For weeks now, I’ve been doing — and too seldom writing about — Education and Class.
Every Tuesday at 11:00, I gather with a group of remarkable students who, next week, will begin mentoring low-income/first generation high school juniors through the college application process. I am their faculty adviser, and the instructor of record for the course in which they are all enrolled.
It’s been quite a ride.
Based on a program initiated four years ago on our flagship campus, The Dream Project is student led. Students plan and lead the class sessions, arrange for speakers, make the initial and follow-up contacts with the high schools, navigate campus bureaucracies to get things done like printing and banking, and — because this is a program to add, not dilute resources — do fund raising.
The program has an explicit dual-focus: Our university students will learn more about education and social mobility, college access and educational inequalities. And high school students will learn more about writing powerful essays, finding scholarships, and aiming for colleges that they might not otherwise have considered.
Gathering on Tuesdays at 11:00 are single moms, returning students, a woman who waitresses until 2:00 every morning and a man who works the night shift in a hospital every night. There are immigrants from Taiwan and the Middle-East, and a young woman who grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand. There are freshman and seniors, and they’ve accomplished a great deal in these past weeks.
We now have an official university account. We have very cool T-shirts that they all wore on Inauguration Day, newly conscious that day that they were part of something much bigger than a local campus project. We hosted a festive campus “roll out” where administrators sang their praises. We’ve learned about “students without citizenship” and about empathetic mentoring. We’ve started negotiations for free SAT prep courses. We’ve talked about framing stories of disadvantage as stories of resilience. We’re ready to start with the high school kids. We’ll never be fully ready to start with the high school kids.
On the flagship campus, the Dream Project students gather for bonding over burritos every Friday afternoon, arriving on foot from the dorm rooms and frat houses and nearby campus apartments.
Our students thought that this was a great idea. We are a commuter campus; they spent an hour one day trying to agree on a central location, trying to find a time that could work with their work, class, and family schedules. They settled on Thursdays at 9:00, at a place known to be very low cost.
Only two people showed up, in spite of their best intentions. In the end, their weeks were just too full.
And next week, the planning comes to fruition, and we meet the high school juniors. My students, many of whom themselves stumbled one step at a time into college, will begin talking with and listening to students much like them and will offer support, perspective, and information that they themselves may not have had when they were applying for college.
It is a student-led project.
They’ve added this project on top of work, courses, family, and commuting.
Much of this is brand new to many of them: The public speaking on campus, the work of organizing their own learning, the challenge of cold-calling busy high school counselors, the prospect of asking potential donors for money, the responsibility of launching what essentially will become a non-profit. I call, email, chat in the hall, spend time one -on-one in my office, suggest readings, cajole, thank, steer, back away, buffer, nudge, recommend, and mediate.
And I’m reminded of how I learned so much of this over years, not weeks, and by trial and error (mostly error), not within this sort of collaborative endeavor.
The flagship campus students speak powerfully of how much they’ve learned in this work.
I think that our students will potentially learn even more, and will potentially learn very different things about themselves and their own educational journeys.