly trained pre-K teachers: According to the Education Law Center, an education advocacy group based in New Jersey, teachers with specific certification in early childhood are better able to serve students with disabilities. Pre-K teachers often work with parents who are discovering for the first time that their young children have learning issues.
Denise Ojeda’s son wasn’t just the first student through the doors at Pre-K 4 SA. He was also one of their first students with a learning disability. Cristóbal has ADHD, dyspraxia, and a sensory processing disorder. The family’s experience with Pre-K 4 SA’s supportive environment spoiled them, Ojeda said. “Pre-K 4 SA modeled for me what a compassionate and loving response is when a family or student is learning to adapt to what could be life long academic challenges.”
The Pre-K 4 SA teachers customized her son’s school day with lots of movement, including trampoline breaks. She never had to push for services. In fact, at that point, she recalled, she might not have known what to ask for. “They rallied around him,” she said, “so that learning and being in school was fun for him.”
When she prepared to transition Cristóbal to kindergarten in San Antonio ISD, a team of Pre-K 4 SA teachers and administrators met with Ojeda to prepare her for what she would likely face. “They said, ‘You’re going to have to figure out a way to help him, and you’re going to have to figure out a way to advocate for him,’” Ojeda recalled.
That’s exactly what she did. Kindergarten was a wake-up call, she said, and a constant struggle to get Cristóbal the same accommodations he had at Pre-K 4 SA. Without Pre-K 4 SA to look back on as an example of how happy her son could be at school, Ojeda said she might have given up.
It took two more years, but she finally found a teacher and a principal within the San Antonio district who would commit to helping Cristóbal, she added.
Cristóbal did not pass his state reading test this year, Ojeda said. Because of his learning issues, he reads at about a kindergarten level but that hasn’t changed her view of Pre-K 4 SA. “Reading scores only indicate how a child does on a test,” Ojeda said. Because of Pre-K 4 SA, “my son has the ability and desire to learn.” That’s what matters to her.
Every day it seems that the world becomes more tribalized. People define themselves and their “group” more and more narrowly. The British will soon define themselves out of Europe. In Myanmar, the government has defined its Muslim minority as non-citizens. Narrow nationalist parties of various sorts are on the rise around the world, and here in the United States religion, ethnicity, geography and politics increasingly define us.
At American colleges and universities, we all face this issue in particularly compelling ways. More than one million international students came to the U.S. for higher education during the 2016-17 academic year, marking the 11th consecutive year that the number of international students in the U.S. grew. Additionally, students of color now make up about 40 percent of our student bodies, and we seek greater geographic and economic diversity as well.
While we say we seek and welcome diversity, most institutions have not created truly inclusive campuses — campuses that embrace and understand the students we work so hard to attract. While our classrooms may look different than they did 20 years ago, we paper over difference in order to avoid discomfort. It doesn’t work.
Throwing such diverse students into the same classes and residence halls and hoping for the best does not suffice. Greater contact in the absence of intercultural skills unfortunately can lead to greater misunderstanding and conflict.
“I have been told [that] greater intercultural competence might be nice to have, but it is just an elitist frill. I couldn’t disagree more.”
Critics of higher education call for more emphasis on career preparation, skill development and job placement. In such an environment, I have been told, greater intercultural competence might be nice to have, but it is just an elitist frill.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Today’s students will be competing in a global marketplace, living in diverse communities and working on diverse teams.
An essential part of any career preparation must involve teaching students the skills to understand issues and view situations from different perspectives. They must learn to recognize their own often-unconscious assumptions.
Students need to learn to communicate about cultural differences in the broadest possible sense, including those usually grouped together as “diversity” issues like gender, race and power relationships. They must be prepared to have challenging conversations with people different from themselves in order to achieve cooperation. Intercultural competence, in its widest sense, is a vital key for success in the future.
At Dickinson, we have undertaken a somewhat unusual approach. We are building a campus-wide institutional structure that incorporates diversity and inclusion work with intercultural competence and ethical reasoning.
Our goal is to prepare every member of our community to communicate in diverse teams, and to live and work together in respectful and ethical ways. We are hoping that others will see what we are doing at Dickinson and know that it is possible. Perhaps even our leaders in Washington, D.C. will take note.
“This is not a feel-good initiative replete with affirmations and group hugs. There is nothing easy or comfortable about this sort of skill development.”
