My book, Our School, describes a girl who was a class clown as a ninth grader in a San Jose charter school, Downtown College Prep. DCP recruits students with less than a C average in middle school; most come from Mexican immigrant families. All students take college-prep classes; all graduates go on to college.
Gloria (called “Gina” in the book) didn’t seem to be on track to finish high school. But she hit bottom at the start of 10th grade when her mother looked at the D’s and F’s on her report card and said, “I’ve lost faith in you.” Gloria decided to regain her mother’s respect. She started paying attention in class and doing her work. Her grades rose steadily. A startling fact became clear: Gloria is smart.
Though her overall grade point average was unimpressive, Vicky Evans, the college counselor, persuaded UC-Santa Cruz to give Gloria a chance.
Wednesday, when I was at DCP, Evans told me that Gloria is doing very well at Santa Cruz as a psychology major and will be working on a research project in Costa Rica this summer. However, she’s decided not to pursue a doctorate as she’d planned. Instead, Gloria plans to get a master’s in social work at San Jose State and look for a job where she’ll deal directly with people.
Returning to San Jose will serve another purpose: Gloria is determined her kid sister will do well in school and go on to college. The kid sister was slated to attend a second-rate middle school next year. Gloria researched alternatives and decided on an expensive private school. She went to the school open house, talked to the admissions director and financial aid director and sold them on giving her sister a chance. The kid sister will start sixth grade in the fall with a full scholarship.
Gloria’s mother can’t provide much supervision. She works from 8 am to 5 pm and then goes to a second job from 8 pm to midnight. Gloria will nag from Santa Cruz this year, then move back home for grad school so she can make sure her sister takes full advantage of the opportunity.
I’m worried that Gloria won’t earn enough as a social worker and suggested she consider training as a psychiatric social worker or a school psychologist. “I think she’ll be principal of a school like this some day,” Evans said.
To boost the number of at-risk college students, outreach needs to start by third grade, writes Roger Hull, a former college president, in the Christian Science Monitor. Hull’s Help Yourself Foundation creates after-school academies on college campuses to raise the achievement and ambitions of disadvantaged children.