After two consecutive days of college campus field trips, the last episode of This American Life really resonated with me. Watching my students negotiate their way around UC Riverside and CalState Los Angeles, I was reminded of the importance of not exposing students from inner city and working class backgrounds to the often overly liberating lifestyles that college campuses provide to varying degrees, but also about the importance of building up their resiliency.
Every morning on the announcements, our student body representatives end their daily sharings with a reminder to be (intelligent, respectful, dignified, empowered, resilient) one of our 5 school wide norms. The last one is my favorite. Listening to the stories of Melanie, Racquel, and Jonathan reminded me that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to building a replacement for the school to prison pipeline. I’ve talked to colleagues and school board members about the importance of changing the paradigm from a k-12 mentality to one that embraces the concept of k-16.
I’ve thought at great length around the complexities of addressing the high school drop out crisis, and then juxtaposing that against the even more alarming statistics around college drop outs. Im currently attempting to address this through things like college planning, exposure, innovative curriculum, and what not. What this story reminds me of is the importance of social and emotional intelligence and skills development. Things like resiliency are so important in this context, the real question becomes how are we preparing our students to be resilient in the face of institutional and internalized systems of oppression?
I will continue to ask this question with my colleagues and with my students. I will continue to expose students to college as well as help them prepare (resumes, personal statements, understand financial aide, etc.) for it. And I will continue to share stories like mine and those in this episode, so that my students can create their own stories… Ones shaped more by resiliency and resistance to narratives of domination, predestined realities, and inequality. And in the meantime I will rely on my students’ reflections and smiles to let me know we are on the right track.