Our inclusivity initiative does not just target our students, but also our faculty, our staff, our senior administrators and even our Board of Trustees. Our approach will be systemic, aimed at examining assumptions, structures and policies, and developing complex and challenging skills. Instead of silos focused on global education — diversity initiatives and community engagement each working separately — we will connect these areas so they can work together, as they should.
This is not a feel-good initiative replete with affirmations and group hugs. There is nothing easy or comfortable about this sort of skill development. It demands a level of introspection and honesty — of discomfort, trust and candor — that cannot fail to challenge everyone.
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Our approach is an institutional one. It combines intentional educational experiences with practical applications and experience on campus, in the greater community and abroad. It is decidedly not just about making international and traditionally underrepresented individuals feel more welcome. It is about enabling every member of our community to be far better equipped for success in a rapidly changing and very complex world.
Faced with a divided country and a fractured global community, higher education needs to do its part to ensure the next generation of leaders is able to find common ground, hammer out solutions to our many challenges, and show respect in the process. Our society desperately needs all of us to make this a priority.
This story about campus diversity was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our higher-education newsletter.
Margee Ensign is president of Dickinson College, where she is leading an initiative on intercultural competence. In her previous post as president of the American University of Nigeria, in Yola, Ensign created the Adamawa Peace Initiative.
Seventeen-year-old Lilly Reilly spends most summers relaxing at her home in southern Mississippi, watching television, playing video games, and enjoying other “teenager stuff.” This summer, Lilly upped the game on her summer activities. She visited two state colleges, spent the night in a dorm, took ACT preparation classes, and learned ways to pay for college.
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Those activities were part of Camp College, a free, week-long program funded by the Mississippi-based Woodward Hines Education Foundation, which runs the camp at three locations around the state each summer. This year, nearly 120 minority and low-income high school students participated. The goal is to help students who are less likely to go to college learn how to get there — and how to pay for it. In addition to getting help with the ACT, students learn how to budget for college, research which majors are most applicable for various careers, and spend the night in a dorm at a local state college.
Daniela Griffin, who oversees Jackson’s Camp College, said the program attempts to show students that there are ways to get to college, even if the odds are against them. “We get them to really think about how, although ‘you have this barrier, this is standing in your way, there’s a chance. It’s an opportunity for us to help [them] do better than that current circumstance that [they] see as a hindrance.”
For Lilly, the most helpful part of Camp College was the one-on-one help she received from the camp’s teachers, who worked with her on strategies for taking the English portion of the ACT. At her high school in southern Mississippi, ACT prep courses are often filled with dozens of students, all demanding the teacher’s attention; Lilly was never able to get the help she needed. After the summer program, Lilly took her ACT and scored a 24, far higher than the state average of 18.6. Later this year she plans to retake the test and aim for a 27 or 28.
The need for more low-cost and free summer programs in Mississippi is clear, according to a report released early this summer by the Center for American Progress. That report found families in the state spend an average of nearly $2,000 for just five weeks of enrollment in a summer learning program. That cost amounts to 16 percent of the median summer income for a two-parent household and more than double what is considered affordable by the federal government.
Some students who attended Camp College in previous years said the program was instrumental in getting them to college. Eighteen-year-old Deonte Spencer, who attended in 2017, graduated from Callaway High School in Jackson this spring and will attend Hinds Community College in the fall, where he will also play on the basketball team. He said officials from Camp College sat down and helped him fill out his financial aid forms, his college applications, and helped him search for scholarships. Eventually, Spencer hopes to become a basketball coach.
“It’s a good program,” Spencer said. Without it, “I wouldn’t be at Hinds right now.”
Jocelyn Ramirez enrolled in a two-year program to earn her associate’s degree from Wilbur Wright College in Chicago back in 2014. She was working more than full-time at a podiatry clinic and raising her daughter. Money was tight, so she applied for and received a grant from the state of Illinois for low-income students called the Monetary Assistance Program, or MAP grant. It covered about half of her tuition payments.
Then, one year into her studies, the money went away and Ramirez had to change her plans.
“Any financial help plays a big role,” she says. “Because that determines how many hours you have to work and make ends meet and know everything stays aligned.”
In 2015, the MAP Grant program in Illinois froze. Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed the state’s entire higher education budget, which included funding for the MAP grant. Almost overnight, Jocelyn Ramirez and tens of thousands of other students lost their tuition help for the next school year.
She had to take fewer classes. It took her an extra year-and-a-half to graduate. Across public universities in Illinois, the year after the MAP Grant was no longer being paid out, at least 1,000 students never returned to their schools. Funding has been restored to the MAP Grant but just last year, 58 percent of eligible students didn’t receive it because the state ran out of money for it.
