Perhaps the most invisible individuals of the socioeconomic gap are the students who deal with economic stress but are able to pursue success in school just as well as their more privileged peers. Senior Aldo Montes-Sanchez and sophomore Emily Meza-Perez are two such students who are doing all they can to remain unaffected by the economic gap that seems to distance them from their peers.
Emily is enrolled in AVID, jazz dance and Spanish III Honors, in addition to the rest of her core classes. She spends an average of two hours a night on homework, waiting at school until her mom, who is single and working, can pick her up.
Aldo is also enrolled in the AVID program, for which he founded the AVID Council Club, and is an active member of LSU, Varsity Men’s Glee, Random Acts of Kindness and Libros Sin Fronteras. Every other day, he tutors students in the tutorial center, goes to work until 11 p.m. and then comes home to finish his homework.
Both students are under levels of stress that directly result from a lack of economic stability within their homes. For Aldo, the pressure to provide for his family’s needs meant taking a job that forced him to withdraw from certain activities he regrets leaving behind, including his participation in school clubs and his commitment to volunteering at Graham Middle School.
“Ever since I started work this year, it’s [been] tough to volunteer because when you’re not working one day, you’re trying to finish your homework because you know you’re going to work the next day,” Aldo said.
Not working yet because of her age limitation, Emily feels a sense of stress that results from her inability to help her mother with her family’s expenses.
“I want to get a job because I could at least pay for the expenses of some of my own things, to take away from the financial pressure my mother already has… I worry about finding a job because apart from trying to eliminate some financial pressure from my family, I realize getting a job would be the only way for me to make money for college,” Emily said.
Despite the difficulties both students face at home involving their personal struggles, they are able to momentarily look away from their hardships with a positive outlook on their lives.
“I know what I’m doing is… going to help me later on in life with my college fund and trying to save up money because… I know that I’m going to have to support myself as well later on in life,” Aldo said. “So I’m… trying to make this a lesson I should learn at a young age.”
While Aldo recognizes the potential future benefit that could arise from his hard work now, Emily chooses to view her struggles through a certain lens that allows her to see all the good in her life as it is.
“Some other people in other countries… really want to become educated and they can’t, so for me to have that opportunity, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go to college,” Emily said. “Even though other people have more of that opportunity because their families have money and they can afford to pay for college… I know that if I work hard enough I can definitely make it.”
Their strong sense of determination and resilience has also allowed both students to focus on their studies and aim toward a greater education beyond high school, a hope that originated from and was nurtured by familial influences.
While Aldo credits his pursuit of a greater education to both his mother and grandfather, who encourage him to focus on his studies, Emily’s ambition stemmed from her family’s academic accomplishments before they migrated to the United States.
But the source of their motivation is hidden from the students around them. Aldo and Emily are just two high schoolers in pursuit of a college education, striving for good grades and extracurriculars and ultimately harboring achievements and goals to match every one of those belonging to students who are wealthier.
It’s this discrepancy between their home lives and their school perceptions that can make it so uncomfortable to ask for help. A fear of judgement and isolation at revealing their anxiety and the pressure they face on a day-to-day basis keeps them quiet.
“[Students could] be more empathetic,” Emily said. “We all subconsciously judge each other, but if we were all to be [more empathetic], it would provide a better sense of community on campus. Even if we aren’t all the same we could learn and grow from each other’s differences and similarities.”