People often say that education is a ticket to success, but what happens when that ticket is inaccessible for the students who need it most?
I was one of the 59.2% of students considered economically disadvantaged, as reported in 2019 from the California Department of Education. I was one of the 1.48 million English language students reported in 2019 to 2020, according to the California Department of Education.
I am one of those students who couldn’t afford tutors when it came to testing for the American College Tests (ACT) or the Scholastic Assessment test (SAT). I am one of those students whose parents still barely make ends meet, especially during this pandemic. I am a first generation student. I am a full-time Cal Poly Pomona student with two part-time jobs where I witness the truth of the economic and racial disparity prevailing in our communities.
In my first job, I see the struggles of the Jefferson elementary students I work with, and I begin to see myself reflected in those young faces. I see how the English language learners don’t have the resources to catch up. I see how classrooms are overcrowded. I see how students are dropped off at an afterschool program, not by choice, but because their parents need work all day.
Parents would come up to me and plead that I pay more attention to their child’s homework needs, because they don’t speak English and are unable to help their children themselves. As much as I wanted to, the ratio from staff to children was 10 to one and my hands were full.
In my second job, I am a swim instructor for the Rosebowl Aquatic Center. As their swim teacher, I get to know the kids and I recall how many of them would talk about all the activities they participate in. This varied from speech class, to music class, to tutoring and sports. Most of these kids are White or Asian, and they certainly come from a wealthier background because swim lessons are expensive.
The opportunities and economic advantages these children have don’t compare to what the elementary students I work with at my other job are receiving. Yet, these disparities are all occurring within a close proximity in my neighborhood of Pasadena.
It never made sense to me how the schools in my neighborhood were so distinctly different from those that were just 10 minutes away. California compulsory education law requires school districts to provide a free education, but that does not allow a student to attend the school district of their choice and sometimes one closest to their neighborhood.
Carver Elementary School is three miles away from Jefferson Elementary School. Carver holds a Blue Ribbon School award, a 91% proficiency rate in math test scores, a 90% proficiency rate in English and language arts and only 5% of their students qualify for free reduced lunch, according to the Public School Review. Carver Elementary is composed of 67% Asian, 17% White, 4% Hispanic, and 1% Black.
On the other hand, Jefferson Elementary is ranked within the bottom 50% of all 9,602 schools in California. Their math proficiency scores are as low as 25%, and 78% of their students are eligible for free lunch. Unsurprisingly, the school demographics are 83% Hispanic and 7% Black, according to Public School Review.
Where is the ticket to success for these Jefferson Elementary students?
This is an ongoing issue throughout California as school funding is based on federal, state and local property taxes. Most of the funding comes from the state, yet the problem is that these funds are not enough with the expenses the schools shoulder for staff, pensions and special education.
Property taxes account for 22% of the school’s funding regardless of Proposition 13 that is supposed to stop the majority of funds to be allocated from these taxes, according to The Public Policy Institute of California. Wealthier districts are better able to collect more funding and ask parents for contributions.
Regardless of the struggles these students endure, I, along with many others, have made it to higher education; I know the Jefferson elementary children can too. But that doesn’t mean we should settle for the education we receive, and we should be striving for change. I am proud to be where I am today. According to the Financial Aid Office, 66% of students at CPP receive some form of financial aid, meaning there are plenty others in my shoes, with stories of hardship throughout their educational journeys.
I want to see my younger peers reach for higher dreams and break records. As college students we can donate our time to volunteer, support our old school fundraisers, support an elementary or high school teacher’s supply wish list and donate to community programs. How many of us have actually went back to help and aid those who we were once like?
Most importantly, after you graduate and find a job in your respective field, I encourage you to lend a hand to those who were once like you. Our ticket might have been unfair, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pave a better road for the next generation.
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