What Is Needed For Change?

Financial aid is available for almost every major academic and social milestone; students can apply for fee waivers for Advanced Placement tests, senior graduation night, prom and school trips, and the MVLA foundation covers costs for every sophomore and junior to take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT).

Academic support can be found through the tutorial center, four-year AVID or Skills classes, which help first-generation college students reach their goals, while freshman and sophomore Skills classes in every subject give extra homework and classwork assistance to students who need more individualized academic assistance.

But these resources tend to be underused by the very students who need them because of the social stress of trying to obtain help. Asking for financial aid can be very challenging, as it lets others know the vulnerability of a student’s economic state.

But asking for help in other areas can be just as hard.

“For example, taking the PSAT for free is great, but then wealthier students go home and have tutoring,” English Skills teacher Carrie Abel said. “Then, the students who can’t afford tutoring don’t go to the tutorial center at school. My students have told me that they don’t go because they don’t feel comfortable; they aren’t familiar with the environment, the tutors.”

And the tutors aren’t very familiar with them either. The social disconnection extends in both directions to the point where wealthier students aren’t aware that there are struggling students out there who wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to them.

“I’m sure I’m friends with a lot of [economically challenged students],” sophomore Clara Hao said. “I don’t see them as any different really but maybe in their… schedules. But I’m not really aware of it when I’m with them because… we just talk about normal things.”

English Skills teacher Elizabeth Tompkins believes a possible solution to alleviate stress related to students’ school and personal lives is to have the school create “advisory groups.” Within these groups, students would be encouraged to talk about their stress and create a safe and open space for everyone.

“When I student-taught at Hillsdale High School, they had advisory groups every day, which acted like every student’s home base,” Tompkins said. “Each grade would meet in small classes with an advisor for half an hour to build life skills, such as how to do well in a job interview, ask deeper questions and just build connections with each other. It’s so great because students then have a community that they can trust and build empathy for.”

However, forcing interaction between students who normally wouldn’t talk is only a partial fix. Students must be able to willing reach out to their peers in order to completely bridge the gap on campus. Keeping an open mind and being aware of a peer’s situation can also help reduce stress in the classroom. Never assume that someone is not trying when they don’t finish their homework — ask them if they need help catching up. Family situations, among others, may cause a shift in attitude toward schoolwork. In situations like these, awareness and collaboration is key to success.