Give them a chance!
by: Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D.Four years ago, my wife, Beverly, started teaching middle school AVID. Since then, she’s been sounding more like a school counselor, helping students develop college and career readiness, organizational skills and social skills. She finds the work extremely gratifying. And we’ve developed a stronger appreciation for the fact that we’ve been able to provide our children with educational support that many students, particularly immigrants, don’t have. Support that I certainly didn’t have as a child.
My family came to America with very little except the hope for a better life and the determination to achieve it. My parents sacrificed tremendously to ensure their children wouldn’t need to make the same sacrifices. Because my parents couldn’t speak English, my father couldn’t do the same type of work he did in China. My mother couldn’t work at all. My parent’s income never exceeded the poverty level during the 40 years they lived in America. My siblings and I knew almost no English when we started school. My early years are a fog of teachers and classmates who spoke at me while I just looked at them blankly.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 64 percent of the U.S. population is white non-Hispanic. The remainder includes 16 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American and 5 percent Asian. This diversity brings a richness of life in America, but it also brings political, economic and educational challenges. Although the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Hispanic and non-white populations make up less than 36 percent of the total population, they account for almost two-thirds (63.3 percent) of the population living below the poverty line. This includes 27.2 percent African-American, 25.6 percent Hispanic and 10.5 percent Asian.
This disparity is even more pronounced among public school students. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates approximately 44.6 percent of U.S. students live in poverty, as determined by the number of students who receive free or reduced meals. Although African-American and Hispanic students represent 38 percent of the total student population, they account for 79 percent of the students in high-poverty schools.
Like most immigrant families and those living in poverty, my family didn’t want handouts. We didn’t expect a home or an education or a job just because of our social and economic status. We just wanted a chance to succeed like everyone else. My siblings and I knew education would give us that chance. All of us were made college and career ready through public schools.
At the White House College Opportunity Day of Action in December, Vice President Biden recalled standing with his wife, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. Mrs. Obama looked at the four of them and remarked that none of them would be there if they hadn’t received some help along the way.
I certainly received help. College would have been impossible for us if my siblings and I hadn’t received government grants and loans. Fortunately, my children didn’t need government support. However, millions of students don’t have the financial resources or parental support my children have. They deserve the chance to succeed.