Dear Soledad

education, photography

Dear Soledad,

How does it feel to walk around a college campus? I noticed that you lingered a little longer than your classmates at the library, and I saw the way you ran your fingers over the desktop in the auditorium. It made me wonder, can you picture yourself here? You’d be the first in your entire family to attend a college or university.

Have we prepared you to persevere through all four years or more? The statistics for college readiness and persistence aren’t exactly encouraging for a young woman of your ethnicity and zip code. Some studies say only 15-17% of Latinas who enroll in a college or university graduate in five years or less. And just the other day, I overheard a discussion between education reform leaders where they said that 2 – not 2%, but literally 2 students – who graduated from our neighborhood high school last year met the qualifications to be considered college-ready.

I want to tell you that the world is yours to take, that a college education is a real possibility for you some day, because I truly believe that it is. But you’ve started this race on uneven ground in hand-me-down tennis shoes.

Will you have a strong enough academic foundation, the broad life skills that will be required of you, a dedicated support network, sufficient money and financial aid, adequate test-taking savvy and cultural competence to make it all the way to and through college?

Let me be clear: I believe in you. But the system? The education system is failing its promises, because it has not set you up to be successful. You’ll have to work harder than just about everyone else. You might need more resources on your collegiate journey, and you shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for them.

I believe that you are more than a statistic.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear Amber

photography, education

Dear Amber,

You are my inspiration. Today, at the career fair, I was impressed with your passion and plan for your future.

Me: “Hey, I noticed that you talked to the visiting psychology professor for awhile. Is that a career you’re interested in?”

You: “Yes ma’am! I think it’d be really great to counsel kids in elementary and middle school. A lot of my friends have been having a hard time, and I like giving them advice. I think I’m pretty good at it too.”

Me: “That’s amazing. You have nearly perfect grades in all your classes – I think the last time I checked, you had averages above a 95 in math, science, reading and social studies. Is that right?”

You: “Yes. I really like school, and I don’t mind working hard.”

Me: “Well, with grades like that and an excellent work ethic, you should check out the University of Texas. That’s where I went to school, and they have a great psychology department. They do a lot of research, and it could be a wonderful place for you to get your degree someday.”

You: “Oh, Miss, I was kind of thinking I’d apply to Harvard…”

Shame on me! Of course you should be thinking about attending an Ivy League university. There is no reason you can’t consider Harvard as a very real possibility for your future.

I wanted to let you know that I emailed one of my mentors in Dallas ISD to find resources that will take your reading and writing to the next level. It’s never too early to start preparing for the rigorous coursework that any university, and especially an Ivy League school, will expect from you.

I’m excited to challenge you and support you as you work on this extra practice.

I can already picture the diploma in your hand, that gorgeous smile on your face and the cap and gown flowing as you stride across the stage some 10 years from now. It’s a long road ahead, but you won’t be walking it alone.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson