Opinion: Untold Stories of the Strength and Resilience of Low-Income Students | New


As of March 2020, we have been concerned about the health, bereavement, finances and social isolation of low-income students and families. There have been heart-wrenching losses, financial strains and unemployment, and a clear and disproportionate impact on low-income communities. East Palo Alto has seen four times as many COVID-19 cases as Menlo Park and seven times as many as Atherton.

And yet, there have also been incredible stories of joy, strength and celebration in these hard-hit communities.

Against all odds, low-income students and families continued to prevail. East Palo Alto Academy High School has seen its college persistence rate drop from 26% to 80%. At Peninsula Bridge, 100% of Grade 12 students will enroll in college this fall, with 95% being the first in their families to do so.

It is resilience – rather than heartbreak – that we want to illuminate and celebrate. As author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us, there is a danger in history alone. While we recognize the tragedy of the past year, it is imperative that we also shed light on the incredible complexity and triumph of low-income students during this pandemic.

Like many students last year, Daniel started his freshman year at UC Riverside from home, struggling to find a suitable learning environment where he could focus on his physics classes. Countless low-income students have found themselves taking classes in their family’s studios, with no quiet space to work. After finding an old tent in storage, Daniel began to use it as his own “backyard dormitory”. With a space of his own, Daniel is now top of his class, religiously attending office hours and well on his way to joining the physics department’s specialty program.

Max, a high school student, had to double work after his family lost their home last year; he attended school full time and worked at the family restaurant to help keep him afloat. Determined not to lose the restaurant as well, he raised enough money to build an outdoor dining hall, allowing the restaurant to continue serving customers. Thanks to numerous blockages and regulatory changes, the company has survived. Max is now a freshman at UC Berkeley, and the family “thrives – because we’re still together, strong and healthy.”

Jessica * was just a sophomore in high school when she was forced to become the head of the household last year. After a family member died from COVID-19, Jessica had to pick up the pieces, plan the funeral, and figure out finances. At the age of 15, she had to find $ 2,700 for funeral services. What do you do if this money is your rent? With the help of the social services team at East Palo Alto Academy, Jessica was able to raise funds, negotiate with the morgue, and finally found a way to honor her family member.

These stories are no exception. There are countless other examples of the difficulties faced by our students and their families and the myriad institutional barriers that we must continue to dismantle.

It is not acceptable for a student to use a tent in their front yard to have space for their college studies. It is not acceptable for a 15-year-old to be responsible for planning a funeral. And it is certainly not acceptable that the BIPOC (Blacks, Aboriginals and people of color) continues to bear the brunt of this pandemic.

And yet each story also continues to prove that the impact of COVID-19 on poor communities is complex and nuanced.

We must celebrate the triumphs. We must recognize the strength and resilience that has emerged from this painful year.

Psychological resilience is defined as the process of adaptation in the face of challenges, crises and threats. Dr. Ryan Matlow, clinical child psychologist and director of community programs at Stanford’s Early Life Stress and Resilience program, found that having a mission, objective and valued activity in times of crisis is a protective factor and an indicator of success. ‘adaptive adjustment. It is this psychological resilience that allows our students to adapt and succeed despite adversity.

For this reason, programs like Peninsula Bridge and East Palo Alto Academy emphasize persistence. The strength already exists within our students – they just need our support to access it.

Peninsula Bridge teaches risk taking, agency, and self-advocacy in fourth year college. Our Middle School Academy uses literature and focuses on global education to demonstrate that children around the world face adversity and challenges – and that we can collectively identify personal and community resources to overcome these challenges. Through education and discussion, students can examine human qualities such as courage, bravery and resilience, and discuss key strategies for overcoming adversity.

East Palo Alto Academy helps shed light on the incredible wealth of experiences and inner strength of our first generation BIPOC students. Students learn the “Bulldog Way” from the summer before ninth grade, which includes five attributes of achievement: love, attitude, mindset, power and courage. Students harness the courage forged by their life experiences and are able to use it to develop a heightened sense of belonging and self-preservation in difficult circumstances.

We firmly believe that it is this tenacity and resilience that will give our students the power, access and opportunity to dismantle the immeasurable and unacceptable barriers that lie ahead.

Young people who have not yet faced adversity can develop perseverance by experiencing productive struggle and delayed gratification. There are countless ways to help understand the joys of working hard and being successful, including playing sports, learning a musical instrument, and participating in community service. Yet it is still crucial that our community continues to ask questions about inclusiveness, community responsibility and a sense of belonging in the hope of building a more just, equitable and caring community. When we listen to and support diverse perspectives, we all thrive.

* The name has been changed to protect underage students.

Randi Shafton is the Executive Director of Peninsula Bridge and can be contacted at [email protected] Amika Guillaume is the director of the East Palo Alto Academy and can be contacted at [email protected]


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