Kolodner says across the country, it’s likely that the actual number of students who applied last year and didn’t receive their state aid is actually much higher.
“There are there are about 16 states that don’t even track how many students who are eligible that don’t get aid,” she says.
Listen to the Educate Podcast to find out why states are running out of money for low-income college students, and what happens when those students are left to cover the difference.
CAST Tech is designed to feel like a cutting-edge corporate headquarters, the kind of environment in which students hope to eventually work. Photo: Bekah McNeel/The Hechinger Report
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — CAST Tech, San Antonio’s newest public high school, looks like an outpost of Google. Young people huddle over tablets, fiber optic cables run along the ceilings and a cybersecurity lab occupies the basement.
The school, located in the heart of San Antonio’s slowly revitalizing downtown, is just a stone’s throw from some of the city’s big employers. The financial firm USAA has offices five blocks away, and Frost Bank and tech incubator Geekdom are nearby, too. This makes it easy for business executives to pop by — and they do. In its first academic year, the school entertained dozens of local business leaders as guest speakers and, nearly every week, students welcomed tech employees who serve as mentors.
All of this is by design. CAST Tech, which opened in fall 2017 with 175 freshmen, is the first of three career-themed public high schools currently planned for San Antonio. The schools are the brainchild of Charles Butt, a big donor to local education causes and chairman of H-E-B, the region’s largest grocery store chain. After having trouble finding skilled employees for his corporate headquarters, Butt brought together San Antonio school superintendents, business leaders and workforce experts to explore school models that could give students the academic foundation and skills required for jobs in fast-growing, well-paying local industries.
Their answer was CAST (which stands for Centers for Applied Science and Technology). The schools are intended to prepare students from across the San Antonio metro area for careers in tech and business, health care and advanced manufacturing. They rely on industry “partners” — 10 so far at CAST Tech — to guarantee students internships and mentorships and to help keep the curriculum current. Students take a mix of core academics and classes such as entrepreneurship and graphic design; in addition, they can earn up to 30 college credits through dual enrollment programs with local colleges.
Modeled in part on California’s High Tech High charter network, business-backed programs in Georgia and South Carolina and STEM programs in Massachusetts, the school are part of a growing push to more closely match the skills students gather in high school with workforce needs. While some educators worry about turning schools into vehicles for job readiness, efforts to integrate technical training and academic education continue to gain traction. A recent White House proposal to merge the education and labor departments into a new Cabinet-level agency, the Department of Education and the Workforce, underscores the popularity of this view in Washington.
In San Antonio, the CAST schools are also one prong of a larger effort by a local school district to promote integration in one of the most economically segregated cities in the country. The San Antonio Independent School District, which will operate two of the CAST schools, is one of 19 school districts in the county and among its poorest. Mohammed Choudhury, who joined the district last year as its chief innovation officer, wants to ensure that these and other specialized schools in his district avoid some of the common pitfalls of school choice.
“Usually when districts launch specialized initiatives around school choice, and resources are put into the school in an urban environment, they end up exacerbating segregation that already exists,” he said. But while CAST Tech encourages applications from across the metro area, it eschews the admissions exams used by magnet schools, and, unlike most charters, is run by the school district. Plus, Choudhury solicits applications from the city’s poorest pockets, and carefully tinkers with the mix of students from low- and middle-income families.
One year in, that approach to economic integration, dubbed “diversity by design,” is working. However, the specialized schools under Choudhury’s purview, including CAST Tech, have met resistance from locals who worry that they are sapping resources from the district’s existing neighborhood schools.
Choudhury, though, is adamant about the value of economic integration — and the importance of giving low-income students, in particular, access to educational options. This includes the specialized tech skills and business networking opportunities ingrained in the CAST Tech model.
CAST Tech freshman Toney Coronado wants to work in cybersecurity. She chose the high school because she believed it could give her access to the type of company she wants to work for in the future. Photo: Bekah McNeel/The Hechinger Report
One school day this spring, a beeping sound comes from under freshman Toney Coronado’s shirt. A monitor she is wearing as part of a PE project is going off, informing her she has reached her resting heart rate, and cueing her to make a note of her current activity. Toney apologizes, resets the monitor, and moves on to explain how she came to CAST Tech.
