In their senior year, College Possible has all of our students write special circumstance essays, which basically go over their journeys in life. The idea is to help them prepare for college application essays. I have 166 students, which means I have read approximately 166 special circumstance essays. Of course, there are several missing here and there, but at the beginning of my term of service reading those was my way of knowing who I was about to talk to and it helped me understand where my students were coming from. And some of them are really hard to read. I have students who have been second mothers or fathers for their siblings. Students raised in single-mother households with no mention of a present father figure or who have gone through foster care. Students who have been emotionally, verbally, or physically abused. Raped. Experienced death in the worst possible ways. And all of that is only what they mention in their essays. Born in refugee camps (I even have one student who was named after the camp she was born in). And that’s only what they mention in their essays. Several of my students in the past few months have found out that they are pregnant, some of them with their second child. One of my students revealed to me that she is technically homeless. I cannot fathom experiencing a single one of these things, especially not while in high school or trying to get a degree. Even now the thought of being responsible for a child terrifies me.
So far, this blog has started off to a pretty depressing start. But to be honest, I have never interacted with people who are as strong, dedicated, goal-oriented, or inspiring as my students. Some of those difficult conversations about what’s going on in their lives and how they want to proceed have turned into some of my favorite conversations, because those are the conversations in which I am truly blown away by all of the qualities I just listed. In a couple of these conversations where I found out a student was pregnant, of course I had to ask the awkward question about what they were thinking about going back to school (all of these students are currently unenrolled). Every single one has said that they are going to go to school within the next year or so. They have dreams and aspirations, and here I am still trying to figure out my life. The way my students talk about their education and future is truly a powerful thing. When my homeless student told me about her situation and we started talking about school, I could instantly feel the whole tone of the conversation change, and this was over text. She became excited about where she was going and what she wanted to do with her life. I consider myself an optimistic person, but to think about how much energy it would take for me to keep up that kind of mentality is exhausting. Pretty much all of the refugee population I work with are from relocated Burmese families in Thailand, specifically in the Karen ethnic group. Many of them still struggle with English, and seeing how happy and dedicated they are to going to school is incredible. Most of my Latino and Hmong students come from immigrant families, and many are responsible for helping their parents navigate American life since the parents do not speak English. That kind of responsibility is something that I have yet to experience, and I almost think that I’ll never get to that level. All of this simply means that my students are stronger than me, and I don’t know how they do it.
Looking over what I have written so far, I don’t think I can possibly do justice to how I really feel about my students or what it’s like even interacting with such incredible people. It’s powerful to think that I’ve been able to reflect on so many of my conversations with my students, yet have only met about fifteen of them in person. It makes having the harder discussions more difficult at times, though. I think I’m pretty good at being a support system for them and helping them stay on track with school, which I suppose is ultimately why College Possible is there for them in the first place. However, I’ll always hear something from my students or read previous coach notes and just be stumped. I have realized that being supportive is usually the most I can do, and it’s good to know that they really appreciate it (at least from what I can tell). Frankly, sometimes that’s all they really need. Ironically, though, it is easy to feel incredibly small when my students tell me what they are going through, because I would absolutely be in a worse state of mind than they are. I have been privileged enough in my life to see college as an important phase in life, something that was going to happen whether or not I wanted it to. That was never the case with my students. But they can see success within reach, they know they can do it, and nothing is going to stop them. It is because of this determination and overall mindset that I know each and every one of my students is going to be successful. All of them have a vision of the future, of something better than what they have now. And they can all get there. Every single one. And I will never, ever stop believing that.