Unraveling Student Struggles

Growing up in an educationally disadvantaged community similar to South Central, I encountered numerous academic challenges that impacted my education journey. These challenges ranged from fulfilling the standard A-G requirements in high school to navigating college. Reflecting on my experience since graduating from Lawndale High School, I realize the impact of stress on my education. During my time in high school, I was not fully aware of the stress I was experiencing, but now understand how it continues to affect me. This blog raises awareness surrounding the stressors students face in high need communities, inspires resilience, and shares resources for high school students’ academic growth. To honor every student’s unique journey, I will integrate my peer Sergio Vazquez’s story. Sergio and I had the privilege of graduating from 4-year universities and overcoming the lack of institutional preparation we encountered in high school. For this reason, we will be using our story to empower others. In the first blog of the series, I will discuss the adverse issues we encountered throughout our high school experiences and progress to college in the subsequent blogs.

In 2014, my freshman year in high school it was revealed that the superintendent embezzled approximately $87,000 in school funds. Although it was a small amount compared to the overall school budget this incident exacerbated the overcrowded classrooms and teacher shortages plaguing the district. Throughout my freshman year I rose to the top of my class, seemingly unaffected by my school’s circumstances. This mindset carried on throughout high school as I juggled many responsibilities as vice president of Vietnamese club, Secretary of Biomedical Careers Academy (BCA), taking 9 AP classes in total and more. It was not until I began college that I realized I was not academically prepared to face rigorous college courses. Compared to my college peers who attended high-performing private schools, I overcame the challenges I faced in my under resourced high school by exceeding expectations.

At Lawndale High School, staff expects students to graduate and attend college without regard to the resources and knowledge needed to get there. Lawndale’s budget reveals that funds are continuously directed toward non-teaching staff such as secretaries and bus drivers. While the school would not operate without these hard workers Lawndale requires more tutors, counselors, and teachers to improve quality education. Due to the lack of resources at Lawndale High, I found myself becoming my own advocate. I took the initiative to fix my class schedules, advocated for more AP classes, snuck past security to speak to my counselor and taught myself material from YouTube videos. My high school journey is one of many examples illustrating the challenge in allocating limited resources throughout high need communities. Similarly, Sergio’s unique background reinforces the narrative that the education you receive has a lasting impact on your journey.

For most of Sergio’s life college seemed unattainable coming from a low-socioeconomic background. He got his first job as a school custodian at 14 and continued to work at McDonalds throughout high school. His responsibility to contribute to household expenses limited the time he spent on academics. To further amplify his stress the high school he attended, Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet, faced various resource disparities. One primary issue he encountered was limited interactions with his counselor. The large student to counselor ratios left limited opportunities for individualized student time. As a result, his counselor mistakenly placed him in two different PE classes which could have been used for an additional A-G requirement. Similar to my situation Sergio was his own advocate. In the situation mentioned he took the initiative to involve the assistant principal. In the end, they changed his schedule and put him on track to graduating on time. However, other instances like this created a difficult path to graduating. Sergio’s high school experience continued to impact his journey as a college student attending an elite institution.

The education public schools offer stems from long-standing systemic issues surrounding low-performing and underfunded schools like Francisco Bravo and Lawndale. These high-need schools encounter challenges to allocate education resources to their students. Lawndale continues to emphasize the importance of higher education through college pennants and posters but rarely provides quality education or time with counselors for application assistance. In contrast, Francisco Bravo does an amazing job of bringing college admission counselors to encourage applicants. Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that every school has its shortcomings, but Lawndale and Francisco Bravo have had the privilege of performing better than other public schools in the area. However, there is always room for growth and both schools need to recognize that accessing higher education requires more than just application assistance; it requires teachers and counselors who understand the importance of academic preparation.

To address the educational disparities discussed throughout this blog Sergio and I created a list of organizations that are known to support under resourced students. Organizations such as College Match are an immense asset to low-income students. Sergio’s personal experience with the organization served as a lifeline to matriculate into a 4-year college. Beyond College Match there are multiple programs that ensure students are not alone in navigating intimidating opportunities. Achieving higher education will continue to be a challenge as underfunded public schools ignore the issue. Still, this list of resources is the first step for struggling students working toward a higher education. My education story continues as the next blog discusses my struggles as a Latina student at UCLA.

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