Toney lives in the North East Independent School District, a relatively affluent section of the city with well-rated schools. But she said she wanted more than strong academics. The 15-year-old also sought real-world experience in her desired career: cybersecurity.
“I thought that CAST would be a better opportunity for me,” she said. She’s always loved the idea of cybersecurity — being a good guy hacker. Getting a job in that field will require more than just technical skills though. CAST Tech also helps with the nuts and bolts of the application process. Coronado recently showed her mom a mock resume she’d been working on in “principles of business,” a required class for freshmen. “My mom was shocked,” Toney said, laughing. The quality of the resume was so good, so professional. “She wants me to help my older brother.”
In addition to her classes in English, history, algebra and life sciences, Toney will have the opportunity to earn a “Red Hat Certification” in cybersecurity, a competitive credential in the field.
“They are teaching strong fundamentals,” said Bret Piatt, chief executive of Jungle Disk, a startup cybersecurity firm. The average annual salary at his company is $75,000, well above the median income of families in the San Antonio Independent School District, which is roughly $32,000, and the $56,000 median in the San Antonio metro area. Piatt says he plans to recruit from CAST Tech in the years to come.
“Let’s not launch these [career-and-technical education] programs to give employers a new assembly line.”
Mohammed Choudhury, chief innovation officer for the San Antonio Independent School District
CAST Med, scheduled to open in the San Antonio Independent School District in the fall 2019, will prepare kids for midlevel careers in the booming healthcare field, such as nursing, anesthesiology, and phlebotomy. Manufacturing jobs, which pay a median local wage of $42,952, are growing quickly too, by 8 percent over the next six years. CAST STEM, focused on advanced manufacturing, will open this fall in the city’s Southwest Independent School District, a more rural district with a high percentage of low-income students.
While CAST encourages input from industry partners on the curriculum, so far there’s been no evidence of any concern that the schools are giving businesses too much influence. That may be because, for all the focus on professional preparation, the schools are also giving students the academic education to equip them for college — not just the workforce, say CAST leaders. As more and more jobs require some education beyond high school, Pedro Martinez, who joined the San Antonio Independent School District as its superintendent in 2015 urges all students to consider earning a college or post-secondary credential. At CAST Tech, said principal Melissa Alcala, “We’re trying to prepare them for both tracks.”
Choudhury acknowledges that companies could see the schools as labor farms for whatever jobs they happen to have, but added the schools’ goal is to educate children for jobs that will help move them out of poverty, not keep them in it. “Let’s not launch these [career-and-technical education] programs to give employers a new assembly line.”
Another risk, Choudhury says, is complacency about who gets to attend.
CAST Tech is a career-focused public high school in San Antonio. The campus, on the site of the city’s first high school, is a $5 million renovation of the 1930’s-era facility. Photo: Bekah McNeel/The Hechinger Report
When he arrived in San Antonio in April 2017 after three years with the Dallas public school system, CAST Tech was in the middle of enrolling its inaugural class, Choudhury said. He looked at the demographics and began to worry. By simply opening up admission to all and seeing how “it plays out,” he said, the school was attracting plenty of teens from middle-class families but few from the district’s poorest neighborhoods.
Almost immediately, he began calling low-income families whose children had been admitted but had yet to accept. Failing to follow-up, he explained, ends up excluding low-income families who may lack voicemail or the ability to regularly check email. Choudhury personally called families until someone answered. He also began pulling low-income families off the waitlist as spots became available. The result: District data shows that CAST Tech’s first class was split evenly between families earning above and below $44,000 per year. Roughly 60 percent are from the San Antonio Independent School District and the rest are from outside the district.
Going forward, Choudhury said he and his staff will carefully monitor the enrollment process and promote the schools in neighborhoods with uneven access to internet, social media and other information platforms, going door to door if they have to. Then they’ll hold separate lotteries for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and those who don’t, to ensure that the second batch of students accepted is roughly a 50-50 economic mix. Next they’ll take a closer look at those enrolled to ensure that at least 12.5 percent of students come from the deepest pockets of poverty in the city. When skeptics ask why CAST emphasizes socioeconomic integration, Choudhury points them to studies showing that kids of every income level thrive academically and socially in economically integrated schools.
Building these attractive schools, however, takes money; to get those dollars, the schools needed a rainmaker and found one in Superintendent Martinez. The CAST schools underscore the fundraising success of Martinez, who was hired three years ago from the Nevada Department of Education. In that time, giving to the San Antonio ISD Foundation has risen from $919,520 in 2015 to more than $11 million last year. Gifts to CAST schools since 2015 have totaled $10 million, including a $3.6 million donation from H-E-B in 2016.
