Letter to School Counselors

Dear K-12 Counselors and Teachers:

I could have been a soda-fountain clerk.  It was a toss-up between squirting concoctions into frosty glasses or peering into the minds and hearts of patients—as a psychologist.   Some career assessment in high-school, with the explanation that my score on one measure was about the highest possible, but on the other, barely registered a blip.  My guidance counselor ushered me into a cramped corridor next to his office.  He took fewer than six seconds to share, and possibly seal, my life’s fate.  I didn’t really blame him, not really. I could see he was overworked what with the college-going high-school crowd taking up most of his waking moments.

What surprised me most was the way my throat burned when my mind comprehended what the future had in store for me. A lump sprang to life as though it had been living there all along. But when my academic counselor darted back into his little office, never looking back, I suddenly tasted salt, slowly dripping from my wounded eyes.  Tears fell slowly at first, as though disciplined and trained not to react, but by the time I had stepped out into the bright sunlight, the same eyes that never expected anything anyway, had turned on the floodgates of disappointment and something even worse—shame.

Despite having nowhere to turn—not family, nor friends—no one I hung with had any ambition–absolutely no one, I still knew that something was wrong, very wrong. Education is a passport to another dimension, another economic class, a ticket to begin again, a new set of possibilities and opportunities.  Put a passport into the pocket of an aimless soul, or someone who is meandering down a dead-end street and nothing happens. The passport is useless, the potential of youth stays put, stuck.

A Stanford University study indicated that the educational attainment gap between low-income and high-income students has widened about 40 percent since the 1960s.  A study from the University of Michigan noted the disparity in college completion rates between affluent and struggling students has grown by about 50 percent since the 1980s.  (Has HigherEducation Become an Engine of Inequality? The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 6, 2012). Fewer than five percent of students at the 200 most selective American colleges came from the bottom income quartile. Many first-generation students fall within this socioeconomic bracket.

Thank you for all you do.  You care and you are busy.  The First Generation Foundation recognizes your efforts, and applauds what you do each and every day and each and every moment to inspire and support first-generation students in their journey.  When you smile at an unsure student, suggest our site, and encourage her, you may think it is all in a day’s work, but those few moments may travel with her throughout her lifetime.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our caring counselors and trail-blazing teachers.  Your life matters.  Although our moments spent serving students fade from our consciousness, these precious seconds and minutes are not lost.  They have left indelible footprints on our journey into tomorrow.