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A Glimpse Into What Schooling is Like for Low Income Students

By Katherine Li.

We’ve been in Orange County for a little more than a week now, and the week has consisted mostly of long training hours, overviews of STEM lesson plans, and bonding with the rest of the DukeEngage and Girls Inc. girls. Bonding offered the chance to learn about such diverse perspectives and life experiences, and for that I am grateful.

While getting to know the rest of the girls in DukeEngage OC, light conversation over dinner turned into hours of deep, meaningful discussions. Everyone in my suite comes from a different country. We have different conditions at home. We’ve had different schooling experiences. One night, we started talking about our high school experiences, which led to a discussion about high schools in high income areas vs. high schools in low income areas, which led to a debate on whether going to college should always be something to strive for, which led to a conversation on the struggles that low income students go through, even when they’re in college.

While gaining insight from my fellow DukeEngagers, it led to a realization and understanding of the struggles that low income students go through when it comes to schooling. First, there is the possibility that these students grow up not expecting to be able to attend college or pursue careers in fields that seem like they need a college education, which impacts their self esteem and the kinds of opportunities that they take. Second, opportunities for high schoolers in different socioeconomic conditions differ greatly. I was surprised when I learned of the different clubs and research programs that my peers’ high schools offered, and surprised at what their schools didn’t offer either. Third, the pressure of getting into college and the idea that “good jobs need college degrees” is so stressed in our society that those who are not able to attend college due to financial reasons, or attend community college, feel devalued. Finally, even when low income students are in college, often textbooks are not covered by financial aid, or these students have to work part time jobs to stay in college, leaving less time for studying or extracurriculars.

A large portion of the girls at Eureka! summer camp have a low-income and/or minority background. After the discussions with my suitemates, I want the Eureka! girls to know some things that will prepare them for “adulthood” (are college students really adults?). I want them to know where to look for and how to apply for scholarships. I want them to understand the financial aid process. I want to introduce them to academic activities like research and show them how to look for these opportunities. I want them to believe in their own abilities. I want them to know that even though school can be difficult, with the right resources and help, they can get through it. I also want them to know that college is not the be all end all. There are tons of other great careers that they can find joy from.

I want the girls at Eureka! to learn more about themselves and gain confidence. I’m looking forward to meeting them, learning about their experiences, and becoming more confident in myself as well.

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