But all that giving has come at a price. Some teachers and other district residents worry that the specialized schools are pulling attention and money from neighborhood schools.
$32,000 — Median income of families in the San Antonio Independent School District; in the San Antonio metropolitan area it is $56,000.
“My concern is that the district, in its attempt to be innovative, has created all of these specialty schools at the cost of the neighborhood school,” said Candace Michael, who retired from teaching in the San Antonio Independent School District and is now an educational consultant. “They get everything they need or want.”
The district has plans to improve the rest of its schools, filling them with effective teachers, and allowing campuses to apply to become part of Choudhury’s “innovation zones,” whose schools have longer days, weeks and even school years. Few of these schools are as high profile as CAST Tech, however, and none has the same level of philanthropic investment.
“We have to do high-poverty schools well,” Choudhury said of the existing district schools, where roughly 90 percent of students are low-income. “At the same time, we have to stop recreating them.”
In addition to CAST Tech, the San Antonio Independent School District recently opened four other so-called “diverse by design” schools, including two dual language academies. It has more in the works, including more dual language schools and another CAST school, CAST Med.
One of the district’s strategies to help all schools improve is to recruit “master teachers.” Specializing in high-demand subjects, these teachers work longer school days to give extra help to struggling students. In turn, master teachers earn extra stipends of up to $17,000 per year, on top of the average salary of $55,000 (roughly $2,500 higher than the state average).
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Of the nine teachers hired to launch CAST Tech, seven are master teachers, and half hold master’s degrees in educational technology. This allows them to incorporate advanced technology — web-based interactives, gaming — into humanities and algebra in a way that engages their techy students, said Alcala, CAST’s principal. It also allows them to tailor lessons for students and help them learn at their own pace.
The importance of that customized education has become increasingly apparent. Because the school doesn’t screen for admission and draws so many students from the San Antonio Independent School District, many freshmen arrive unprepared, Alcala said. Last school year, nearly 20 percent of district schools failed to meet state standards, placing them in the bottom 5 percent of Texas schools.
“We’ve got kids who have been in this district and they have not passed a reading [state accountability test] since they started taking them in third grade,” said Alcala.
The more personalized experience allows all students to stretch academically, she said.
“Usually when districts launch specialized initiatives around school choice, and resources are put into the school in an urban environment, they end up exacerbating segregation that already exists.”
Mohammed Choudhury, chief innovation officer for the San Antonio Independent School District
Madisyn Holveck, a freshman, mastered a year-long graphic design curriculum in one semester. Her teachers encouraged her to enter design contests — and she won the chance to design a logo for King Ranch, a Texas institution.
On a recent Tuesday, Madisyn was one of 30 CAST Tech students on a field trip to a Microsoft store, where they got to test drive some of the company’s newest products. Wielding a stylus like a pro, Madisyn tried the latest model of the Microsoft Surface, to see how the laptop compared to the Chromebooks and Macs she works on at school and in her design class.
Field trips like this highlight the economic differences between the students.
Before the field trip, Kevin Castellano, a freshman, had never been to a Microsoft Store. In fact, he said he had never been to La Cantera, the posh North Side shopping center where the Microsoft Store is located.
“It’s so far north,” said Kevin who lives on the city’s East Side. He glanced around the store: “It’s so … sleek.”
Had he attended Sam Houston High School, his neighborhood school, he said he would miss out on the diversity of experiences he’s had at CAST Tech.
The school offers plenty of extra-curricular activities, including Toast Masters, camping, mock interviews and lacrosse. These activities give students access to the same opportunities as wealthier peers; when they enter the workplace, they’ll feel comfortable among co-workers from more privileged backgrounds, Alcala said.
To really accomplish its mission, the school has to pay attention to more than gaps in test scores. “There’s so many places where income disparity shows up,” said Kate Rogers, a former H-E-B executive who helped start the CAST schools.
CAST Tech is trying to erase some of those disadvantages, and that’s not lost on the students. “What’s cool about CAST Tech?” asked a Microsoft employee, advising students to brag a little about their school on their LinkedIn profiles. Madisyn, already thinking about how to market her freelance work, had been listening closely. Her hand shot up. “It’s locally recognized,” she said. “When businesses see you went there, they might give you preference.”
That sums up the appeal of schools like CAST Tech. And plenty of people are hoping they deliver.
This story about high school reform was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.